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C.S. Lewis on Morality

C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity is a fundamental work in Christian apologetics. Many Christians point to this book as a turning point in their coming to faith. I’d like to respond to some of Lewis’s ideas.

Lewis says that there is a “real” right and wrong. If this were not so, how could we declare the Nazis wrong? Find a man who rejects this premise, Lewis says, and you will quickly detect the hypocrisy. He may break a promise to you, but as soon as you do the same, he declares that that’s not fair and falls back on a “real” rightness.

I don’t see it that way. “Right” and “wrong” come with an implied point of view. I’m happy to say that the Nazis were wrong, but when I do so, the word wrong is grounded in my point of view. (Kind of obvious, right? I mean, whose point of view would I be using but my own?)

That statement is simply a less clumsy version of, “The Nazis were wrong according to Bob.” There is neither a need to imagine nor justification for an absolute standard.

Lewis doesn’t use the term “objective morality” (he wrote about 70 years ago, which explains a few odd phrasings), but I believe this is what he means by “real right and wrong.” Let’s use William Lane Craig’s definition for objective morality: “moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not.”

Despite Lewis’s claims, we needn’t imagine that morality is objectively true. We see this simply by looking in the dictionary. The definition of “morality” (or “right” or “wrong”) doesn’t require any sense of objective grounding or absoluteness.

Like Lewis, I insist that you keep your commitments to me, that you follow the basic rules of civility, and so on. When you don’t, I’m annoyed not because you violated an absolute law; you violate my law. It ain’t much, but it’s all I’ve got, and that’s enough to explain the morality we see around us.

To the person who insists that objective morality exists, I say: show me. Take a vexing moral issue—abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, capital punishment, sex before marriage, torture, and so on—and show us the objectively true moral position. If you want to say that objective morality exists but it’s not reliably accessible, then what good is it? This kind of objective morality that looks nonexistent might as well be.

When we see a widespread sense of a shared morality within society, are we seeing universal moral truth? Or are we seeing universally held moral instincts? That latter, natural explanation does the job without the need to handwave objective moral truth into existence.

Evolution explains why part of morals is built-in. What we think of as proper morals has survival value. It’s not surprising that evolution would select for a moral instinct in social animals like humans. Evolution is often caricatured as being built on the principle “might makes right.” No, natural selection doesn’t favor might but fitness to the environment. A human tribe with trust and compassion might outcompete a more savage rival tribe without those traits.

We see this moral instinct in other animals. In a study of capuchin monkeys, for example, those given cucumber for completing a task complained when others got grapes (a preferred food) for the same task. These monkeys understood fairness just like a human. (An excellent video of the monkey’s reaction is here.)

As an aside, I think it’s a mistake to look down on other primates and their “less-developed” sense of morality. The same powerful brain that gives us honor and patriotism, justice and mercy, love and altruism, and other moral instincts that we’re proud of also gives us racism, self-pity, greed, resentment, hate, contempt, bitterness, jealousy, and all the others on the other side of the coin. No other species has perfected violence, slavery, cruelty, revenge, torture, and war to the extent that humans have.

If we exceed the morality of our primate cousins on the positive side, we also do so on the negative side. Let’s show a little humility.

Human morality is nicely explained by an instinctive and shared sense of the Golden Rule plus rules that are specific to each culture. The dictionary doesn’t demand any objective grounding in its definition of morality, and neither should we.

I believe in Christianity
as I believe that the sun has risen:
not only because I see it,
but because by it I see everything else.
— C. S. Lewis

Photo credit: ho visto nina volare

About Bob Seidensticker
  • JohnH

    Nuremberg trials were about what then? That the Nazi’s didn’t follow the “universal moral instinct” and therefore deserved to be punished? Does this mean that others that fail to obey universal instincts also deserved to be punished?

    The very fact that you are judging all of humanity for having “positive” or “negative” sides undermines completely your claim that there is no objective morality. Consistent with your position there is nothing wrong with racism or greed or hate, they are just things that you find icky.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      John:

      That the Nazi’s didn’t follow the “universal moral instinct”

      That the Nazis took actions that the winners of the war disagreed with.

      The very fact that you are judging all of humanity for having “positive” or “negative” sides undermines completely your claim that there is no objective morality.

      Doesn’t the post make this clear? I have my views of right and wrong. Most other Homo sapiens share those views. That’s where morality comes from. Where’s the objective morality? What grounds it? Show me some evidence.

      • JohnH

        “That the Nazis took actions that the winners of the war disagreed with.”

        Right, so there was nothing wrong with the Holocaust, we just happen to find it “icky” in the same way that many people find zoosexuals icky and we should be as tolerant of those that wish to systematically slaughter millions of people as we are of interracial marriages. Sure it might go against our views of right and wrong or perhaps the views of most other Homo sapiens or whatever but just because we disagree with them doesn’t mean they are wrong or evil or anything. Same with racists and homophobes (or homosexuals depending) they might have views that go against your view of right and wrong but they aren’t actually wrong (or right) they are as much entitled to their view of morality as you are to yours.

        “That’s where morality comes from. ”
        It is interesting that you say this and at the same time give an example of monkeys showing an awareness of fairness.

        “Where’s the objective morality?”
        I would say that it is fairly obvious that there are discoverable rules governing the long term stability of society, the cohesion of groups, and what will produce the most favorable outcomes for the group as a whole.
        “What grounds it?”
        What grounds Mathematics or the laws of physics?

        “Show me some evidence.”
        That people tend to have some shared universal ideas as to morality and that other animals in group dynamic settings come up with some apparently similar rules and ideas.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          so there was nothing wrong with the Holocaust

          Perhaps you didn’t read the post? Yes, there’s something wrong with the Holocaust.

          we should be as tolerant of those that wish to systematically slaughter millions of people as we are of interracial marriages.

          Not my viewpoint, and I can’t imagine it’s yours. Why bring up this strawman? Just adding a little levity to the conversation?

          they aren’t actually wrong (or right)

          Didn’t I discuss the “actually” thing pretty thoroughly in the post?

          Are you saying that objective morality exists? If so, give me some evidence. I’ve seen none.

          they are as much entitled to their view of morality as you are to yours.

          And I’ll take steps to overrule their morality when my morality says to do so. (Isn’t that how it works with you?)

          It is interesting that you say this and at the same time give an example of monkeys showing an awareness of fairness.

          Moral instinct comes from evolution, IMO.

          I would say that it is fairly obvious that there are discoverable rules governing the long term stability of society, the cohesion of groups, and what will produce the most favorable outcomes for the group as a whole.

          So when you claim that morality is “objective,” do you mean that it’s widely accepted? Or deeply felt?

          I agree that this is the case, but this isn’t the definition WLC used in my post above.

          What grounds Mathematics or the laws of physics?

          I dunno–you tell me. And tell me why a naturalistic explanation of morality is insufficient. What’s left unexplained?

          That people tend to have some shared universal ideas as to morality and that other animals in group dynamic settings come up with some apparently similar rules and ideas.

          We’re on the same page here. But why imagine that this is objective using WLC’s definition above? Instead, see this as something explained naturally. Morality isn’t universally true but rather universally held moral instincts.

        • JohnH

          “Yes, there’s something wrong with the Holocaust.”
          You mean that you think it is icky in the same way that religious people think homosexuality is icky, right?

          “Why bring up this strawman?”
          ad absurdum, not strawman.

          “Didn’t I discuss the “actually” thing pretty thoroughly in the post?”
          Yes, you made it clear that you think it is icky but stated that is just your perspective and of no validity in judging their perspective. Had they won WW2 then their position would be moral; just as racism is moral for the racists, homophobia is moral to the homophobes, homosexuality to the homosexual, murder is moral to some serial killers, terrorism is moral to the terrorist, Bashar slaughtering his people is moral for Bashar, slavery is moral to the slaver, honor killings is moral to the honor killers, and etc.

          “And I’ll take steps to overrule their morality when my morality says to do so. (Isn’t that how it works with you?)”
          Primarily I take steps to have near pointless discussions with those that disagree with me on subjects of religion and/or morality.

          “So when you claim that morality is “objective,” do you mean that it’s widely accepted? Or deeply felt?”
          No, I mean that by acting against morality a worse overall outcome for ones family and society will occur then if one acted with morality, regardless of whether one is aware of morality or not. There are certainly particulars in regards to morality that would be different for a different creature but that doesn’t invalidate the universality of the underlying laws governing such interactions any more then the particulars of the weather on Mars being very different from the particulars of the weather on Earth in validates the governing laws of physics.

          “And tell me why a naturalistic explanation of morality is insufficient. ”
          It is descriptive not prescriptive, it is not binding such that whatever one can convince oneself as being right then is right regardless of its effects on oneself, ones family, ones society, or ones species. It gives one no way to say to those that oppose out positions that they are objectively wrong and need to change their behavior and learn more of morality, we can not go to the Taliban that killing those that believe different is “wrong” just that we dislike that they do so and will attempt to stop them, which they can just as effectively respond that they dislike what we do and will attempt to stop us with the same moral force, just less actual force meaning regardless of what we believe then might actually would make right.

        • http://crossexaminedblog.com Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          You mean that you think it is icky in the same way that religious people think homosexuality is icky, right?

          No, that’s not what I mean. I mean what I said in the post. It’s been covered, I think.

          ad absurdum, not strawman.

          Was it? It seemed like a deliberate false position that would show my argument in a bad light. I’d’ve thought that “strawman” would fit the bill, but maybe you’re right.

          Yes, you made it clear that you think it is icky but stated that is just your perspective and of no validity in judging their perspective.

          Then you completely misunderstand my position.

          Had they won WW2 then their position would be moral

          ?? Had they won WW2 then they would’ve had the power to impose their idea of morality. Kind of a big difference.

          Primarily I take steps to have near pointless discussions with those that disagree with me on subjects of religion and/or morality.

          I’ve noticed. Thanks for pulling me in.

          I mean that by acting against morality a worse overall outcome for ones family and society will occur then if one acted with morality, regardless of whether one is aware of morality or not.

          Let’s use the definition of “objective morality” that I outlined in the post above, OK? If you reject that this exists, just say so. We’re a family here; don’t be shy.

          It is descriptive not prescriptive

          What’s left unexplained in the morality that we see around us every day?

          it is not binding such that whatever one can convince oneself as being right then is right regardless of its effects on oneself, ones family, ones society, or ones species

          “Is right” in an objective sense? Nope.

          It gives one no way to say to those that oppose out positions that they are objectively wrong

          Obviously, since it doesn’t recognize objective morality. And yet, we stumble through life with “objective” not in the definition of the word.

          we can not go to the Taliban that killing those that believe different is “wrong” just that we dislike that they do so and will attempt to stop them

          Correct. This describes our present reality–assuming “wrong” means “objectively wrong.”

          which they can just as effectively respond that they dislike what we do and will attempt to stop us with the same moral force

          Might makes right. If the Taliban had the power, they would do exactly that.

        • JohnH

          “icky” means immoral according to what person X thinks, ergo I understood you perfectly thank you very much.

          If you can’t see that what I said fits exactly the definition of objective morality then I would suggest trying to read it again.

          ““Is right” in an objective sense?”
          Since you don’t believe in an objective sense then it is right in the only sense that matters. Human sacrifice is right for those that believe it to be acceptable and have the power to sacrifice humans without others stopping them according to what you have said.

          I am so glad to discover that might makes right according to Bob. You must think Christians as fools for not using power to impose our morality on others. If the Taliban had the power they would do exactly that and it would be wrong, just as honor killings are wrong, and the holocaust is wrong, not just because I disagree with them but because they actually are wrong. DrewL and Karl have completely exposed your hypocrisy by the way.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          Human sacrifice is right for those that believe it to be acceptable and have the power to sacrifice humans without others stopping them according to what you have said.

          Sure, they think it’s right. I don’t, and I’ll happily take steps that impose on that right.

          I am so glad to discover that might makes right according to Bob.

          And how about you? You disagree that the Nazis had a different sense of right and wrong? You disagree that they imposed some of that on other countries that they conquered?

          You must think Christians as fools for not using power to impose our morality on others.

          Christians get their morality from lots of places besides the Bible

          If the Taliban had the power they would do exactly that and it would be wrong,

          It would be wrong according to you. Wrong in an objective, absolute, outside-of-humanity way? If that’s what you think, show me.

    • Richard S. Russell

      John, there’s a difference between consensus and objectivity. For a long time, there was a consensus that the Earth was flat, but it wasn’t <B?objectively true. Same deal with morality. Just because lots of people agree about some things (most famously along the lines of “Thou shalt not kill”, tho the asterisks, exceptions, footnotes, and caveats start to proliferate as soon as you look more closely) doesn’t mean that there’s anything immutable, natural, or inevitable about those things. Indeed, prior to the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials, international law said that you could get away with pretty much anything you wanted to within the boundaries of your own country, especially if you’d been able to persuade a duly elected legislature to enact it into law. That was official “objective” morality worldwide until everybody got a good look at what it could lead to.

      • JohnH

        The point of Nuremburg is that even with there being no agreed upon set of moral codes dealing with the issue that those performing the actions were still guilty of violating what is universally moral, i.e. they and anyone in their situation should have known that what they were doing was wrong.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          guilty of violating what is universally moral

          What do you mean by “universally moral”? Are you talking about grounding outside all humans? About things being right or wrong whether there are people here or not?

          Or are you talking about “accepted by all people”? That I accept.

  • smrnda

    I tend to assess morals along the lines that a person’s moral standards ought to apply to both themselves and others equally. If I’m going to say it’s okay for me to do X, it must be okay to do X (or at least okay for someone else in an analogous position) and if I condemn people for doing Y, I must also condemn myself for doing the same thing. My standards are harm. I do not want to be subject to harm, so I will fight for a society where I can count on not being harmed. The best way to do this is to ensure that everybody is free from harm.

    To me, morality is more like city planning. We try to build cities that are livable, and sometimes it calls for different strategies and over time, we sometimes figure out better ways of doing things, and are often limited by technology or our imagination. Sometimes I don’t think, for some issues, there is an absolute right or wrong. I don’t think gun ownership is objectively good or bad, it’s kind of on the border and I assess policies based on harm and fairness. A fascination with guns can be kind of juvenile and creepy to me, but if it’s shown to cause no harm then I’m going to set aside my feelings and allow it. If it’s shown to cause harm, then I’ll oppose it.

    Perhaps I’m basing things on the idea that ‘harm is bad’ or that “I don’t want to come to harm” but to me, harm is something I can experience, I can detect and understand, and we can build social rules around making it not come to pass. It’s at least a grounding in something that I can see and not because someone told me ‘god said so.’ I mean, I wasn’t here when god said so, someone else wrote it down (supposedly) and then some people have been copying the instructions in different languages. I think you can build a fine society around mutual avoidance of harm.

    the problem is that I don’t think god solves the problem of objective morals. it just says ‘well, god’s in charge. what he says, goes.’ It’s equating power and goodness, or brings up the problem of whether things are good or bad or just that god says they are good or bad. in the end, it restricts ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to ‘what will be rewarded or punished.’

    • JohnH

      Your two points have been discussed by others:

      “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law” – Kant’s Categorical Imperative

      “is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods? -Socrates, Euthyphro

      • smrnda

        I didn’t mean to imply they were original, and was hoping that people realized there is a long history of morals being based on a foundation other than divine command.

  • ZenDruid

    On questions like this, I prefer the bottom-up approach. As infants we can subjectively discern between a nice caregiver and a mean one. Empathy is an instinct, and reciprocity is quickly learned. There is no objective moral truth necessary; a toddler can parse the concept easily, without the frills. It troubles me though, that some people must be reminded that they shouldn’t hurt others. They must not have had nice caregivers as infants.

  • Brian Westley

    I’ve long said the same thing; if there IS some objective morality, but people disagree on how to find out what it is, you’re actually worse off, because you’ll probably get some fanatics who insist they “know” — even if they don’t agree with each other.

    I usually ask if polygamy is moral.

    • smrnda

      Good question. My opinion is I see nothing wrong with unions of more than 2 people provided that they occur within an egalitarian context. The problem with polygamy isn’t ‘more than 2 people’ in my opinion, but that it takes place within a context of systematic inequality between men and women and tends to increase the inequality. The problem is the inequality, not the 3 person or more union.

      I would say then that I’d be for polyamory but not polygamy, but this would turn into a long discussion.

  • Niemand

    Take a vexing moral issue—abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, capital punishment, sex before marriage, torture, and so on—and show us the objectively true moral position.

