Is there anything objective about morality?

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TheGrammarBolshevik
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Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Sun Jun 07, 2015 5:45 am UTC

Moral subjectivists say that all there is to moral judgments is the attitudes of the person making the judgment. Moral relativists say that there are many moral frameworks, and a moral judgment is valid only relative to a certain framework (most often, the framework of the person making the judgment).

Moral objectivists disagree. They say that moral judgments can be valid not relative to a framework, but full stop, and that there's more to this than the person's own attitudes.

Let's distinguish moral objectivism from a few other things. First, moral objectivists do not have to say that people's attitudes play no role in the validity of moral judgments. For example, part of why it's OK for me to use my roommate's baking pan is that my roommate is OK with it. This is a perfectly mundane point about consent, and it doesn't require subjectivism or relativism. Second, moral objectivists do not have to say that moral obligations are independent of cultural circumstance. For example, maybe it's the case that it's permissible to eat meat in times and places where there isn't enough plant-based food to go around, but impermissible in modern-day America. (What the objectivist can't say is that it would be permissible to eat meat just because people in the surrounding culture found it permissible.) Third, moral objectivists do not have to say that moral obligations are independent of individual cirumstances, consequences, etc. For example, maybe it's wrong to lie most of the time, but OK (or even obligatory) to lie if it would save a life.

What moral objectivists do have to say is something like this: there is a privileged, correct moral framework, and the validity of a moral judgment depends on how it fits with that framework, regardless of how that framework fits with the attitudes of the individual or the society.

I often see people here assert subjectivism or relativism as if it's just obvious, but I don't so often see actual arguments given for it, probably in part because it tends to come up in threads that aren't really about this issue. So, I thought it would be good to have a thread for discussing this. What can be said for objectivism? What can be said for subjectivism and relativism?
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Copper Bezel » Sun Jun 07, 2015 10:33 am UTC

I think that in a pragmatic sense, relativism is a necessary tool for understanding the moral choices of others, particularly but not exclusively in societies different from the one we each happen to live in. It's impossible to separate ourselves completely from the assumptions of the society that created us and that we interact in and make moral judgements not colored by that lens. There's a reason that moral relativism is associated with the kind of positive-not-normative thinking that is necessary in anthropological and historical contexts.

But to me, it's useless for actually assessing the morality of a given action as a matter of choosing how to behave in a given scenario. Simply conforming most accurately to social expectations isn't ideal moral activity. Whether you're approaching from a subjectivist or an objectivist standpoint, you're looking at morality as a means to an end in a way that isn't the case in a relativist perspective. And I think that believing oneself to be capable of pure relativism is hubristic, particularly when it confuses these prescriptive and descriptive aspects of the moral calculus.

If there aren't better and worse moral frameworks, I don't think we have much anything to talk about in any moral debate, which to me automatically means I'm siding with objectivism.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby DR6 » Sun Jun 07, 2015 11:03 am UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:If there aren't better and worse moral frameworks, I don't think we have much anything to talk about in any moral debate, which to me automatically means I'm siding with objectivism.


But that's wrong: to do moral debates, all that's needed is that all participants share a moral framework (which could be a small part of the moral framework each person has, as long as it's big enough to debate about the topic at hand). You don't need that moral framework to be "better" than others in any objective sense. In fact, if the participants don't agree about the choice of moral framework, it probably won't matter if one of the frameworks is objectively better or not: unless one party manages to convince the other to change its moral framework (and this doesn't have that much to do with objective truth), debate won't be possible. As there is a "background moral framework" comprised of things that most people agree in (which includes things like "killing is generally a bad thing", for example), and convincing people to change their framework about some things is achievable, moral debate is possible, independently of objective moral truth.

This relies on the fact that nobody is a pure relativist, and they always favour some moral beliefs over the others: otherwise there would be no debate. This is compatible with believing in moral relativism globally but not locally(there is no moral framework that is true in a universal sense, but there is one that is true for me). (It's also compatible with some forms of moral objectivism).

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Thesh » Sun Jun 07, 2015 11:27 am UTC

I define "immoral" to be things that, whether individually or in aggregate, harm others. I believe this is an objective basis for morality. What prevents me from killing people for their money? Not the law, because I do believe I could get away with it on a small scale if wanted to, but the fact that if we all went around killing people and doing whatever the fuck we want, the world would be a shitty place, and everyone (including myself) would be living in constant fear. So yes, there is a correct moral framework: do whatever the fuck you want, as long as you don't do anything that deliberately harms others for your own personal gain, because that leads to a society that makes people unhappy. Any moral framework that revolves around how people should act when their actions are not inherently* harmful to others is entirely arbitrary.


*Having a baby does not, inherently, harm others, but if you cannot afford to raise the baby, it can result in financial burden for yourself, your child, and others. Having a baby isn't inherently immoral; in fact, there are two moral interpretations: 1) choosing to have a baby when you cannot afford to give it a good life is immoral, or 2) allowing children to be raised in poverty because you don't want to pay higher taxes is immoral. I subscribe to the latter, but plenty subscribe to the former, and they are not mutually exclusive.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby PeteP » Sun Jun 07, 2015 11:46 am UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:I often see people here assert subjectivism or relativism as if it's just obvious, but I don't so often see actual arguments given for it, probably in part because it tends to come up in threads that aren't really about this issue. So, I thought it would be good to have a thread for discussing this. What can be said for objectivism? What can be said for subjectivism and relativism?

Arguing against objective morality without there being arguments for it you can argue against is like doing the same for souls. It's trying to prove a negative, you can't say much more than that you see no indication for it being a thing that exists. Are you are in support of there being objective morality? If so could you give a reason why one would think it exists so that there is something to start from?

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby morriswalters » Sun Jun 07, 2015 12:20 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:What moral objectivists do have to say is something like this: there is a privileged, correct moral framework, and the validity of a moral judgment depends on how it fits with that framework, regardless of how that framework fits with the attitudes of the individual or the society.
This might possibly reflect reality in a narrow sense, with with valid moral behaviors, being those behaviors that allow social animals to exist, as a group. With the thought being that there are absolute minimums of moral behavior that must exist, for any social group to prosper. So some things are always wrong for a social group. Outside those very few behaviors that are always moral or immoral, lay the realm of behaviors that are subjective or relative. I'm not certain this is responsive.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby 44 stone lions » Sun Jun 07, 2015 12:52 pm UTC

Since you have based immorality on harm, and there are different levels of harm that can be caused, then there are also different levels of immorality that must be defined. This maybe easy enough to do from a