    I’ll give it a try. Stem cell research, for example. I’ll claim that stem cell research is objectively moral because good things come from it. Stem cell research employs people directly (the researchers, people who maintain the buildings they work in, administrators, etc) and indirectly (increased demand for just about every product when more people move into an area that a research center has opened in and therefore multiple new business opportunities). Stem cell research has led to improvements in human health and clinical trials have shown benefits in cardiac disease, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, and other conditions. Stem cell research harms no one-there is no way that an embryo early enough to be eligible for use in (embryonic) stem cell research could be conscious: if it were that developed, it wouldn’t be useful. So, benefits to the economy, to individuals, and to knowledge without harm. Objectively good.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Niemand:

      I’ll claim that stem cell research is objectively moral because good things come from it.

      Once again, we need to make sure we’re on the same page with this definition. I agree with you if you refer to “objective” morality that is very widely shared or very deeply felt. But not if it means that morality is grounded outside humanity–“moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not,” as William Lane Craig put it.

      • Niemand

        Perhaps I’ve read too much bad science fiction, but I find the idea of a morality grounded outside of humanity and imposed on humans-whether it worked for humans or not-to be distressing. And immoral. (Conversely, of course, imposing human morality on dolphins, aliens, or even gods may be a grave error and, well, immoral.)

    • Ted Seeber

      What about the harm done in the research itself?

  • Nox

    Divine command would actually make morality less objective. If god could just arbitrarily change morality whenever the f*ck he likes, that would be the opposite of objective.

    If morality is determined by god and is about adhering to a list of approved actions, it is entirely subjective. If morality is an emergent property of human interaction and is about what is maximally fair to everyone, then it is subjective to the situation, but objective to the individual.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Nox:

      If god could just arbitrarily change morality whenever the f*ck he likes, that would be the opposite of objective.

      Again, I think it depends on the definition of “objective.” This would indeed be a capricious definition, but it would be grounded outside humanity, and “It’s whatever God sez it is” would meet William Lane Craig’s definition.

      • machintelligence

        There is a further problem here if you allow for individual revelations, as do the Mormons and some other religions. If you truly believe that the little voice in your head is the voice of God then whatever it tells you to do is moral. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Under_the_Banner_of_Heaven

        • JohnH

          Unfortunately, machintelligence, that isn’t actually what we believe in regards to morality; God can reveal morality, but He does not set morality and is as much subject to it as we are and individual revelation can not contradict general revelation. I obviously can’t say anything about the FLDS in regards to what they believe because contrary to what the author of that book would have you believe, LDS and FLDS are not the same religion.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          He does not set morality and is as much subject to it as we are

          In the Old Testament, God orders things that, if you did them, would be pretty darn bad. If God’s actions are judged by the same rules as ours are, doesn’t that make God bad?

        • JohnH

          But Bob according to you might makes right, therefore according to since God claims to be all powerful then whatever He does must be good, therefore you have no grounds at all to say that God’s actions would be pretty darn bad regardless of what the action was. Hypocrite.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          therefore you have no grounds at all to say that God’s actions would be pretty darn bad regardless of what the action was.

          Nope. “Right” is in the eye of the beholder. What God thinks doesn’t determine what I think. Of course, he has the might to impose whatever rules and justice that he fancies.

          (“Might makes right” is a convenient shorthand, but I see now that that was probably confusing.)

          And I’m fascinated to know about this hypocrisy that you’ve uncovered. Tell me more.

        • Jason

          As a side note, there is no significant difference between individual and general revelation. General (i.e public) revelation is simply a private (i.e. individual) revelation that has been adopted by the community at large. In other words, once a person’s subjective experiences is adopted by the community’s subjective judgment, it is adopted as if it is objective truth divinely sanctioned. Of course this is why the whole issue of using any type of revelation to discuss objective morality is absurd. Those who think there is an objective morality base it on a range of subjective and highly superstitious views.

      • Nox

        Regarding William Lane Craig’s definition:

        If you define “objective morality” as “god” then it is true you can’t have “objective morality” without “god”.

        But that doesn’t actually mean anything.

    • Ted Seeber

      I wish patheos had mod points, I’d mod the parent way up.

      One of the big arguments between Catholicism and Islam is this: Can God be constrained by rationality?

      Catholics and Islamics come down on opposite sides of that question. And it becomes pretty easy to see why science developed in Europe but not in say, Mecca.

      • Nox
        • Mr. X

          And later died out because Islamic philosophers and theologians de-emphasised the idea of God’s rationality in favour of His will.

        • ZenDruid

          Indeed. Al-Gahzali was instrumental in turning Islamic epistemology away from the more rational Socratic traditions.

        • ZenDruid

          That is, Al-Ghazali.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I’ve written about the longed-for Islamic Renaissance here.

  • DrewL

    I swear I remember some moral absolutist making strong objective claims like this just the other day…

    The solution is simply to let consenting adults resolve these questions themselves.

    There’s far too little love in the world as it is. It’s reprehensible to stand in the way of what love is here.
    The time has come for marriage equality in Washington. The time has come to approve R-74.

    Where does that author get off using grandiose, objective language like “THE solution…” and “the time has come for…” and “it’s reprehensible…”? You should ensure future letters couch such claims in phrases like “according to my personal moral law…” and “from my point of view….”and “I personally feel…”.

    Otherwise it’s quite deceptive: a reader might accidentally think the author is appealing to grounds outside his own personal opinion.

    • http://www.hongkongudy.com Karl Udy

      There is no objective morality, but everyone should follow mine.

      As Lewis said, the hypocrisy is obvious.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Karl:

        I completely missed the hypocrisy. Educate us.

        • Ted Seeber

          You don’t understand the hypocrisy in “It’s my choice and you’d better celebrate it”? Then you’ve got a lot bigger problem than just objective/subjective.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Ted: Help me understand your point. I don’t remember demanding that anyone celebrate a choice of mine. (Perhaps I missed something obvious.)

        • Huh

          Bob, if you genuinely still fail to see why people accuse you of hypocrisy, well, perhaps you really do have a personal morality.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Huh: Most (all?) of my objectors aren’t able to correctly state my position, so I’m guessing that the claims of hypocrisy are also based on incorrect information.

        • Huh

          Perhaps they’re saying that you’re hypocritical from their subjective moral viewpoint. But don’t worry, because you’re not from your moral viewpoint. :)

      • jose

        There is no objective political ideology either; who are you voting for?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Drew:

      Where does that author get off using grandiose, objective language like “THE solution…” and “the time has come for…” and “it’s reprehensible…”?

      As you get more comfortable with colloquial English, you’ll understand that sentences that precisely should begin, “It is my opinion that” (or qualifiers to that effect) often have this preface dropped. The context usually makes it unnecessary.

      • DrewL

        I think Karl’s got you here.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Excellent–then you can help him point out the problems.

  • jose

    Nobody can conduct an investigation and come up with an objective value. They are not real objects of the world like, say, planets, that can be discovered by empirical inquiry; and they’re not like mathematical theorems either, that can be developed from self-evident axioms (no, “good = overall well-being” is not a self-evident axiom. Look at set theory axioms to see what real axioms look like.) All you’re going to get from moral realists is a “well duh” kind of response. As in can’t you just see it? It’s just obvious. Torturing babies for fun is just wrong! Yeah, that’s not a scientific investigation, that’s your intuition talking.

    Our notion of good is intuitive but that notion applied to specific cases is learned. We learn that not sharing our toy with little Bobby over there is bad. As we grow up we can examine our values critically and thus define that part of our personality. Our conclusions are based on a multitude of things. We don’t give the same importance to the same factors which is why conclude different things from the same set of facts. In the end, the moral arena looks very much like the political one. I do think morality has a lot more to do with politics than science.

  • Pingback: What is Natural Law?

    • Brian Westley

      I wouldn’t bother posting on Longenecker’s blog; he doesn’t allow a real debate. I find atheists are typically much better in allowing contrary opinions in their blog comments.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        OK–interesting to know. Are you referring to posts that I’ve made there? Perhaps it’s not a good place to spend my time.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Ah–I see now that Fr. Longenecker has a post responding to this one. Thanks.

        • Brian Westley

          Yes; unfortunately, responding to a trackback does not put the response after the trackback…

        • Erick

          Perhaps you can debate it on this combox then…

          Fr. L’s argument about Natural Law
          The very beginning of Natural Law is that existence is better than non existence? Right or wrong?

        • RandomFunction2

          To Erick,

          Are you referring to the Treatise on laws in Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae??

        • Erick

          RF2, I am not a well versed philosopher. I’m just trying to follow logically as well as I can. If I summarize Fr. Dwight correctly, here is where Bob’s analysis falls incomplete or flat:

          Natural Law begins with the idea of existence. Existence is an a priori concept, is undeniable, and therefore an objective truth. There is a universe. Hence, there is something instead of nothing. Therefore, there is existence.

          “Good” is a relative, value-based concept. However, no matter how one defines “what is good”, existence must fit that definition. Because there is existence. For example, Bob’s definition of what is good requires the continued existence of the “good definer”. If Nazis had won WWII and they dominated the world, then good is what they say is good. In that scenario, existence is still a “good”. If one is a utilitarian, then existence must be a utilitarian good. If one is a Roman Catholic, then existence must be a Roman Catholic good. And on and on.

          If existence is good regardless of how good is defined, then existence must be an objective good. If existence is an objective good, then there is such a thing as objective morality.

        • http://www.noctua.org.uk/ Paul Wright

          Couple of objections to that one:

          1. Doesn’t this fall to the same objections as the Ontological Argument? If non-existent X is always worse than an existent X, and X is defined to be the best thing ever, clearly X must exist, right? Something has certainly gone wrong with that sort of argument, as AFAICT Kant put his finger on what it was: existence isn’t a property in the same way that “being yellow” is, say.

          2. Good things are good in virtue of their good properties, and bad things of their bad properties, but we may still call things good or bad if they don’t exist, and we may judge it better if some existing things did not exist. Existence is required for something to be an actual good, but also for something to be an actual bad, so it doesn’t appear to be a good property (even if we allow it to be a property, see 1).

        • http://www.mccaughan.org.uk/g/ g

          I’m not following your argument at a key point. {{{However, no matter how one defines “what is good”, existence must fit that definition. Because there is existence.}}} How does that “because” work? Why wouldn’t it also apply if you replaced “good” by “bad” or “sweet” or “purple”?
          While it would be very interesting if an argument like this did in fact demonstrate that at least one thing (namely existence) is objectively good, it doesn’t seem like that would make very much difference to practical ethics (because whatever one does or brings about “exists”, so “existence is good” doesn’t do much to help decide between actions or between states of affairs), nor would it bolster theistic arguments-from-morality (because their main point is that allegedly objective moral values can’t be had or can’t be known without a deity, but if this sort of argument works then it actually *shows a way* to get, and know, objective moral values without a deity).

        • http://www.mccaughan.org.uk/g/ g

          Note: In case it isn’t clear, my comment a few hours ago was a reply to Erick.

        • Erick

          @ g

          Yes, it does work when you interchange other words for good. I’ll deal specifically with interchanging the word bad. Good and bad are basically two sides of the same coin. Defining good necessarily results in also defining what is bad. Vice versa.

          Existence will always be defined as a benefit to the moral agent, regardless of the moral agent’s POV about good and evil. That’s the argument. For example, let’s consider Satan. The typical bad guy, right? Well, for Satan, it benefits him that he exists. So existence is a good thing to Satan.

          I’m not trying to answer any other questions. The question Bob brings up is whether objective morality exists. So I am focusing on just that.

          @ Paul Wright

          1. When you say ontological argument, are you talking about the argument for God? This is not quite that. Although I believe this is part of the ontological argument, it is not the part where one proves God. It should be valid whether God exists or not. At least, that’s how I’ve read Fr. Dwight. I may be wrong.

          2. The argument is not that existence is a certain kind of good. The argument is only that existence will always be considered “good” by a moral agent regardless of agent’s moral POV.

        • http://www.mccaughan.org.uk/g/ g

          Erick: OK, I hadn’t understood that you were claiming only that for every possible moral agent its existence is a good. Anyway, I’m afraid I still don’t see that you’ve given any actual justification for the claim beyond claiming it’s obvious, which is just as well because I think it’s false. Here are a few hypothetical counterexamples.
          Joe is in constant agony and misery because of a medical condition. This condition is deeply tied up with the structure of his brain, and it couldn’t be removed without making him an altogether different person. It also happens (perhaps partly because of the same medical condition) that Joe has extremely limited power to affect how the world is. Perhaps he’s almost completely paralysed, lives in a nursing home or something where all anyone does is to wheel him between the bed and the television, and has no friends and no money. So, anyway, Joe would prefer not to exist; when he reflects carefully on this he thinks his existence makes the world a worse place (because of his own misery and the effort others have to put into taking care of him, which might otherwise be used for others who would benefit more, and because he has so little counterbalancing ability to make the world a better place).
          Alice has what you or I would consider very odd values. She simply thinks it would be better for her not to exist. More specifically, she is left-handed, and she holds as vitally important articles of faith (1) that left-handed people should not exist, and (2) that left-handed people should act on the world as little as possible, and indeed everything they do is sinful simply because it’s them doing it. Because of #2 she doesn’t, e.g., do anything to rid the world of other left-handers or try to teach others her values, and can’t hold that her existence makes the world better because of what she does. So Alice considers that it would be better if she didn’t exist.
          Edmund has values that rather resemble yours or mine, but he has a deep-rooted compulsion to do what he considers evil. He has made great efforts to get rid of this, or to stop acting on it, with no success to speak of. He *likes* existing, but finds the consequences of his existence so repugnant that he thinks the world would be a better place without him in it.
          Ethel simply, flatly, holds that it would be better for her not to exist. She doesn’t have any general principles leading her to that conclusion; she will listen politely while you explain that her existence enables her to do things she values, or that existence is by definition a good, and then she will go on disapproving of her own existence.
          Most of these people have values very different to mine, values that I find alien. But they’re no more impossible than, say, people who find it morally OK to rape children, and it seems that some of *those* exist (alas). And for at least some of them (Joe, for instance) it actually seems quite rational to me for them to consider their existence a bad thing.
          Now, actually, in one sense I agree with these hypothetical people. I too would prefer them not to exist. (I would also prefer Satan not to exist.) Which brings up another remark about your argument: even if it worked in every particular, the “objective” morality it would produce would be strongly relative: it would say that one person’s objective good is very different from (perhaps diametrically opposed to) another’s. It would be objectively good for Satan that he exist, but objectively good for the archangel Michal (perhaps) that Satan not exist.
          I don’t think there’s anything incoherent in itself about the idea of agent-relative but objective morality, but it tends to be an unpopular notion with those who are particularly keen for morality to be objective. And it seems to me that if you want to avoid my objection above you’ll have to say something like this: What these people prefer, or should prefer, is not the existence of *them exactly as they actually are* but that of some kind of improved version of them. Perhaps Joe shouldn’t value the existence of Joe-with-the-agony-and-misery-and-limitations, but should value that of a hypothetical fixed-Joe without those problems even though fixed-Joe would have to be quite a different person from Joe. But, noting how different different agents’ ideas of “fixed” or “improved” might be, this seems hardly different from just saying that any agent with any moral values at all values the existence of *something*, or ought to. Maybe that’s true (though I wonder; there could, it seems to me, be coherent nihilists who just think everything that is is bad), but I don’t see any reason to call it “objective morality’.
          To summarize my position so far: (1) I don’t see that you’ve offered any justification for the key step in your argument beyond saying it’s obvious. (2) It isn’t obvious to me. (3) In fact, I think it’s wrong and its conclusion is false. (4) If your argument is after all repairable, I’m pretty sure that the objective moral values it produces (a) are only “relative” even if they’re in some sense objective, (b) are very very very limited in scope, (c) have no impact on anyone’s actual practical behaviour, and (d) work against rather than for the common theistic argument from objective morality.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Erick:

          If Nazis had won WWII and they dominated the world, then good is what they say is good.

          No, it’s still the case that they have their list of “good” things and I have my list. They don’t have to be identical. However, if they’d won, they would be holding their Nuremburg trials (let’s imagine), and the rules in force would be theirs. The laws in Europe would be theirs, and judges would be enforcing them. They would have the power, but that power doesn’t include the right to define some universal, shared definition of right and wrong. They can influence individuals’ moral sense, of course, but they can’t define it.

        • Erick

          @ Bob

          That’s not exactly what I’m saying.

          If ALL POV’s have a definition of good and evil that includes the statement “existence is good”, then “existence is good” must be an objective truth. The POVs may disagree on the breadth and width of the goodness of existence, but it’s central character as being good would be objective. So, the fact that Nazis believe only their own existence is good, while Americans believe all-non-hostile existence is good, and Joe Schmo believes that only the existence of others is good, these quantitative measurements of goodness do not negate the central tenet “existence is good”.

          @ g

          Per above, I am not limiting existence’s goodness to “my existence”. I am saying that everyone will hold “existence is good”, regardless of how much that covers. For example, your Alice clearly thinks that right handed people’s existence is good. And it’s not extirely clear that Joe would say he would rather not have existed at all. He may think his life is not good now, but how about before?

          What I am doing is adding another layer to the Natural Law premise that existence is a positive compared to non-existence. Natural Law gets this premise via a bit of what I call pseudo-math logic. If nothing =0, and existence is something, then existence must be a +1. And the basest definition of “good” is that is some kind of + for the moral agent.

          I am proposing that even if we use Bob’s subjectiveness argument, one will still reach the point that existence is a +1 for everyone.

          Clearly, this does not answer the other questions you have. That is not my goal. My goal is only to show Bob (as he challenged in his post) that there are things that are objectively good and/or bad.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Erick:

          If ALL POV’s have a definition of good and evil that includes the statement “existence is good”, then “existence is good” must be an objective truth.

          I don’t reject that objective truth exists (1 + 1 = 2 might be an example). What I want to see is evidence that objective moral truth exists (and is accessible).

        • Lion IRC

          Is this thread updated anywhere to a new one?
          Hello @ Bob Seidensticker
          Just wondering if we can continue the ”moral instinct” discussion from Apologetics Alliance.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Lion: Welcome aboard.

          Sure, let’s continue the discussion here. Fire away.

        • Lion IRC

          :-)
          Dont you agree that there is a problem (for you) with blurring and conflating;
          a) the shared, observable behaviour which (uncontroversially) corresponds to our having some sort of inbuilt moral compass/instinct/intuition in common. (Agreed?)
          and/
          b) the presumptive claim that because we can see it on The Discovery Channel it must therefore be purely mechanistic – biologically deterministic…and there’s no need to turn a how question into a why question…and evolution ”done it” not God…and invoking God amounts to an admission of ignorance, etc etc.

          I thought what we were discussing was a theory [b]about[/b] its possible origin. If we agree there is such a thing as moral instinct, I would like to know how the process of evolutionary ”happenstance” makes our human moral instinct any more meaningful than the [i]”trompe l’oeil”[/i] of fine tuning.

        • Lion IRC

          :-) if at first..
          Dont you agree that there is a problem (for you) with blurring and conflating;
          a) the shared, observable behaviour which (uncontroversially) corresponds to our having acquired some sort of inbuilt moral compass/instinct/intuition in common. (Agreed?)
          and/
          b) the presumptive claim that because we can see it on The Discovery Channel it must therefore be purely mechanistic – biologically deterministic…and there’s no need to turn a how question into a why question…and evolution ”done it” not God…and invoking God amounts to an admission of ignorance, etc etc.

          I thought what we were discussing was a theory about its possible origin. If we agree there is such a thing as moral instinct, I would like to know how the process of evolutionary ”happenstance” makes our human moral instinct any more meaningful than the ”trompe l’oeil” of fine tuning.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Lion:

          the shared, observable behaviour which (uncontroversially) corresponds to our having some sort of inbuilt moral compass/instinct/intuition in common. (Agreed?)

          Yes, I see this.

          it must therefore be purely mechanistic – biologically deterministic

          It doesn’t have to be mechanistic … but that’s where the evidence points.

          I would like to know how the process of evolutionary ”happenstance” makes our human moral instinct any more meaningful than the [i]”trompe l’oeil”[/i] of fine tuning.

          I’m aware of what trompe l’oeil means, but I don’t see what you mean by it in this context.

          If you’re asking why our instinct is meaningful in an absolute or objective or transcendent way, it isn’t. It’s kind of obvious why it’s meaningful though, right? You ask the black box labeled Moral Instinct, and it tells you that helping someone is “good” and stealing is “bad.” There’s no more grounding than that. If you had a Romulan’s moral instinct, you’d come up with different rights and wrongs.

        • http://www.mccaughan.org.uk/g/ g

          Erick: Joe’s life was always like that.
          If all you’re saying is that all these people hold, or should hold, that there are some things whose existence is good, then you haven’t pointed to any credible candidate for an objective moral truth. If you’re saying that they hold, or should hold, that existence as such is good then I still don’t see that you’ve offered any support for that other than stating it repeatedly. By your own admission it’s possible (and in some cases reasonable) for an agent not to view their own existence as a good; it’s easy to cone up with plenty of other things whose existence they (or we) wouldn’t consider as good; on what basis, then, are you asking us to accept that existence as such is a good for everyone?
          I’m afraid what you call “pseudo-math logic” is every bit as pseudo when considered as logic as it is when considered as mathematics.

        • Nick Gotts

          There are whole philosophies (Schopenhauer, some kinds of Buddhism, possibly Gnosticism) that hold that existence is evil. Erick’s claim is simply false: there is nothing necessary about existence being considered a good.

        • keddaw

          And indoctrinate people and, especially children, so that the social layer of morality is shaped to think that what the Nazis did was rights, just as ours has been shaped to believe that carpet bombing Dresden or nuking two Japanese cities was the ‘right’ thing to do. Or that slavery was OK when it was commonplace, or segregation, or any of the other things we currently think of as wrong but were accepted as the norm by seemingly nice and normal people.

          NB. This is not a universal thing, individuals will still be individuals in spite of indoctrination and think thoughts and have beliefs the authorities would rather we didn’t have.

  • Richard S. Russell

    If we were descended from praying mantises instead of great apes, it would be a mortal sin not to eat your husband after sex.

    • jose

      Very succinct, I agree. The most agreed upon morality rule is the golden rule, which is based on a style of life defined by frequent social interactions among largely equal individuals. It’s easy to see how such a rule helps a great deal to maintain such a community stable. The golden rule does not make sense in an eusocial culture and it wouldn’t either for our hypothetical intelligent mantis—an asocial being.

      • Jason

        Something like the golden rule is probably the closest thing to objective morality for humans, but I think people are confusing shared subjectivity with true objectivity. 12 mentally sane people may agree that they saw a spaceship when a they spotted strange headlights in the distance. This is obviously not an objective truth just because they all had the same experience. It may be that for biological or neurological reasons, there are some shared notions of morality/ethics in the human species, but that does not make it objective. So this whole notion that since many people agree about fundamental ethical issues means that there is an objective truth is hogwash. The reason we call Nazi’s evil and say what they did is wrong is because enough of us agree that there is no point in debating it. I suppose that if ants were intelligent they would consider my actions morally wrong in an objective sense if I doused their home with poison. And I’m sure most other ant hill communities would agree and would probably be willing to stop me if they could. This is just collective (and subjective) survival, not objective truth.

        “Man is the measure of all things.” –Protagoras

  • RandomFunction2

    To Bob the broken atheist,

    If objective morality does not exist, what’s the point in trying to change laws or attitudes in a given society? What was the poing in the struggle against slavery, for women’s rights, for gay liberation??? If the initial state of affairs (e.g. slavery held to be right) is no worse objectively than the willed end state of affairs (slavery condemned) why bother to change at all?

    A social reform can only take place because some people see that current norms don’t agree with ideal norms, which means that there must be objective morality above society, which we ought to strive to realize.

    • Brian Westley

      “If objective morality does not exist, what’s the point in trying to change laws or attitudes in a given society.”

      To make that society better; whether morality is objective or not makes no difference.

      “What was the poing in the struggle against slavery, for women’s rights, for gay liberation??? If the initial state of affairs (e.g. slavery held to be right) is no worse objectively than the willed end state of affairs (slavery condemned) why bother to change at all?”

      Same answer as above.

      “A social reform can only take place because some people see that current norms don’t agree with ideal norms, which means that there must be objective morality above society, which we ought to strive to realize.”

      I disagree completely. Some people might merely see that current norms don’t agree with BETTER norms (or at least norms that are better in their opinion). Again, this state of affairs does not require any sort of objective morality to exist.

      • RandomFunction2

        To BW,

        And how do you define “better” without reference to an objective standard?

        If your point is just that in this imperfect world, it is impossible to realize a perfect state of affairs, then I agree as a matter of course. But even the ideas “better” and “worse” imply the existence of an objective standard about the current norms of a given society, and which serves as a point of reference for guiding the progress of society. Just as the idea of objective reality is in science an absolute, but one of which we have just relative knowledge.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          RF2:

          Brian will have his own response, but my answer is that no objective standard is needed. I consult my own conscience to figure out right or wrong. Probably the same as what you do? Again, no need to posit objective morality (unless “objective morality” = “shared or common morality”).

          But even the ideas “better” and “worse” imply the existence of an objective standard

          Not if “objective” means “grounded outside humanity; true whether humans exist or not,” which was (roughly) the definition from the post.

        • Brian Westley

          “And how do you define “better” without reference to an objective standard?”

          I use MY standard, of course. It may or may not agree with yours. Haven’t you ever been in a position where people disagreed on what course of action is better?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      RF2:

      If objective morality does not exist, what’s the point in trying to change laws or attitudes …

      Objective morality doesn’t exist, but morality certainly does. My drive to improve society is similar to yours, I’m sure.

      A social reform can only take place because some people see that current norms don’t agree with ideal norms

      What ideal norms? If you’re referring to objective morality, show us that it exists. I’ve seen no evidence. More importantly, that hypothesis is simply unnecessary. Natural explanations suffice.

      • RandomFunction2

        To Bob the broken atheist,

        Whenever we argue that something is more or less so than something else, we need an objective standard to make the comparison, otherwise it would make no sense. To say that Bill Gates is richer than a worker, you need the objective standard of money (admittedly, money only exists as a social convention, it does not exist like atoms or energy, but that’s beside the point). To say that an adult is taller than a baby, you need an objective standard: the rule. And to say that freedom is better than slavery, that democracy is better than despotism, that peace is usually better than war, you need as well an objective standard, objective morality.

        You keep on asking for evidence for objective morality. Now this is exactly what I am giving you: evidence. You may not like it, you may not understand it, but it’s evidence all the same.

        Who would struggle for society to embrace vanilla rather than chocolate as the tastiest flavour of ice cream? No one, because tastes are subjective. There is no point in struggling for something subjective. If an evil guy craves for power, he will at least try to present his thirst for power to others as an objective good for them. Otherwise the others will pay no heed.

        But people have struggled for blacks, for women, for gays, for the poor, for the natives, and so on. Sometimes the people doing the struggle were from the dominant class. Because they acknowledged that there is an objective standard that required them to change civil laws. Civil laws, which are a human construct, needed to be fitted to a higher law, the objective moral law. There is no such law stating that vanilla is tastier than chocolate. The moral law is unlike tastes and somewhat like scientific laws in so far as they are universal and independent of a given mind.

        Still, you may be right. It may be true that morality is nothing but an evolved illusion and that there are no objective moral truths. But in that case, it would be POINTLESS to argue moral issues. It would be pointless to ask for a change in social institutions, since the starting point would be no worse objectively than the end point. There may be things you don’t like about society, but so what? Why should the others pay heed? Your opinion would be no more authoritative than your opinion about ice cream or cookies.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          RF2:

          Bob the broken atheist

          What does this mean?

          we need an objective standard to make the comparison, otherwise it would make no sense

          And if “objective” means “shared” (for example), we’re on the same page. If it means “grounded outside humanity” or “true whether humans exist or not” (as given above) then I say: show me that this exists, because I’ve seen no evidence for it.

          You keep on asking for evidence for objective morality. Now this is exactly what I am giving you: evidence.

          No, you’re redefining it into another version of “objective morality”–a definition which I’m fine with. I’m asking about the other kind. Are you saying that you reject it just like me?

          There is no point in struggling for something subjective.

          There is no point in struggling for something unimportant.

          From the post:

          Let’s use William Lane Craig’s definition for objective morality: “moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not.”

          Do you agree that such a morality exists? If so, show me (and, no, those examples don’t begin to touch this definition).

          Still, you may be right. It may be true that morality is nothing but an evolved illusion and that there are no objective moral truths. But in that case, it would be POINTLESS to argue moral issues.

          Just because there’s no objective morality, that doesn’t mean there’s no morality. Look it up in the dictionary–there is no “objective” there … and yet humanity stumbles along just fine without it.

        • RandomFunction2

          To Bob the broken atheist,

          (About the “broken” thing, this is jesting.)

          Actually, moral norms are not always shared, but they are still objective. Some people may be blind to them, but they are there nonetheless. It’s not different from a scientific theory like evolution in this respect. Is it your claim that all we mean in science by “objective truth” is “shared truth”?

          About your definition of objectivity, let me make a comparison: natural selection is objectively true. But would it be so if life did not exist? It may then be potentially true, but in some sense, it would not be actually true. Still, it does not diminish the truth-value of natural selection now. Now, would moral norms be objective if there were no people? Yes and no. No, they would not exist as such, but there would be the potential for them rooted in the world, and that potential is objective, just as the potential for life was objective 4 billion years ago.

          If morality is not objective, it loses all its meaning. It would be like if a scientist came to know that he lived in the Matrix, but could not escape it. The world for him would become unreal and fake. The world must be objective, or else it’s not really the world, but an illusion.

          And you should not put so much trust in the dictionary. Or at least, read dictionaries and textbooks of philosophy and ethics. An ordinary dictionary is not a philosopher.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          RF2:

          moral norms are not always shared, but they are still objective.

          How do you define “objective”?

          If morality is not objective, it loses all its meaning.

          Remove “morality = true whether anyone is around to believe it or not,” and you still have plain old morality–that which your conscience hands to you when you ask it a moral problem.

          And you should not put so much trust in the dictionary.

          I disagree. I often see Christians who say, “but in the atheist view, there is no meaning” (or morality or whatever). What they mean is: there is no objective meaning. Your life won’t mean anything in a billion years. But who cares? I wake up tomorrow, and I’ve still got my things to do that day, I take pride in accomplishments, I enjoy my family and friends, and so on. Meaning is gone … and yet there it is.

          Maybe objective meaning isn’t necessary after all.

        • RandomFunction2

          To Bob the broken atheist,

          I don’t quite understand your move to identify shared with objective. It certainly does not work in science. A shared theory – the scientific consensus of the day – is not necessarily objectively true. And when some issue is disputed, it does not mean that it is not about objective truth…

          Some great moral truths are not universal, yet they are objective nonetheless. If morality is not objective, it vanishes. Just as Christianity without the existence of God. Morality only works insofar as it is thought to apply universally, independently of one’s beliefs. Some theologians say “God does not exist, but Christianity is still meaningful. Let’s find the mundane meaning of it, without any reference to the supernatural.” Except that it is utterly unconvincing. If God does not exist, Christianity dies, period. If moral norms are not objective, moral nihilism wins, period.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          RF2:

          I see the difference between shared and objective. I’m not equating them; I’m clarifying two different explanations to the morality that we see in society around us. Is morality common among humans because it’s shared or because it’s objective?

          Some great moral truths are not universal, yet they are objective nonetheless. If morality is not objective, it vanishes. Just as Christianity without the existence of God. Morality only works insofar as it is thought to apply universally, independently of one’s beliefs.

          Morality that’s not objective doesn’t exist? Seems to me that a shared sense of morality, grounded only in our common evolution-given instinct, explains things nicely.

        • Niemand

          To say that an adult is taller than a baby, you need an objective standard: the rule.

          Not really. A relative standard will do, i.e. the baby will fit on my arm, the adult won’t, therefore the baby is smaller. All done without an “objective” measurement of either’s height.

        • ScottInOH

          Furthermore, you don’t need certain knowledge of what the highest possible height is. In fact, that doesn’t even make sense, and yet we’re able to compare the heights of things.

        • Mr. X

          You seem to be confusing “objective” with “precise”.

        • Niemand

          You need a definition, i.e. “taller means larger in this dimension”. The definition is, in some senses, arbitrary. Why should height mean distance from foot to top of head? No reason, but it’s convenient that we all mean that when we use the word “height” and no one means distance around the body at the waist or distance from knee to shoulder or whatever. I’m not sure that a) we have a clear definition of “moral” that everyone shares and b) it is any more objective than the definition of height.

        • Mr. X

          The definition of the term “height” is arbitrary in that you could use the word to refer to something else. Somebody’s actual height (i.e., the distance between their foot and head) is an objective fact, since it will remain the same whatever you think his height is or whatever term you use to describe it.

  • avalon

    Edward Westermarck wrote the following in 1906 concerning the origin of moral values:
    “The objectivity ascribed to judgements which arise from our unconscience as intuitive knowledge comes from the similarity of the mental constitution of men.

    Our moral consciousness is part of our subconscience, which we cannot change as we please. We approve or disapprove because we cannot do otherwise.

    Owing to their exceptional importantance for human welfare, the facts of the moral consciousness are emphasied in much higher degree than would be ordinary subjective facts.

    As clearness and distinctness of the conception of an object easily produces the belief in it’s truth, so the intensity of a moral emotion makes him who feels it disposed to objectivize the moral estimate to which it gives rise, in other words, to assign to it universal validity.

    There are different degrees of badness and goodness, a duty may be more or less stringent, and merit may be smaller or greater. These quantitative differences are due to the emotional origin of basic moral concepts. ”

    avalon

    • Bob Seidensticker

      :)

  • Kristen inDallas

    Random Function has a good start in the second comment, I’ll try to expound. Lewis does a great deal of work explaining how he arrives at an “objective morality” if it wasn’t in Mere Chistianity, then it’s discussed in the 3rd chapter of Abolition of Man and at the begining of Miricles from different angles. There’s a brief summary here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_Reason
    but the full texts are better.

    Essentially, if values are subjective (a matter of taste) then where do they come from? The especially tricky value is as Colbert would call it “truthiness” lol. If our ability to make value judgements about the truth of something (or it’s rightneess or wrongness) is completely subjective, then we can’t make rational arguments for anything, including the argument that things ought to be proven to be believed in. At best, you can claim that you *personally* like evidence, and want more before believing. But you can’t logically claim that someone else’s belief without evidence is somehow illogical or wrong without first conceeding that objective knowledge is an objective good.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Kristen:

      if values are subjective (a matter of taste) then where do they come from?

      I tried to explain that in the post. Morals come from evolution. If we were bears or Klingons, we’d consult our conscience and come up with different answers to moral questions.

      If our ability to make value judgements about the truth of something (or it’s rightneess or wrongness) is completely subjective, then we can’t make rational arguments for anything

      Let’s focus on just morality here to keep it simpler. I consult my conscience on an issue and come to a conclusion on its rightness or wrongness. If it’s something visceral, you’re probably going to have the same opinion. Not surprising–we’re the same species. If it’s something trivial (“It is essential for a gentleman to hold a chair for a lady”) then we may well disagree but won’t think much about it.

      I would argue with you in the same way that laws are argued for. No one looks up the correct answer in the Big Book of Moral truth; we humans are stuck figuring out what makes sense on our own (and doing a so-so job at it).

      • jose

        We should note that it’s not exactly morals that come from evolution, but our intuitive sense of morality, that is, our ability to grasp morality. Not the same. We are learning values since we are born, we are raised according to values, and as we grow up we can examine our values critically and change our minds using rational arguments. I think the points that much of our morality is learned and that we can use critical thinking to review and modify our values are really important.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          jose:

          I don’t see the difference. Why is morality not “that which your conscience tells you is right or wrong”?

          You seem to imagine an extra layer here that I don’t see.

        • jose

          Because your conscience isn’t born knowing anything about the world. Real life is complicated and we need to learn about issues and think them through before making a judgment. Your conscience on its own isn’t enough. You need to feed your conscience rational arguments and real data and think critically. Your conscience is often wrong due to insufficient information and sloppy thinking. Think about the people who change their minds about gay marriage when they get to know gay people (like the president himself). Their conscience was telling them something, then they learned about the topic, and then their consciousness was modified by that and began telling them something different.

          We are born with an ability to be moral, but that isn’t enough: We need to think our values through.

          Perhaps using an analogy… our ability to play guitar comes from evolution and we intuitively perceive which chords sound good to us and which chords we don’t care about. But playing guitar still takes years of learning, and defining our style is what makes us guitarists.

        • Steve

          Jose… a quick note… a person is able to feel pain or hunger when they are born and how they understand these things has (along with the countless other environmental & experiential factors in their lives) an effect on their moral development. Our ability to understand things like pain is a universal (or as close to it as anything) similarity among people so it should be no surprise that ethical codes have similar values regarding harm. The appearance here of objectivity is the result of countless similar (though not identical) subjective viewpoints regarding the intentional causing of harm.

      • Niemand

        Morals come from evolution. If we were bears or Klingons, we’d consult our conscience and come up with different answers to moral questions.

        It’s got to be more complicated than that. We’re no different evolutionarily than people who lived in the 1950s, when schools, marriages, and water fountains were segregated by race (speaking of concepts without objective reality) and a woman could be raped with impunity as long as the rapist was married to her. Or, for that matter, the 1920s when people took their children to the free entertainment of a lynching and women voting was controversial. It’s not just our underlying evolved biology but also the social conventions we learn that lead to our morality. Which means that we have to keep teaching people about morality or we’ll go back to older, less moral ways.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, I see a lower, visceral instinctual layer and a societal layer on top.

      • Kristen inDallas

        “Let’s focus on just morality here to keep it simpler. ”
        I think my point is that we can’t carve the subset of moral knowledge out of human knowledge in general. When you say that moral knowledge comes from evolution, or societal influence, etc, you are making a truth claim. Our ability to even discuss who is more correct about the workings of nature depend on our ability to place a value on truth claims. (right or wrong, true or false) All human reasoning (including reasoning that might allow us to explain morality) is predicated on the idea that there is some objective truth to be known AND on the moral truth that true ideas are better than untrue ideas.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I need to see a distinction. 1 + 1 = 2 is very different from “abortion is wrong”–for our discussion, they’re different at least because I can accept that the first is objectively true (everyone believes it!) and that the second is not (not!).

  • Pingback: Objective Morality and Hard to Get at Truths

  • Ted Seeber

    What if the problem is with your dictionary, rather than with objective truth? Or to put it another way: If moral subjectivism and moral relativity is true, then does that not also cover moral objectivists? To me the fact that moral subjectivists behave like moral objectivists (for instance, that advert in the New York Times from the Freedom From Religion foundation is an excellent example of evangelical atheism) proves that moral subjectivism isn’t true.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Ted: I’m not following your point. Sounds like you’re saying that atheists claim to reject moral objectivism but act like embrace it. Tell me more.

  • Kodie

    I don’t understand anyone who says there is objective morality. It’s like when religious people only use beautiful things as evidence of god, like a flower or a butterfly or a mountain but not the flesh-eating parasites, poison, or tornadoes, or poop itself. Genocide seems pretty objectively awful, but classifying kinds of rape as real or not real, also seems objectively awful and they don’t see that! I am thinking a lot smaller issues generally. Two people have preferences about what causes them harm and are in conflict. I think on the internet, these things are settled by calling out your team. What is it to be harmed? Because other people relate to it?

    The story of “When someone says rearranging furniture is good, and another neighbor says quiet is good”*. Quiet is perfect but you’re compromising it by living in an apartment and agree to an acceptable level of noise. Rearranging furniture once in a while during the day is something you just have to do and you can’t help but make noise while doing it, but rearranging your furniture every middle of the night when you can’t sleep is not universally agreed to be “good”. It can be seen as good by the person who is compelled to do it, and if the neighbor downstairs seems to be awake, it can be seen as agreed to by both neighbors as it would be during the day. But if there are conditions – the downstairs neighbor needs to sleep during the day can ask that their preferences be considered, and the upstairs neighbor can ignore it and the landlord can’t compel them to keep quiet. If the upstairs neighbor is “too noisy” every night but by the downstairs neighbor’s schedule is as good a time as any for the upstairs neighbor to make so much noise, it is not “too noisy” if they are up anyway (and not just “still awake because there’s too much noise”). The lease may dictate certain hours for noise, but what is good for one neighbor, or even most neighbors, can be bad for the other directly below them, and what is against the lease altogether works out fine if both neighbors agree. It would help a lot if nobody decided for everyone else what is good, although setting hours for noise and quiet in a shared building is one way to try to please almost everyone, and if one neighbor asked the other whether they can agree before they go ahead and presume the light is on because that neighbor is certainly wide awake and not trying to drift off with a book.

    Yet when people take “teams” on these disputes, they are deciding what would not bother them is always ok if someone else does it to someone whom it does bother. The lease is the final arbiter here, so if one person sleeps during the day, their harm is not accounted, but a person who sleeps at night’s harm is accounted if the upstairs neighbor is making exactly the same amount of noise. If a person calls “team” on the noise maker because they are awake at night, I mean, that’s what I’m talking about. People who make up their personal set of morals based on normal customs (like the lease tries to) may be wrong about causing harm on the person who needs to sleep during the day and can choose to take other factors of the downstairs neighbor into account, which are preferential types of people to give consideration – old people, young mothers – and people they don’t account as worthy – people who don’t have a job right now, or people who play music “too loud on Sunday morning”. The upstairs neighbor might be quieter for the 1st group than the 2nd once they have more information, or be equally considerate or inconsiderate to both groups. The harm caused by moving furniture in the middle of every night may be minimal if you’d first ask the downstairs neighbor their terms – how badly do you need to compulsively move your furniture that you may ask? They may in fact be at work during those hours so it’s perfect. Most people are trying to sleep, so you can’t presume they are up just because you are up. But you can ask permission. It’s a weird way to get to know your neighbors before you’re about to piss them off, but why waste a potential. Rather you might not piss them off at all, but you probably will if you just go ahead, since most people do sleep at night. Would it be objectively moral to wait for the daytime? Not if the person below you sleeps then instead.

    *This story is based on my newish upstairs neighbor, though a lot quieter the first few months since he first moved in does sound exactly like the mood strikes to rearrange all his furniture from one side of the room and back several times between 12-2:30am with the help of his giant dog every night). It’s like, 45 minutes to an hour of it, not just some “getting in from work late” taking off his shoes for a minute and it’s not sex either – see those would be agreeable no-harm preferences that I’ve decided. Additionally, I have one person I know who decides what wouldn’t bother him shouldn’t bother anyone else, but all people have to accommodate his peculiar preferences too. To some credit, he’s not bothered by the first, or inflict the second on anyone – I’m not really sure he’s consistent but that’s not overall moral to me to ignore what anyone else is like in preference to oneself 100%. He is taking the position that moving furniture every night is what he wants to do and since he’s up, it of course wouldn’t bother him if anyone upstairs of him were moving furniture at the same time. He is not the same person as my upstairs neighbor, but that’s where his moral compass takes him.

    How can morals be objective? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is only a guideline, it might not work out that perfectly, as my friend seems to live by it and it really sucks to know that guy. Most of the time we discuss morality when it comes up, it’s always the huge things like murder. Can we say of course murder is wrong and how do we know? Because god said not to move your furniture in the middle of the night no matter what, it’s not even open for question or depend on circumstances?

  • DrewL

    Just pulling together some Bob quotes…

    ….And I’ll take steps to overrule their morality when my morality says to do so.

    …Had they [the Nazis] won WW2 then they would’ve had the power to impose their idea of morality. Kind of a big difference.

    …Might makes right. If the Taliban had the power, they would do exactly that.

    …“Right” is in the eye of the beholder.

    …I consult my conscience on an issue and come to a conclusion on its rightness or wrongness.

    Some reflections:
    a) Bob is not shy about imposing his morality on others. Very similar to the Christian Right.

    b) His defense for this is not a rational argument about the common good, but merely “well everyone else does it!” or “my conscience requires this.” Again, not far from the Christian Right (Bob generally holds his conscience to be infallible, much like believers view their source of personal revelation)

    c) He’s of two minds on might-makes-right. On one hand, Bob’s personal morality tells him the Holocaust is wrong. On the other hand, the Nazis had the “might” to do as they wished, and “might makes right,” so therefore, Holocaust=right. At the least, the Nazis were equally as “right” to exterminate the Jews as Bob is “right” to personally oppose such actions. Bob lands on an amazing propositional belief: he affirms the Nazis were right to do what he affirms they were not right to do.

    d) However, he doesn’t seem to honor the “right” of those with “might” to deny gay people the right to marry: his editorial clearly suggests something is WRONG and reprehensible. So “might makes right”…sometimes?

    e) At times in the Bob universe, it seems all not-Bob entities are second-class citizens, not afforded the same right to impose morality that Bob grants himself. Should you find yourself in disagreement with Bob’s morality, you’re out of luck in the Bob universe, because his morality simply trumps yours.

    f) In the end, Bob has ultimately written himself a free-pass to being an all-powerful tyrant. I don’t see that he’s placed any “checks” on his actions–certainly not individual rights (these require more grounding), equality (this requires more rounding), justice (this requires more grounding), a social contract (this requires more grounding), or even the law, since we know laws are hardly infallible (think Civil Rights Era).

    I don’t think I want to live in a society made up of Bobs.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      a) Bob is not shy about imposing his morality on others. Very similar to the Christian Right.

      Is my position unusual? Suppose you came across a kid beating a dog tied to a tree. Would you do anything? That is, would you impose your morality on others?

      Bob generally holds his conscience to be infallible, much like believers view their source of personal revelation

      Yeah, sometimes your parodies run off the cliff. Like now.

      Holocaust=right

      Wrong again.

      he affirms the Nazis were right to do what he affirms they were not right to do

      Nope.

      So “might makes right”…sometimes?

      I’d try to clarify this, but understanding my position doesn’t seem to be a goal, so I’ll not waste your time.

      Should you find yourself in disagreement with Bob’s morality, you’re out of luck in the Bob universe, because his morality simply trumps yours.

      If we disagree on abortion, say, who do you think is right–you or me?

      Gee, maybe this notion that our own moral instincts trump those of others is more universal than you thought.

      I don’t think I want to live in a society made up of Bobs.

      I was about to ask you how your society works (I’m pretty sure it works the same as I describe), but don’t bother. It’ll just be another fantasy.

      I guess you’re here just passing the time? Y’know–you’ve got a lot of energy for this topic. Why don’t you address questions honestly, with a desire to learn something, and without caricature. We’d get along much better.

      • DrewL

        Looks like you’re spending most of your time carrying out Reflection B, which seems to be a favorite go-to defense when you’re in a logical bind.

        I think most people are smart enough to realize: your gay marriage rights editorial undermines most of the argument you’re trying to profess here. Last week you were lamenting a societal-wide objective moral wrong, this week you’re a subjectivist. Next week I imagine you’ll be back to speaking in objective moral terms about what Christians should and shouldn’t do. Most philosophers would recognize Lewis’s views on morality are flawed, but here you’ve pretty much played into his hand with your selective objective morality.

        I’ll be eagerly awaiting your responses to my other points above: I believe you can do better than your “everyone else does it too!” defense.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drew:

          Looks like you’re spending most of your time carrying out Reflection B

          I don’t know what this terrible thing is.

          I also notice that you let stand my suggestions of how we think alike. Points of agreement perhaps? Or is agreeing not something that your constitution allows?

          Last week you were lamenting a societal-wide objective moral wrong

          You should read my posts. I’ve written about my rejection of objective moral claims–in this post, for example.

          I’ll be eagerly awaiting your responses to my other points above: I believe you can do better than your “everyone else does it too!” defense.

          I’m not following. What points are unanswered? And if we agree that we both see things the same way, what’s left to talk about?

        • DrewL

          We don’t think alike, but it’d take a lot of wikipedia to explain the difference.

          Regarding unanswered points, you responded to my Reflection A with Reflection B, which was just affirming my prediction. Left C-F unanswered other than a few one-word responses. Would love to see a response to Reflection F. Or just some defense of the gay marriage editorial other than “I was only PRETENDING to be an objectivist….”

          You should also think about writing a post on how the Atheism+ movement is flawed in assenting to and working toward universal humanist values. That should get thrown out as nonsense in the Bob universe. As does most other social movements that appeal to rights, equality, dignity, justice, fairness, compassion, etc. Those things are just silly illusions in the Bob universe.

  • http://www.noctua.org.uk/ Paul Wright

    Here’s a comment I just posted over on Leah’s blog:

    I agree [with Leah] that there can still be a fact of the matter about hard to discover truths. Perhaps a better objection to the typical moral chaos arguments people make against relativism would be that these objective morals don’t solve the problem even if they do exist.

    Suppose that there are moral facts out there floating in some sort of Platonic aether, or grounded in the Nature of a Maximally Capitalised Being. Even allow that we can somehow know what some of them are. Now what? The knowledge that these things exist does not seem to be compelling in the way that the people who worry about moral relativism want it to be, since one typical argument here is the moral chaos one: “if there are no such facts, how can we convince Hobbes not to push Calvin in the mud/convince the Nazis not to kill the Jews?” But, since there are no universally compelling arguments, why suppose that Hobbes and the Nazis would be bothered by the idea that they are contravening some universal standard?

    Why even suppose that they make some kind of mistake by contravening it, as the person who is wrong about the teapot does? (Of course, they would make such a mistake if there were moral facts and they believed the facts were different from the true ones). Don Loeb’s Gastronomic Realism—A Cautionary Tale is fun reading (if you like philosophy papers which talk about haggis and Cheetos) for his extension of moral realism to gastronomic realism: perhaps we can use the arguments for moral realism to show that some foods are simply better than others, in an absolute sense? Loeb says he’s not attempting a reductio here, as the arguments for gastronomic realism are pretty good. Rather: “If gastronomic realism is correct, then it would of course be possible to make mistakes about which foods are good or about how good they are. But it is hard to see how a (suitably informed) person could be mistaken in preferring worse foods to better ones. That decision is still up to us, and not just in the political sense that we are free to make it for ourselves, but in the evaluative sense that such decisions are not ordinarily subject to rational criticism.

    The interesting thing is that the same is true in regards to moral value. Supposing for the moment that there are real moral oughts, one must still decide whether or not to govern one’s conduct in accordance with them. No doubt it would be immoral not to; we oughtM to do what morality requires. But there are likely to be conflicts between the oughts of morality and the oughts of prudence, law, or instrumental rationality, to name a few. Thus the fact that we oughtM to behave in a certain way tells us nothing about whether we ought all things considered to do so.” I’ll leave the truly awful pun at the end of the paper for the reader to discover.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Thanks for sharing that. Have you gotten any feedback?

  • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

    I have to say, in the context of a universe without a deity, you are quite correct. It is incorrect for us to believe that there is a value in a thing unless the thing has been defined with a value objectively. Anyone atheist views humans as having more objective value than sea-cucumbers is simply being speciesist.

    (I do feel that I should point out that I’m a Christian and so disagree with this perspective, but the article is 100% philosophically consistent with atheism)

    • http://theophor.us Ignatius Theophorus

      Apologies for the grammar in that one… I just had a bit of caffeine and realized how atrocious that was.

  • J. Cormier

    Bob says : To the person who insists that objective morality exists, I say: show me. Take a vexing moral issue—abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, capital punishment, sex before marriage, torture, and so on—and show us the objectively true moral position. If you want to say that objective morality exists but it’s not reliably accessible, then what good is it? This kind of objective morality that looks nonexistent might as well be.

    As DrewL notes, Bob thinks that the morality of gay marriage is quite clear. Bob will impose his morality on other people to help homosexuals, like a good old objectivist. However, this is, Bob will readily admit, his personal idea, with absolutely no objective basis in reality. And about other moral dilemmas in our society, he notes that they are very vexing, and thinks they cannot possibly have any objective answer. So all attempts to find some objective solutions to any moral dispute are doomed.

    Now, “is homosexuality ok?” or “is capital punishment just?” is, from this viewpoint, no more objective (and, perhaps no more important) than “is blue the best color?” Those questions are, in the end, meaningless. Neither side is moral – or immoral- at all. There exist no absolutes, no standards to which one can appeal. If there is no objective morality, Bob’s support for homosexuals is utterly arbitrary, just like, if there were no sun, whether I support Copernicus or Ptolemy would be utterly arbitrary. One cannot possibly be “right” in the old-fashioned sense, except inside his/her skull.

    Of course, Bob can, if he wants to, defend gay marriage valiantly. But he cannot, except in his wildest dreams, imagine that the morality of gay marriage is something objective, something true, something that, because of its inherent qualities, people ought to accept. He does not seek to enlighten homophobes ; he seeks to impose his morality on them, for the single reason that this is what he wants to. He can be compared to an imaginary professor who, though he does not think Hamlet is any better or worse than Twilight, doggedly maintains that Shakespeare is the greatest playwright in history, just because he wants to.

    So, the discovery that no moral dispute have any meaning at all does not make these problems go away, at least in case of Bob. One side will have to impose its morality on the other side a la Bob to end the controversy. Now, what is very important here is that, if Bob is right, this is how all moral problems always have been, are, and will be resolved – imposition of subjective moral values on submissive or defeated individuals without objective justification. ex) the Allied brainwashing of German citizens into believing that Hitler was objectively evil / a teacher talking with a stubborn bully until he feels he’s objectively bad and genuinely apologizes to his victim . In both cases, it is power and authority, not reason and morality, that did the trick.

    Now, when we think about the implications of this, we find that all of our moral ideas that were once upon a time controversial or ambiguous cannot possibly be anything more than an end product of a long amoral chain of amoral impositions. Bob’s demand that someone should show him the objective moral position on a vexing moral problem can be retroactively applied to any moral problem in any era in human history. And the apparently “true” solution to any moral problem will invariably turn out to be spurious.

    If whites believe that blacks and whites are equal this is not because not because they are, but because the idea of racial equality has been imposed on them. If Christians and Muslims think they should tolerate each other, this is not because they should, but because the idea of tolerance has been imposed on them. If Bob thinks Hitler was bad, this is not because he is, but because the Allies, being victorious, managed to impose their morality on the world. We were all taught as if MLK was an objectively good person ; but if so why was he hated so much, why was he assassinated? Surely this means that MLK’s goodness was subjective?

    I’m sure Bob believes in racial equality, virtue of tolerance, the evilness of Hitler and other things that are now almost universally acknowledged in his part of the world. I’m also sure that Bob will readily admit that there is no reason to assume that slaughter of millions of Jews, or slavery affecting tens of millions of blacks, were/are any more (or any less) objectively immoral than gay marriage, abortion etc. I don’t see why Bob, knowing this, chooses to condemn fascism and slavery, considering the fact that his revulsion against them, like the idea of objective morality, was obviously imposed on him while he was a defenceless child, without any rational justification. Why keep them when it is glaringly clear that they are nonsense?

    Perhaps the reason is that removal of all such impositions will leave a rather skeletal morality. Much of Bob’s morality exists at all thanks to such impositions from his parents and teachers, which Bob will in turn impose on as many people as possible, including his children. In Bob’s world, the idea of “teaching” morality is absurd. After all, how can you teach something that which does not exist? Does any father “teach” his son that the best color is blue? If Bob is right, morality is not taught, only imposed. Children are not educated, only programmed. Bob chooses to impose his morality on others even though every single moral idea he has is groundless.

    • jose

      Your complete inability to conceive any sort of negotiation, agreement, or debate among diverse ideologies with diverse interests is telling.

      Do you think democracy works?

      • J. Cormier

        Jose. Your response is puzzling. What are you suggesting? Are you saying that Bob’s irrational and arbitrary decision to support gay marriage, and his subsequent attempts to impose his personal morality on all people irrationally and arbitrarily opposing it, all the while knowing that his morality is no more or no less irrational or arbitrary than anyone else’s, somehow result in a moral “debate?”

        Are you saying that you and others’ completely subjective impulses and emotions, loosely restrained only by humanity’s common origin, completely devoid of any objectivity whatsoever and acknowledging no authority but their own, will, when forced to collide, cancel each out and thus happen to produce a moral “agreement”?

        But so what? Not a single one of these “diverse ideologies with diverse interests” is true or false in any way. Why would any sane person care whatever they produce through “negotiation, agreement, debate?” Nonsense plus nonsense is still nonsense.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          J. Cormier:

          Are you saying that Bob’s irrational and arbitrary decision to support gay marriage

          Do you mean objectively irrational and objectively arbitrary? If so, please qualify these odd uses of these words so we know what you’re talking about. You’re welcome to label my decisions any way you want, but I certainly don’t call them such.

          Are you saying that you and others’ completely subjective impulses and emotions, loosely restrained only by humanity’s common origin, completely devoid of any objectivity whatsoever and acknowledging no authority but their own, will, when forced to collide, cancel each out and thus happen to produce a moral “agreement”?

          Have you never had a discussion with someone? Do you not know how laws are made?

        • J. Cormier

          Bob. Are qualifications necessary? Don’t think you’re so dense. Am I wrong when I say that your position on gay marriage is no more and no less irrational and arbitrary than that of your Christian opponents? If you want, I can say your position is no more and no less rational and well-reasoned than that of your Christian opponents. Makes no difference. The point is that, if there is no objective morality, neither side is better than the other, just like, if there were no sun, neither Copernicus nor Ptolemy is better than the other, and your support for gay marriage, or anything else, is at best delusion, and at worst self-evident hypocrisy.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          J. Cormier:

          Am I wrong when I say that your position on gay marriage is no more and no less irrational and arbitrary than that of your Christian opponents?

          You are indeed wrong. As I struggled (futilely) last time to explain, if you want to talk about objective futility or irrationality, that would be a different story. But my position is justified with reason. My Christian opponent might make the same argument, but obviously from my position, mine is better justified (otherwise, I’d switch positions).

          if there is no objective morality, neither side is better than the other

          Objectively, yes. But my own morality doesn’t claim to be objectively true, so it’s still there.

        • jose

          Skipping all the filler and going directly to what matters:
          “Why would any sane person care whatever they produce through “negotiation, agreement, debate?””

          Because it works.

          Your system doesn’t. Simple as that.

        • J. Cormier

          Jose, I get a feeling that you’re talking about legality, not morality. If you’re not, then you haven’t really explained your position very well.

        • jose

          In real life, moral issues are resolved in the same way as town hall politics: through debate and compromise of diverse viewpoints and interests. Simple observation of how things actually work.

          Your objective moral rules are imaginary; they’re nowhere to be seen down here on planet earth.

      • J. Cormier

        You may want to read this post of an atheist, who regards moral subjectivism as “one of the most obnoxious belief systems around.” His conclusions are not convincing – but the initial part of his post may help you realize why many people are repulsed by Bob’s “morality.”

        http://atheistethicist.blogspot.kr/2006/05/subjective-morality.html

        • Bob Seidensticker

          J. Cormier:

          I don’t have time to read this, but let me note that the opposite of “objective morality” isn’t “moral relativism” but “not objective morality.” Many Christian apologists like to ignore this and imagine that they’re correctly characterizing atheists’ views.

        • DrewL

          “don’t have time to read this”???? I will never understand your objectives for running a blog about thinking critically, but don’t want to engage critical views.

        • J. Cormier

          Well, I’m just giving you the initial part, whether you read it or not.

          ——————————————————————————————————-
          I consider common moral subjectivism to be one of the most obnoxious belief systems around. In fact, I have more intellectual respect for the religious ethicist than the moral subjectivist, based on one principle point.

          If you go to a religious ethicist and ask, “What would be the implication if you were to discover that there is no God and everything you base your morality on is simply made up, having no tie to reality?”

          The religious ethicist will answer, “That will be a problem.”

          Ask the same question to a moral subjectivist, and he would answer, “What do you mean ‘if’?”

          The subjectivist admits that his rules have no bearing on reality. He even draws a hard distinction between ‘fact’ and ‘value’ to stress the idea that any talk of ‘value’ has nothing to do with ‘fact.’

          In this, as I wrote yesterday, the subjectivist’s so-called ‘morality’ has a lot in common with a child’s game of ‘let’s pretend.’ The moral subjectivist makes up a set of rules. He decides to act as if those rules were true. While, at the same time, he admits that they are not true.

          Furthermore, if somebody else were to invent a different game of ‘let’s pretend’ with different rules, he cannot say that his game is objectively better than theirs. All he can do is appeal to his own let’s pretend rules. Those rules might or might not not include rules like, let’s pretend that slavery is wrong or let’s pretend that people who seek to execute all the Jews in a Holocaust are evil.

          The particularly obnoxious feature of subjectivism is that it is a game of ‘let’s pretend’ that is used to ‘justify’ real-world violence. The subjectivist’s game of ‘let’s pretend’ is a game of, “Let’s pretend that it is okay to fine, imprison, enslave, or even kill X.” Importantly, it is then actually used to fine, imprison, enslave, or even kill X.

          Why is okay to kill them? Ultimately, the subjectivist answers, “Because I invented this let’s pretend rule that says that it is okay to kill them. If I had invented a rule that says that they should live then, ergo, they should live. Of course these are make-believe rules, and I could have just as easily adopted a different set of make-believe rules in which these people lived rather than died. But, they happened to find themselves in a universe in which I adopted the make-believe rule that said that they should die. So I killed them.”

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Drew: Thanks for the input. Feel free to continue imagining what I ought to do and then sharing your outrage when I don’t do it.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          J. Cormier: I agree with you and the author that this is nuts. This isn’t remotely close to my moral position.

          I see a lot of this. They cobble together this moral relativism and figure that it’s the opposite of moral objectivism. Actually, the opposite of objective morality is not-objective morality.

          And I come back to my tired plea: I’d like to see this author show examples of the objective morality that he claims exists.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      J. Cormier:

      Bob thinks that the morality of gay marriage is quite clear.

      The morality of gay marriage is quite clear to Bob. Your mileage may vary.

      Bob will impose his morality on other people to help homosexuals, like a good old objectivist.

      Nope. I will impose my morality (as you would, I’m guessing) in a case of serious error (someone mugging someone else, perhaps). But for same-sex marriage, we have a legislative process that I’m happy to work within.

      this is, Bob will readily admit, his personal idea, with absolutely no objective basis in reality.

      With objective meaning “outside grounding,” yes.

      Now, “is homosexuality ok?” or “is capital punishment just?” is, from this viewpoint, no more objective (and, perhaps no more important) than “is blue the best color?” Those questions are, in the end, meaningless.

      Why do people always say that? Presumably you mean by “in the end” to be alluding to, yet again, objectivism. And yet I’ve made clear that I reject this. This is meaningless to me (perhaps you’re talking past me to the other readers?), but obviously, meaningfulness plays a big role in my life, as it does in anyone’s.

      Bob’s support for homosexuals is utterly arbitrary

      Like throwing darts against a wall of moral possibilities and binding myself to whatever gets hit? Not really.

      One cannot possibly be “right” in the old-fashioned sense, except inside his/her skull.

      Perhaps you can offer evidence to the contrary.

      But he cannot, except in his wildest dreams, imagine that the morality of gay marriage is something objective, something true, something that, because of its inherent qualities, people ought to accept.

      More implied objectivism? I think lots of things are true, just not in an objective sense. And I obviously argue that people ought to accept my position.

      all of our moral ideas that were once upon a time controversial or ambiguous cannot possibly be anything more than an end product of a long amoral chain of amoral impositions.

      No, not impositions. If we argue and I slowly come around to your position on some moral issue, there was no imposition (at least, no force).

      And the apparently “true” solution to any moral problem will invariably turn out to be spurious.

      “Spurious”? That’s the best you can say about the elimination of slavery, for example? We can’t find any social value in this? No economic benefit, for example, in a society that has no slavery?

      The negative world that you imagine with “Bob’s morality” sounds pretty bad. It’s nothing that I advocate, simply because you don’t understand what I’ve been talking about.

      And if you have any evidence for objective morality, let me know.

      • J. Cormier

        Bob, when I say that you impose your morality on others, I’m not necessarily, or even primarily, saying that you’re physically forcing them to do what you like. What I mean is that you are actively acting on the assumption that your moral view has universal validity and your opinion is better than that of your opponents, something that would be extremely hypocritical or extremely foolish if you think your morality is completely subjective.

        Likewise, when I say that your morality is arbitrary, there is no conceivable way I can be saying that it is arbitrary from your viewpoint. What I mean is that, if you’ve truly rejected objective morality, there would no ground for preferring one moral system to another, so that, whatever moral position you adopt, it cannot possibly be based on anything more than your unjustifiable emotional inclinations clothed in moral or rational excuses.

        You cannot escape from this by vague rhetoric about “conscience” or “progress” and so on. These, too, are meaningless words once you’ve debunked all objective values. You cannot back up imaginary concepts with imaginary concepts. So please, stop pretending that it is not irrational and hypocritical to impose your completely subjective values on other people when you perfectly well know that their equally subjective values are no more and no less legitimate then yours. On one hand, you admit that all values and equally groundless, and on the other hand, you want to impose your values on other people? How is this even psychologically possible? Why you keep talking as if everyone else is secretly doing this is beyond my imagination.

        There are three positions you can take regarding the legalization of gay marriage : 1) it is objectively good 2) it is objectively bad 3) it is objectively neutral. People who oppose you believe 2) is the case. But your position is much more peculiar – Intellectually you admit that 3) is the case – and then, morally, (whatever you mean) you assert 1) is the case. And, by presenting this as merely your personal opinion, you try to hide behind facade of respectability, talking as if objective reality is one thing, and subjective reality is another.

        But why do this? Why choose to pretend 1) is true instead of 2)? It is arbitrary. Why act as if it were true, when you know that it is not? It is irrational. Why pretend as if homophobes are wrong regarding this, when your opinion is just as much as rational and irrational as theirs? It is hypocritical. The only reasons you can offer is that it’s just because it’s your personal opinion, because gay marriage is something you personally want to see, because homophobes are people you personally don’t respect, because homosexuality is legit according to your personal standard. You want the entire society to move the way you want, without a single reason that is valid outside your head. Then you try to hide the sheer selfishness of your position by falsely accusing everyone else of doing the same thing.

        What you cannot seem to understand is that, the position of an average homophobe is not arbitrary, irrational and hypocritical the way yours is. The position of an average gay marriage supporter is not arbitrary, irrational and hypocritical the way yours is.

        And I cannot understand why you’d say this :

        I do not get what you exactly mean by “social values,” nor do I understand why you’d talk about economic benefit when we were talking about moral values. Are you saying that, while the commonly offered moral argument against slavery really is spurious, there are other arguments from “social values” that are not? Your demand that someone should show the objective moral position on a vexing moral issue can be retroactively applied to any moral problem in any era in human history, thus, debunking the apparently “objective” position on it, making your continued belief in them a bit silly. In fact, I don’t quite see exactly what makes you disagree with me that the apparently “true” position on slavery (“It is bad!”) is spurious.

        • Matti

          “There are three positions you can take regarding the legalization of gay marriage : 1) it is objectively good 2) it is objectively bad 3) it is objectively neutral.”

          I thought legislation was usually argued in terms of what is good/bad for the society, not in terms of what is good/bad in terms of objective morality (in fact I’d go as far to argue that if you cannot agree with that, it’s not possible to form a society with you).

          Certainly you can base your idea what’s good for the society on some underlying idea of objective morality (and others may base theirs on something else), but is in fact incumbent on you to try to convince others to come around to your point of view instead of simply invalidating theirs by fiat. In a democracy, anyway.

          So yeah, your “you can’t/won’t discuss the issue in my framework, therefore you lose by default” gambit doesn’t work. Sorry.

        • jose

          You’re correct. The idea that legislation is written according to an objective standard of truth, instead of according to the people’s interests and values, is laughable. People should quit the bombastic epitets and take a look at reality and how it works.

        • J. Cormier

          Matti, you seem to regard objective morality as one of the numerous standards of good/bad that are equally valid and convincing as, say, Matti’s morality, the premise I suspect is based on your bias to regard objectivity as a religious concept. And if you think that way, of course you will not understand at all why so many people, including even athesits, are repulsed by moral subjectivism.

          The thing is, when Bob argues for the legalization of gay marriage, he cannot possibly be doing it because it is “good for society.” Society in this context, being an abstraction, basically means people ; and people, in case you don’t know, are divided over this issue. Gay marriage would not be “good” for, say, an average black Christian. Of course it may be “good” for homosexuals wanting to marry ; but they aren’t exactly what we mean when we talk about “society.” Unless Bob thinks that black Christians aren’t included in society, and homosexuals are, it’d be very bizarre for him to say that what he’s supporting is “good for society.” Gay marriage is good for some people, bad for others. There is no conceivable way that it is “good for society.”

          In fact, if you read Bob’s article on gay marriage, it’s very easy to see that he is supporting it because he thinks it is the right thing (at least from his viewpoint) to do, not because he thinks it’d somehow benefit “society.” For example, Bob says :

          There’s far too little love in the world as it is. It’s reprehensible to stand in the way of what love is here.

          He clearly means that it is right to support gay marriage, and wrong to oppose it. He’s clearly saying that people who oppose gay marriage are standing against love, “reprehensible,” that is, deserving censure and condemnation. And this word, I think, would feel quite strange if, as you say, Bob thinks gay marriage is “good for society,” because, if that is the case, black Christians just haven’t figured out that gay marriage is actually good for society and them. This may make them muddle-headed or stupid, but it hardly makes them “reprehensible.” But it makes perfect sense if Bob thinks that black Christians are morally wrong, if he thinks that they are doing what they ought not to do.

          And, if Bob thinks that black Christians should be censured and condemned, not because they really are wrong, but because they do not agree with his private concept of good and wrong, well, I cannot help saying that he’s a very contemptible man. Likewise, if MLK fought white racists, not because he thought they really were wrong, but because they did not agree with his private concept of right and wrong, then he, too, was a quite contemptible man. If you do not understand this, then I really don’t have anything to say.

        • J. Cormier

          Matti, do you really think that people supporting gay marriage do so, not because they think it is morally right, but because it is “good for society?” When you say that it is “good for society,” you seem to mean that it is beneficial for society. I’m afraid you, then, have a very strange mentality. Society, in this context, basically means people. And people, as we know, are divided over this issue. Gay marriage may be good for gays. But it is hardly good for, say, most black Christians. So, unless you think that black Christians aren’t included in, and homosexuals are included in, society, you’re being really strange when you say that gay marriage is good for society.

          For example, when Bob says the following line, he cannot possibly be thinking that gay marriage is beneficial for society.

          Bob : There’s far too little love in the world as it is. It’s reprehensible to stand in the way of what love is here.

          He’s not saying that legalization gay marriage is beneficial or harmful to society. He’s saying that it is morally right. He’s saying that those who oppose it are against love, and thus “reprehensible,” that is, deserving censure and condemnation. And surely this does not make sense if Bob is supporting gay marriage because it is beneficial for society? In that case, black Christians just haven’t figured out that it is good for society, and, while this may make them muddle-headed or stupid, it hardly makes them reprehensible in any conceivable way. But the word makes perfect sense if Bob is saying that opposing gay marriage is morally wrong.

          And Bob’s condemnation of gay marriage opponents would be very contemptible indeed if he’s doing it not because he thinks that they really are morally wrong, but just because their private concept of right and wrong does not agree with his private concept of right and wrong. Likewise, MLK’s condemnation of white racists would have been very contemptible if he was doing it just because their private concept of right and wrong did not agree with his private concept of right and wrong. If you don’t understand this, then I’m not sure how to explain this anymore.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          J. Cormier:

          Gay marriage would not be “good” for, say, an average black Christian.

          And you’d also say that abolition wasn’t good for the average Southern Christian in, say, 1860? I disagree. Change is painful, of course, but I think that these changes to society are good for us all. Said another way, a no-slavery, yes-same-sex-marriage society is better than the other, all things considered.

          He’s clearly saying that people who oppose gay marriage are standing against love, “reprehensible,”

          My argument was composed of more than this.

          black Christians just haven’t figured out that gay marriage is actually good for society and them.

          Yes. Not all black Christians, of course, but some.

          it hardly makes them “reprehensible.”

          What do you think of those who opposed mixed-race marriage? Is “reprehensible” too strong for them as well?

          But it makes perfect sense if Bob thinks that black Christians are morally wrong, if he thinks that they are doing what they ought not to do.

          Right.

          if MLK fought white racists, not because he thought they really were wrong, but because they did not agree with his private concept of right and wrong, then he, too, was a quite contemptible man.

          Explain more clearly these two options: really wrong vs. didn’t agree. To me, they’re the same. And if this is supposed to be an appeal to objective morality, show me that this exists.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          j. Cormier:

          your opinion is better than that of your opponents

          Don’t you think your opinion is better than that of your opponents? Doesn’t everyone?

          I’m missing the hypocrisy. Perhaps you think that I come up with my opinions by throwing darts at a list.

          if you’ve truly rejected objective morality, there would no ground for preferring one moral system to another, so that, whatever moral position you adopt, it cannot possibly be based on anything more than your unjustifiable emotional inclinations clothed in moral or rational excuses.

          Where do you think morality comes from? I’ve yet to see any evidence from you that morality comes from outside ourselves.

          We have no grounds for a preference?? I can’t imagine what you’re talking about. Think of moral instinct being like a black box. You give it input (“Is abortion moral?”) and out comes an answer. The black box is given to us by our genetic programming.

          We’re using the same definition of objective morality? I’m using William Lane Craig’s.

          you want to impose your values on other people? How is this even psychologically possible?

          You never impose your values on other people if the moral error is grievous enough?

          Intellectually you admit that 3) is the case – and then, morally, (whatever you mean) you assert 1) is the case.

          Objectivity has no bearing on the matter. No, I don’t claim that it is objectively good (you do remember the definition of objective morality we’re using, right?).

          Why pretend as if homophobes are wrong regarding this

          They’re wrong in my opinion. That’s it. It’s all I’ve got.

          You want the entire society to move the way you want, without a single reason that is valid outside your head.

          Take a high school civics class to see how laws are made. Let me give you a summary: intelligent (?) people discuss back and forth and reach a compromise. Sometimes people’s minds are changed because their opponents bring up important new information or insights. This is how I roll. And you?

          The position of an average gay marriage supporter is not arbitrary, irrational and hypocritical the way yours is.

          How is their route to opinion different from mine?

          I do not get what you exactly mean by “social values,” nor do I understand why you’d talk about economic benefit when we were talking about moral values.

          You’re the one puzzled about eliminating slavery being “spurious.” Maybe you could find a different adjective to clarify.

          Your demand that someone should show the objective moral position on a vexing moral issue can be retroactively applied to any moral problem in any era in human history, thus, debunking the apparently “objective” position on it, making your continued belief in them a bit silly.

          My point exactly. Are you unaware that I reject claims of objective morality?

          And how about you clarifying your side of things instead of always attacking. How about some evidence that objective morality exists?

        • DrewL

          Bob you clearly slip into utilitarianism here:

          “Spurious”? That’s the best you can say about the elimination of slavery, for example? We can’t find any social value in this? No economic benefit, for example, in a society that has no slavery?

          and here….

          And you’d also say that abolition wasn’t good for the average Southern Christian in, say, 1860? I disagree. Change is painful, of course, but I think that these changes to society are good for us all. Said another way, a no-slavery, yes-same-sex-marriage society is better than the other, all things considered.

          Subjectivists cannot be utilitarians. You’re essentially retreating off your position here by bringing in “social value,” “economic benefit” (a particular type of objective utility for a society), “good for society,” and declaring something is “better for society.” I discuss this in your more recent post.

  • Mr. X

    “Despite Lewis’s claims, we needn’t imagine that morality is objectively true. We see this simply by looking in the dictionary.”

    Why should we accept whomever compiled your dictionary as an authorative source of morality?

    “To the person who insists that objective morality exists, I say: show me.”

    What evidence would somebody have to produce before you say “Yes, that’s a piece of objective morality”?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Why should we accept whomever compiled your dictionary as an authorative source of morality?

      Who’s talking about morality? I’m talking about being a good dictionary compiler.

      What evidence would somebody have to produce before you say “Yes, that’s a piece of objective morality”?

      What would be interesting would be evidence of objective morality + evidence that this is reliably accessible. Without the last part, objective morality could exist but simply be inaccessible to our imperfect brains.

      For that, we’d need to see that everyone did (or could be easily convinced) that any moral issue within society had one right answer.

    • Matti

      “What evidence would somebody have to produce before you say “Yes, that’s a piece of objective morality”?”

      Something like stating a moral proposition and then showing that absolutely no-one would be able to deny and fail to act upon it? Even that would only be a start really; next you’d have to show the moral framework that generated this statement and then show that it never produces anything that anyone could deny and fail to act upon.

      Yes, that is quite unreasonable and probably incoherent. It comes from objective morality being an unreasonable and incoherent concept.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Nicely said.

  • avalon

    J. Cormier says:
    Now, “is homosexuality ok?” or “is capital punishment just?” is, from this viewpoint, no more objective (and, perhaps no more important) than “is blue the best color?”

    There are different degrees of badness and goodness, a duty may be more or less stringent, and merit may be smaller or greater. These quantitative differences are due to the emotional origin of basic moral concepts.
    Owing to their exceptional importance for human welfare, the facts of the moral consciousness are emphasied in much higher degree than would be ordinary subjective facts.
    Comparing your choice of favorite color to any moral question fails to acknowledge the degree of emotional reaction evoked by the choices involved.

    J. Cormier says:
    Now, what is very important here is that, if Bob is right, this is how all moral problems always have been, are, and will be resolved – imposition of subjective moral values on submissive or defeated individuals without objective justification. ex) the Allied brainwashing of German citizens into believing that Hitler was objectively evil / a teacher talking with a stubborn bully until he feels he’s objectively bad and genuinely apologizes to his victim . In both cases, it is power and authority, not reason and morality, that did the trick.

    As clearness and distinctness of the conception of an object easily produces the belief in it’s truth, so the intensity of a moral emotion makes him who feels it disposed to objectivize the moral estimate to which it gives rise, in other words, to assign to it universal validity.
    Reason (rather than emotion) has it’s place in ‘fringe’ moral decisions, but not in our basic sense of morality. Most moral questions are aren’t about a single action being right or wrong. Instead, they are choices about which is better. If you look at any moral dilemma and listen to each side of the argument, you will see that each side is choosing a moral good. The differences between opposing sides are about which ‘good’ outweighs the other.

    J. Cormier says:
    I’m sure Bob believes in racial equality, virtue of tolerance, the evilness of Hitler and other things that are now almost universally acknowledged in his part of the world. I’m also sure that Bob will readily admit that there is no reason to assume that slaughter of millions of Jews, or slavery affecting tens of millions of blacks, were/are any more (or any less) objectively immoral than gay marriage, abortion etc. I don’t see why Bob, knowing this, chooses to condemn fascism and slavery, considering the fact that his revulsion against them, like the idea of objective morality, was obviously imposed on him while he was a defenceless child, without any rational justification. Why keep them when it is glaringly clear that they are nonsense?

    The objectivity ascribed to judgements which arise from our unconscience as intuitive knowledge comes from the similarity of the mental constitution of men. Bob correctly credits evolution for forming our basic mental constitution, not our upbringing.

    J. Cormier says:
    Much of Bob’s morality exists at all thanks to such impositions from his parents and teachers, which Bob will in turn impose on as many people as possible, including his children. In Bob’s world, the idea of “teaching” morality is absurd. After all, how can you teach something that which does not exist? Does any father “teach” his son that the best color is blue? If Bob is right, morality is not taught, only imposed. Children are not educated, only programmed. Bob chooses to impose his morality on others even though every single moral idea he has is groundless.

    Our moral consciousness is part of our subconscience, which we cannot change as we please. We approve or disapprove because we cannot do otherwise. This is not “taught”, nor is it “imposed”.

    avalon

    • J. Cormier

      avalon says :There are different degrees of badness and goodness, a duty may be more or less stringent, and merit may be smaller or greater. These quantitative differences are due to the emotional origin of basic moral concepts.Owing to their exceptional importance for human welfare, the facts of the moral consciousness are emphasied in much higher degree than would be ordinary subjective facts. Comparing your choice of favorite color to any moral question fails to acknowledge the degree of emotional reaction evoked by the choices involved.

      Of course, there are quantitative differences – but not qualitative differences, which was what I was talking about. In any case, what do quantitative differences have to do with the objectivity and importance of Bob’s personal ideas? Granted, Bob’s emotional intensity when discussing gay marriage may well be greater than his emotional intensity when discussing, say, the greatest composer ever born. It is “emphasized in much higher degree.”

      But surely this does not add a single ounce of objectivity or importance to whatever opinion he holds? Why should I assume that his emotional intensity is any more worthy of anyone’s attention than a naughty child’s tearful demand that his parents buy him a new toy train? In fact, if I consider the emotional intensity of the two situations, I’ll say the case of the naughty child’s tearful demand is likely to be more important than Bob’s support for homosexuals. For all I know Bob and his Christian opponents can scream at each other for all eternity, but, since Bob himself admits that neither side is “right” in any significant way, and, fortunately, he has no way to impose his morality on me, I see absolutely no reason why his support for gay marriage is any more objective or important than his favourite color.

      avalon says : As clearness and distinctness of the conception of an object easily produces the belief in it’s truth, so the intensity of a moral emotion makes him who feels it disposed to objectivize the moral estimate to which it gives rise, in other words, to assign to it universal validity.

      Why this continued emphasis on emotional intensity? The point is that no matter how hard this moral feeler tries to “objectivize” his moral estimate, no matter how hard he tries to assign to it “universal validity,” the truth value of his moral position is nil. Why should anyone care about the emotion intensity of Hitler’s hatred of the Jews, or the Russians’ hatred of Hitler? We already know that they were expressing personal opinions with no basis in reality. Neither the Allies nor the Axis was moral or immoral at all, because, no matter how much venomous hatred they spewed, there was no moral truth about which they could be right. And, if there is no way to determine who is right because there is no such a thing as “right,” then it will always boil down to “might makes right.” All moral disputes will have to be resolved by imposition of moral values on the defeated side. Of course, the Allies must have felt that they had been right all along – falsely.

      Note that, if Hitler had won and imposed his morality on us a la Bob, then our moral estimates would be substantially different, but no more or no less moral than our current moral estimates. Their emotional intensity may be even greater.

      avalon says : Reason (rather than emotion) has it’s place in ‘fringe’ moral decisions, but not in our basic sense of morality. Most moral questions are aren’t about a single action being right or wrong. Instead, they are choices about which is better. If you look at any moral dilemma and listen to each side of the argument, you will see that each side is choosing a moral good. The differences between opposing sides are about which ‘good’ outweighs the other.

      But their dispute about which “good” outweighs the other is just as subjective as which color is the best color. If there is no objective morality, then there is no such a thing as a better moral position. Tamerlane had his own ideas of morality, which were just as legitimate as those of Gandhi.

      avalon says : The objectivity ascribed to judgements which arise from our unconscience as intuitive knowledge comes from the similarity of the mental constitution of men. Bob correctly credits evolution for forming our basic mental constitution, not our upbringing.

      Of course, Bob’s “basic mental constitution” may well have been formed by evolution. So what? Slavers as well as slaves, Nazis as well as Jews shared this “basic mental constitution.” It is undeniable that Bob’s upbringing is responsible for an overwhelming portion of particular moral judgments he’s ever made. Bob can study evolution as much as he wants, but, surely we can agree that, if Bob had been born in Saudi Arabia, his “basic mental constitution” would not have told him that gay marriage is good? And that, if Bob had been born five hundred years ago, his “basic mental constitution” would not have prevented him from thinking slavery was just? And that, if Bob is right, his belief that slavery is wrong is just as groundless as modern Mauritanians’ lingering belief that slavery is right?

      avalon says : Our moral consciousness is part of our subconscience, which we cannot change as we please. We approve or disapprove because we cannot do otherwise. This is not “taught”, nor is it “imposed”.

      You keep talking as if the only function of conscience is to exist. I’m afraid you don’t understand what I’m talking about at all…. I can understand why Bob cannot help making moral judgments even after admitting that they’re no more than his personal ideas. What I cannot understand is why he’s so completely unskeptical when it comes to what moral judgments he makes, why he’d mindlessly adopt whatever moral values that managed to survive when he bloody well knows that not a single one of them can claim the slightest trace of objectivity. By the way, even Bob talks about “imposing” and “overruling” morality, and I’m not sure why you cannot see that I and Bob are talking about particular moral systems or judgments, not the mere existence of vague moral instincts.

    • DrewL

      The objectivity ascribed to judgements which arise from our unconscience as intuitive knowledge comes from the similarity of the mental constitution of men. Bob correctly credits evolution for forming our basic mental constitution, not our upbringing.

      Niemand above pointed out how absurd this belief is, but no one responded to him/her. So let me ask you: do you really think differences in genetic code can explain the differences in morality between segregationists and MLK Jr., abolitionists and slaveholders, the Holocaust perpetrators and those who endangered themselves to rescue Jews, members of the Westboro Baptist Church and compassionate/progressive people living in Kansas, Bill Gates and the Enron scandal perpetrators, Mother Teresa and those who carried out ethnic cleansings in Kosovo, or how about you and your most likely more socially-conservative grandparents? I’d love to hear how that evolutionary process is working so rapidly….

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Drew:

        do you really think differences in genetic code can explain the differences in morality between segregationists and MLK Jr…

        My view (which I’ve mentioned before, though briefly) is that morality comes from two places: instinct and society. You’re referring to the latter. Yes, I agree that it society is a source of morality.

        • DrewL

          Ah I see now you responded to Niemand’s comment. This puts you more in line with evolutionary theories of morality. You should probably drop the “If we were bears or Klingons…” argument now: it should be “If we lived down the street from the Westboro Baptist Church…” There is much more inter-species, inter-region, even inter-neighborhood ( even inter-family!) variation than the bears-Klingon argument implies, since you are acknowledging the role of society.

          (Still waiting for you to acknowledge evolutionary theories of human reasoning, but that’s another conversation.)

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I think my morality is closer to that of Fred Phelps than that of a bear, but perhaps I have no idea what you’re talking about.

        • DrewL

          Let me try again: the amount of variation within human society, alongside the malleability and non-permanence of any sort of evolutionary-granted moral instinct, means human morality is not entirely determined by evolution. You recognize this, I think. But I believe this recognition undermines your bears and klingon statement, which seems to imply: bears have X morality, klingons have Y morality, humans have Z morality, and that’s just how it is. As it turns out, that’s not just how it is: Z is extremely malleable by culture, society, and history. One could even argue that, within the entire course of human evolutionary development Z probably at times has rather fluid boundaries with Klingon and Bear morality.

          Perhaps this a minor point, but I don’t understand why you keep returning to what seems to be an evolutionary-determinist view of morality after recognizing that to be flawed. (And side point: you are doing better than Sam Harris here.)

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I don’t understand why you keep returning to what seems to be an evolutionary-determinist view of morality after recognizing that to be flawed.

          I’ve always made clear that human morality IMO is composed of an evolutionary part (instinct) and a social part (culture).

    • J. Cormier

      By the way, I think it’d be useful to think about what this “morality” of Bob works like, if Bob really abandons all survivals of objective morality in his head and tries to live according to his personal morality. Evolution will, of course, offer the emotional material for his moral judgments. But obviously, evolution can offer absolutely no help in deciding whether Bob should be a democrat or republican, Nietzschean or Buddhist, philanthropist or misanthrope, charity worker or serial killer. Neither can other people, since they say different things and not a single one of them is objective or “right” to the slightest degree. There is no reason, except, perhaps, cowardly desire to conform, that Bob should care about the predominant intellectual climate of his part of the world.

      Now, Bob admits the “morality” he made up is just as subjective as the Nazi morality. It exists only in his imagination. He knows that not only the Holocaust but everything that has happened in human history was neither good nor bad. Yet he vows to pretend as if the Holocaust were bad, all the while knowing that it was not. Also, he vows to impose his morality on other people and overrule moralities that annoy him, not because he thinks he’s right, but because he thinks his conscience has told him to impose his subjective morality on other people as if it were universal. But he will resist if other people decide to pretend that their conscience has told them to impose their subjective morality on him as if it were universal. So, according to Bob, none of 7 billion other competing moralities on the planet should be imposed on him, while he has the right to demolish every single one of them if he has the will and power to do so. All this, from a man who knows that not a single morality, not even his, can claim the slightest trace of objectivity.

      Hence, the golden rule is utterly rejected. Bob’s moral world is a highly asymmetrical, even monarchial, one. He readily admits that he will be annoyed if others don’t follow “the basic rules of civility” he knows are not real, not because of anything anyone can accept, but because of his personal principles that have no basis whatsoever in reality. Everyone is expected to respect Bob’s personal morality. Of course, this does not work the other way round. If Bob happens to violate his neighbors’ personal principles, it is his neighbors that are wrong. This is surprising, yet not surprising at the same time, because, in Bob’s world, the only source of morality is Bob himself, and anyone against him is by definition against morality itself. Just like things are illuminated thanks to the sun, people are moral thanks to Bob’s approval. And just like if you block the sun you’re left in darkness, if you contradict Bob you’re by definition immoral. He’s given himself authority exceeding that of the most capricious of oriental despots……. all the while knowing that he’s just pretending.

      Bob’s “conscience”, which is supposedly the source of his moral judgments, is not, indeed, cannot be, restrained by any conceivable thing, except the extremely lenient physical limitations put on his brain by evolution. Since Bob’s morality is a subjective imaginary construct of Bob, without any objective basis in the world outside his head, there can be no basic principles that underlie, and therefore are more fundamental than, Bob’s make-up moral system. His morality must be shaped exclusively by his emotional inclination at a given moment.

      Of course, Bob can adopt, say, compassion as the primary value that he will use (until he changes his mind) as a guiding principle. But this decision has to be purely arbitrary, a whim. This is because, once all pretensions to objectivity and transcendence are abandoned, the answer to the Bob version of Euthyphro dilemma is crystal clear. Bob does not approve of compassion because it is moral ; rather, it is moral because Bob approves of it. If it is the other way round, if compassion, because of its very nature, is somehow inherently and objectively worthy of Bob’s approval, if Bob was somehow bound to approve of it, this would be infinitely ridiculous. This would mean that should Bob arbitrarily decide to approve of cruelty and disapprove of compassion at this moment, his morality would be less perfect, less moral – which makes no sense because, in Bob’s world, Bob’s approval is morality itself. If William Craig is right, God-approved genocides are moral by definition ; and likewise, if Bob is right, Bob-approved genocides are moral by definition.

      So the Nazis are condemned and their morality rejected, but it is not because of their “crimes against humanity” or other delusions. It is because Bob is, at this moment, emotionally inclined toward disapproving of them. Bob does not hate Hitler because Hitler is evil ; rather, Hitler is evil because Bob hates him. And Bob can, if he wants to, change his opinion whenever he desires.

      • avalon

        Hi J. Cormier,
        J. Cormier says:
        But surely this does not add a single ounce of objectivity or importance to whatever opinion he holds? Why should I assume that his emotional intensity is any more worthy of anyone’s attention than a naughty child’s tearful demand that his parents buy him a new toy train?

        avalon:
        Bob’s emotional intensity makes no difference to you or anyone else. But it makes a world of difference to the person experiencing those emotions (Bob). This is why each of us experience our own moral instincts as ‘objective’.

        J. Cormier says:
        All moral disputes will have to be resolved by imposition of moral values on the defeated side. Of course, the Allies must have felt that they had been right all along – falsely.
        Note that, if Hitler had won and imposed his morality on us a la Bob, then our moral estimates would be substantially different, but no more or no less moral than our current moral estimates. Their emotional intensity may be even greater.

        avalon:
        First you claim that morals can be imposed on us, but a few lines later you say, “Of course, Bob’s “basic mental constitution” may well have been formed by evolution.”.
        Fact is, our basic moral instincts are from evolution, but how we weigh one good against another can be learned. I’ve come to the conclusion that morality consists of two parts; one seems objective and the other is subjective.
        The first part I call “labeling”; this seems objective and we find nearly universal agreement within the human race on how certain things should be labeled (as “good” or “bad”). For example, ‘Is it good for a parent to protect their child from harm?’ The universal reply would be “Yes”. (The rare exception, someone who says “no” would universally be labeled as mentally ill and therefore would not disprove the objective nature of labeling). Given any single issue, as a general principle, mankind will view it objectively.
        Another example would be, “Should we obey legitimate authority figures (parents, police, government, all the way up to God himself)?” Again, as a general principle, we objectively agree this is a good thing.
        The second part of morality I call “weighting”. Weighting involves assigning a weighted value to an action. It’s giving priority to one good action over another. For example, God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Now Abraham has two good moral issues to weigh: 1) protect his child from harm (which is objectively a good thing) and 2) obey God (which is also objectively a good thing). The decision that each of us as individuals would make if faced with these choices may differ because we are subjective about attaching a weighted value to each of the two moral goods involved (protecting our child, obeying legitimate authority).
        If you look at any moral dilemma and listen to each side of the argument, you will see that each side is choosing a moral good. The differences between opposing sides are about which ‘good’ outweighs the other. We agree that both things are good, but disagree about which one is best.

        J. Cormier says:
        What I cannot understand is why he’s so completely unskeptical when it comes to what moral judgments he makes, why he’d mindlessly adopt whatever moral values that managed to survive when he bloody well knows that not a single one of them can claim the slightest trace of objectivity.

        avalon:
        Because Bob (like everyone else) feels the objectivity of his judgements. You do understand the difference between knowing and feeling? This is how morality works, by feeling. Why do people answering questions in a morality test say it’s OK to divert a run-away train headed for 5 people to a track with one person, but say it’s wrong for a doctor to cut up one healthy person to save 5 sick ones? Logic and reason (and math) say it’s the same thing.

        J. Cormier says:
        I’m not sure why you cannot see that I and Bob are talking about particular moral systems or judgments, not the mere existence of vague moral instincts.

        avalon:
        I’d suggest to take a morality test to see how morals really work. It’d really help to clarify the emotional, instinctual basis of morals.

        J. Cormier says:
        But obviously, evolution can offer absolutely no help in deciding whether Bob should be a democrat or republican, Nietzschean or Buddhist, philanthropist or misanthrope, charity worker or serial killer.

        avalon:
        Not so! Here’s a video about the genetic basis of psychopaths:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovq5-OUEggk
        Here’s an article on the liberal gene:
        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101027161452.htm
        What is “obvious” is theists who want to believe morals come from God have no interest in the science of morality.

        J. Cormier says:
        Now, Bob admits the “morality” he made up is just as subjective as the Nazi morality. It exists only in his imagination. He knows that not only the Holocaust but everything that has happened in human history was neither good nor bad. Yet he vows to pretend as if the Holocaust were bad, all the while knowing that it was not.

        avalon:
        First, I’m really tired of people claiming the Nazis thought the Holocaust was “good”. Given the fact that they keep it secret from the German people and the rest of the world, I’d say they knew it wasn’t good.
        Second, you fail to recognize that the German government was faced with two bad choices. See this:
        http://www.fff.org/freedom/fd0703a.asp

        J. Cormier says:
        Also, he vows to impose his morality on other people and overrule moralities that annoy him, not because he thinks he’s right, but because he thinks his conscience has told him to impose his subjective morality on other people as if it were universal. But he will resist if other people decide to pretend that their conscience has told them to impose their subjective morality on him as if it were universal. So, according to Bob, none of 7 billion other competing moralities on the planet should be imposed on him, while he has the right to demolish every single one of them if he has the will and power to do so. All this, from a man who knows that not a single morality, not even his, can claim the slightest trace of objectivity.

        avalon:
        Yes, and this describes exactly how moral dilemmas work in the world today. We all share some basic ideas of right and wrong but weigh them differently. Given that’s how things really work, wouldn’t that indicate Bob is right?

        avalon

        • J. Cormier

          Huh? Bob’s emotional intensity makes him think his moral judgments are objective? I honestly do not see why you’re so interested in emotional intensity. My statement was that, if Bob is right, his, or anyone else’s, moral position is no more objective than his favourite color. If I understood your quote from Edward Westermarck, it is saying that this emotion intensity can produce an ILLUSION of objectivity, which, as far as I know, does not add a single ounce of objectivity or importance to the felt emotion, or anything else.

          If you’re implying that emotion, just because it is intense, deserves some respect from others, or is important, or is somehow objective in a different way, well, I’m afraid it is manifest nonsense. Just a moment’s reflection shows that the validity or a statement, moral or not, has absolutely nothing to do with the emotional intensity with which it is spoken. Surely you don’t think that if, right at this moment, I mutter “murder is bad,” my lack of emotional intensity would somehow affect the validity of my statement?

          Also, isn’t it obvious that even subjective morality cannot possibly depend on emotional intensity? The thing is, there is no such a thing as “good” or “bad” emotions. Emotions, in themselves, are neutral – and we, at least, people I know, regard them as moral or immoral according to the extent to which they agree with our pre-established standard of morality that exists, or, at least, ought to exist, independent of our emotional inclinations. That is, our morality shape our emotions, but our emotions do not, or ought not, shape our morality.

          Hence the same emotion can either be moral or moral depending on its subject. Disgust at mindless cruelty is good, but disgust at black people is not. Hatred of sin is moral ; hatred of sinners is not. Also, the basically moral emotion can, precisely because it is too intense, stop being moral. Maternal love in moderation is moral ; blind obsession with one’s children is not. Love of one’s country is moral ; violent jingoism is not.

          Let’s imagine that whenever I see morbidly obese people, I feel violent disgust. According to your assertion that the intensity of my emotion makes me assign “universal validity” to it, then I ought to regard that disgust as moral, or at least neutral. But I do not. I regard that feeling of disgust as a sign of my superficiality, and am ashamed of it.

          In fact, such is a discrepancy between emotional intensity and moral validity that we tend to assume that the former discredits the latter. For example, gay marriage supporters often say that Christians hate homosexuals just because they irrationally find it icky and disgusting, implying that, if you think something is immoral just because of your emotion, your opinion is worthless. Likewise, some people claim that anti-war youths during the 1960s were doing it because they were “afraid of beinc conscripted,” which obviously implies that moral ideas born of emotions are despicable.

          Now, it is possible that I’ve misunderstood what you’re trying to say ; but I cannot imagine you really think that Bob’s morality is no more than a posteriori justification of his emotions, or that Bob thinks his support for homosexuals is emotional, or that Bob, just because his emotion is intense, believes it is objective.

          And about your “labeling” part, I don’t see why it is in any conceivable way objective. It is certainly not objective in the way Bob (or anyone else) is talking about. Likewise, I cannot see how your “weighting” part has anything to do with my claim that, with no objective morality, there is no objective way to compare Tamerlane’s morality with Gandhi’s.

          Your other points are a bit hard to understand. Are you saying that the fact that the Nazis preferred to have their concentration camps hidden proves that what happened in Nazi Europe was objectively bad? Are you saying that the peculiar genetics of psychopaths proves that they were objectively bad? Or have you decided that my use of the word “objective” is meaningless and can be ignored?

      • Bob Seidensticker

        J. Cormier:

        it’d be useful to think about what this “morality” of Bob works like, if Bob really abandons all survivals of objective morality in his head and tries to live according to his personal morality.

        If we could find a way for you to understand what I’m actually talking about, I think that you and I do live this non-objective morality already.

        Evolution will, of course, offer the emotional material for his moral judgments. But obviously, evolution can offer absolutely no help in deciding whether Bob should be a democrat or republican

        Yes. Evolution gives us our instinctive morality. Society gives us the rest.

        The rest of your comment is nonsense, built on (what I hope was) an honest misunderstanding of my position. I’ll let my (belated) other comments try to clarify that and not repeat them here.

        • J. Cormier

          Bob, I admit that it was a frivolous post written in an exaggerated and hyperbolic manner, but I still can not view your position the way you seem to want me to, so perhaps you can spend some time answering these questions, (some related to my main post) so that you can correct some of my honest misunderstandings.

          question 1) Does Bob approve of gay marriage because it is good, or is gay marriage good because Bob approves of it? Does Bob diapprove of Hitler because Hitler was bad, or is Hitler bad because Bob disapproves of him? Are Bob-approved genocides moral?

          question 2) If Bob, for some reason, change his opinion on gay marriage, would this mean that his previous moral position was mistaken? If so, is it “mistaken” only in a solipsistic sense, that is, compared to Bob’s current moral position? Or something more? If not, why did Bob change his opinion to begin with?

          question 3) Are there fundamental principles underlying Bob’s morality? If so, where do these principles come from? If not, is Bob’s morality arbitrary even from Bob’s viewpoint?

          question 4) Is Bob’s personal morality completely explained by his background? That is, is his morality no more than an expression of his education, upbringing, etc?

          question 5) Is it possible for other people to oppose Bob’s morality and remain moral from Bob’s viewpoint? If so, does this make Bob immoral from Bob’s viewpoint?

          question 6) Why does Bob find it necessary to act as if his morality is universal, when he knows that it is not? On what grounds does he insist that other people listen to his morality?

          question 7) How are Bob’s moral preferences different from his, say, artistic preferences? Does Bob regard them as essentially the same sort of preference? Or are they different in some important way?

          question 8) Hypothetically, if Bob somehows come to have the power and authority to impose (non-violently) his morality on the world, would he do it?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          J. Cormier:

          Does Bob approve of gay marriage because it is good, or is gay marriage good because Bob approves of it?

          Bob approves of gay marriage because his reasoning lead him to believe it is so. Bob tries to make clear that “gay marriage is good” is solely his opinion.

          If Bob, for some reason, change his opinion on gay marriage, would this mean that his previous moral position was mistaken?

          From his new position, of course.

          If not, why did Bob change his opinion to begin with?

          ?? Because he changed his mind.

          Are there fundamental principles underlying Bob’s morality?

          Morality comes from (1) instinct and (2) culture. The former is what I would call “fundamental.”

          Is Bob’s personal morality completely explained by his background?

          No. The instinctive part is something else.

          Is it possible for other people to oppose Bob’s morality and remain moral from Bob’s viewpoint?

          Like everyone else in the world, I think that my moral position is right (if I didn’t, I’d change it. Duh.). A thoughtful, open-minded person could certainly have different opinions and still be moral. “Moral” doesn’t mean “believes everything Bob does,” obviously.

          Why does Bob find it necessary to act as if his morality is universal, when he knows that it is not?

          Huh?

          On what grounds does he insist that other people listen to his morality?

          A trick question? I ask that people listen to my moral position for the same reasons that you do–because I’ve thought about it and think that I have something new to contribute to the conversation.

          How are Bob’s moral preferences different from his, say, artistic preferences?

          The dictionary may be helpful here in clarifying morals vs. art. I, like most people, think that how other people are treated can be a more important issue than art.

          if Bob somehows come to have the power and authority to impose (non-violently) his morality on the world, would he do it?

          I impose on people right now. Just like pretty much everyone, I would take steps to right a wrong in many cases. Poor table manners isn’t worth much consideration, but beating an animal is another story, for example. You too, I’m guessing?

        • Nick Gotts

          How are Bob’s moral preferences different from his, say, artistic preferences? – J. Cormier

          Bob has noted an important difference (that one’s moral preferences have implications for others that one’s artistic preferences lack), but I’d like to note an important commonality: artistic preferences, like moral ones, demonstrate the falsity of the objective/subjective-and-arbitrary dichotomy Cormier, and believers in objective morality generally, adhere to. Suppose I say that Geoge Eliot was a better novelist than Barbara Cartland, or Charles Dickens. Am I asserting an objective fact – all novelists being arranged in a complete order or merit by God, or by their closeness to the Platonic ideal of a novelist, or whatever? Am I merely expressing a taste preference, as for chocolate rather than strawberry ice-cream? In both cases: no. I am expressing a rationally arguable opinion. If challenged, I would refer to factors such as the depth of characterization, the illumination of social issues, the soundness of plot, the avoidance of cliche and so on; and would find contrasting examples. But I might be persuaded to change my mind – at least in the case of Dickens – by someone familiar with the writer pointing out aspects of Nicholas Nickleby I had missed. Note that if someone insists that the only measure of a novelist’s worth is total copies sold, I won’t be able to prove them wrong in relation to some objective standard, any more than I can prove a sociopath wrong not to take others’ interests and preferences into account; but this does not make my criteria of excellence arbitrary, precisely because I am able and willing to subject them, like my moral judgements, to rational scrutiny and argument: in terms of their logical consistency, and in terms of implications I had not considered, counter-arguments I had not heard or had too easily dismissed, and so on.

          Our moral preferences, although not objective, are not thereby arbitrary: first (and unlike artistic preferences), because they have sometimes vital consequences for others’ interests (as well as our own) and second, because they can be rationally criticised and defended.

          A second point: I’ve referred above to “others’ interests”. But the moral objectivist is likely to say: “if there is no objective morality, why take others’ interests into account?”
          The answer is simple: because others are likely to be better off if you do. If this fact does not motivate you, then you’re a sociopath, and admittedly, I can’t prove that you shouldn’t be one. But then even if there were objective values, why couldn’t the sociopath, quite consistently, simply say: “I don’t give a stuff about those objective values, I’m going to act solely in my own interest.”?

          Sometimes the query is slightly different, e.g.: “Why do you care about others?”, with the implication that complete selfishness is rational, and altruism is irrational. Here, the answer would be a naturalistic (and inevitably partial and contestable) one in terms of our species’ evolutionary history, our society’s history, and my personal biography. Whatever the causal details, the fact is that I (like most people) do care about others, so it is rational to take their interests and preferences into account. Moreover, I don’t want to become purely selfish, since that would be likely to have bad effects on others, and I do care about others.

        • Darren

          Nice!

        • Huh

          “once all pretensions to objectivity and transcendence are abandoned, the answer to the Bob version of Euthyphro dilemma is crystal clear. Bob does not approve of compassion because it is moral ; rather, it is moral because Bob approves of it.”

          well, bob may think this is nonsense, but bob’s morality does generate Euthyphro dilemma that has to be resolved this way.

  • avalon

    Once again, the main difference between theists and non-theists is how they think about intuition. The non-theist sees our intuitions as products of our subconscious mind which resulted from evolution. The theist thinks our intuition is the ‘voice of God’ directed to our minds.
    So, while theists and non-theists both agree humans have moral intuitions, they disagree on the significance of those moral intuitions. For the theists, moral intuitions come from outside our brains therefore it indicates an objective truth. For the non-theists, moral intuitions originate in our subconscious brain as a result of evolution therefore it is subjective in the sense of the possibility of our intuitions evolving differently than they did. Moral intuitions exist as a product of our brains and could have formed in any number of ways.
    So the basic question on moral intuition isn’t objective/subjective, it’s whether intuition is natural or “God-given”?

    avalon

  • Ted Seeber

    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM

    There’s your objective morality. The assumptions may differ, but it’s just as scientific and researched as anything atheism has ever come up with- actually more so. That’s the reason we Catholics think atheists are fools- because they’ve failed to actually look at the research, preferring instead to be turned away by mere appearances.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Perhaps we have a different definition of “objective morality.” If it’s objectively true and accessible, everyone would be singing out of the same songbook. They’re not. From abortion to capital punishment, people don’t agree on moral issues. Therefore, accessible objective moral truth doesn’t exist.

      What am I missing?

  • Craig

    “Perhaps you didn’t read the post? Yes, there’s something wrong with the Holocaust.”

    So if there is no objective morality, on what grounds do you make that comment? Is it just your opinion? It would have to be if there was no objective morality. And if it is merely your opinion, why not phrase it as an opinion rather than as an objective claim as to the moral standing of the Holocaust?

    “Holocaust=right

    Wrong again. ”

    Same series of questions applied here.

    For a more concrete demonstration of objective morality:
    Asserting the superiority of one moral construct over the other (ex; the Nazis and the Holocaust v. the Allies and the Nuernburg trials) is like examining two points and determining which comes closer to a third point which is by definition of the exercise, applicable (objective) to both points.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Craig:

      So if there is no objective morality, on what grounds do you make that comment? Is it just your opinion?

      Yep. I could qualify all my statements with “in my opinion,” but this is usually pretty obvious. (Who’s opinion would I speak from otherwise?)

  • Darren

    I recently read a truly fascinating article, in the form of a book review in The Nation magazine. Though trending late for this discussion, I wanted to pass it along for those who might be still tracking the post. The books reviewed are about various aspects of the events in Poland during WWII; the article is well worth reading at The Noble and the Base: Poland and the Holocaust.

    The part of the article that I thought was particularly relevant to our discussion here about Objective Morality, or the lack thereof, was in these two paragraphs near the end:

    ”The question is whether these two images of Poland—a country of heroes and a country of collaborators—can be combined. The difficulty stems from the occupation itself. Rarely has a society been more violently divided than Polish society was during the war: Jews divided from Poles, but also Poles divided from other Poles. The Polish Jewish writer Janina Bauman, who escaped the Warsaw Ghetto with her mother and sister and lived among Poles, described the process. “Some time and several shelters passed,” she recalled, “before I realised that for the people who sheltered us our presence also meant more than great danger, nuisance, or extra income. Somehow it affected them, too. It boosted what was noble in them, or what was base. Sometimes it divided the family, at other times it brought the family together in a shared endeavor to help and survive.”
    The base attained a distance from the noble that Westerners can scarcely imagine. But the story does not end there, for the distance between the two poles was also collapsed as each was inverted, and each inversion compounded. The base became more so by being presented as virtuous, and the noble eluded people’s reach because it was stigmatized as harmful, indeed self-serving. Jan Gross writes of a case in southern Poland where neighbors hounded a woman to dispose of the two Jewish children in her care, insisting she was “selfishly” endangering the village. They left her in peace only after she had assured them—falsely—that she had drowned the pair. Gross asks us to ponder the inversion of morality in a place where people breathed a sigh of relief believing that their neighbor had murdered two children. In his sources, Grabowski repeatedly encounters Polish police carrying out their “patriotic” duty of turning over Jewish women and children to the Germans. The debasement of the noble continued after the war, as Polish rescuers begged the Jews they had saved to keep quiet. The eminent critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki and his wife owed their salvation to the Polish worker “Bolek,” who housed them for fourteen months after they had fled the Warsaw Ghetto. When Soviet troops finally pushed the Germans back and liberated them, Bolek offered Reich-Ranicki a glass of vodka to celebrate but implored him to tell “no one that you were with us. I know this nation. They would never forgive us for sheltering two Jews.”

    Where, then, is the Objective Morality?

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  • Dave

    If might makes right and there is no objective reality, what would be the purpose of a conscience (in naturalistic terms)? If what I do is what makes things right, it seems nonsensical to have a part of me evaluate what I do, since every action would always be a ‘right’ action. And if that is the case, how is it that we could ever make a mistake (it seems to me that we often do act against how we feel we ought to)?

    If there is not some objective morality we can appeal to, it also means that no system or morality is better than another one. So what is the reason for any particular person to believe or follow any particular system? It seems anarchy would be favored. And if any particular system were to be favored because of a reason, would not that reason be graspable…and hence a morality that is objective, accessible to all? The only alternative to objective morality is its nonexistence. Even a basic system which respects the lives of others because it impacts ones own could be considered objective because it is rational, beneficial, and understandable.

    Denying an objective morality also eliminates individual/human rights and the basis of our democratic system would be non-existent.

    Furthermore, the criminal justice system becomes absolutely useless without an objective morality. If every action is right according to the person who commits it, there can be no wrong action. The base of our justice system is that people know there is a code of conduct that they choose to disobey. That is why they are punished/reformed. This is also why a crime which is committed intentionally carries a more severe punishment than one which is done accidentally, even if both actions are identical.

    Dostoyevsky’s famous book Crime and Punishment takes an interesting perspective on this debate and is an absolutely fantastic read. I’m not going to ruin it, but it precisely tackles this debate.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Dave:

      If might makes right and there is no objective reality, what would be the purpose of a conscience (in naturalistic terms)?

      Our niche is as social animals. We fill that niche better by cooperating than competing. Niceness is rewarded.

      “Right” is what that evolution-honed conscience tells you is right. If you were a Romulan or Klingon, your different conscience would evaluate things differently.

      If there is not some objective morality we can appeal to…

      Is there an objective morality? I’ve seen zero evidence. Shared morality, yes; objective no.

      it also means that no system or morality is better than another one.

      In an absolute sense, sure. But so what?

      So what is the reason for any particular person to believe or follow any particular system?

      ‘Cause your instinct tells you to.

      And if any particular system were to be favored because of a reason, would not that reason be graspable…and hence a morality that is objective, accessible to all?

      And since an objective, accessible morality obviously doesn’t exist (we can’t agree on a dozen moral issues such as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, etc.), why pretend that it does?

      If every action is right according to the person who commits it, there can be no wrong action.

      Agreed. Neither of us is suggesting this.

    • http://meta64.com/wclayf Clay Ferguson

      Dave, I think the largest question is: “Is there a giant bearded man in the sky named God who is looking down and deciding if what we do is right or not”. To me that is what Absolute Morality would imply. I think morality is in the minds of intelligent beings, and is a way of categorizing types of behaviour that are beneficial versus detrimental to the species. My opinion is that all intelligent life (at least as intelligent as us) that have language have a word for “good” and “evil”, and we would understand that and it would translate perfectly to our language and good would always be things that help the species. Just like “pain” has to be something that evolves in brains or else you have poor decision making in a species and it dies out.

      About your legal ideas. Our laws do not come from God. They come from man. We have learned to govern ourselves with “rules” based closely on our feelings of morality (doing good to others). There is no need for a bearded man in the sky to be involved to make any of it work or make sense. It’s all about creatures cooperating to help one another, and discouraging and punishing behaviours that are detrimental to the happiness of others.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        On the topic of laws, Christianity has its position within American society thanks to the Constitution. It’s good to remember what’s calling the shots here.

  • Lion IRC

    Is this thread updated anywhere to a new one?
    Hello @ Bob Seidensticker
    Just wondering if we can continue the ”moral instinct” discussion from Apologetics Alliance.

    • http://meta64.com/wclayf Clay Ferguson

      Lion, people will join back in if you type something, because the thread notifies everyone that there’s some new dude trying to chime in. :)

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Ditto. Lion: feel free to make your point.

  • Jack Mudge

    I’ve always thought “objective” was a very unfortunate term, when used in the William Lane Craig sense of the word.
    My morality absolutely is objective — in the sense that I apply evidence (what does or does not harm humans), and given the same premises, two people should reach the same conclusion. And, importantly, they can be measured, both through sociological means (surveys, behavioral studies) and neurological means (MRI, FMRI).
    What it is not is either //universal// or //absolute//: That is to say, it does not necessarily apply to things other than humans (because the premises explicitly include humans), or at least sentient beings, and it is not a rigid, dogmatic set of rules.
    But that does mean it is not “objective” as WLC uses the term. So the best term for it is wasted with a bad definition.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I agree. This is yet another word that we really should stop and define when we get into a discussion. It does make for slow going sometimes.

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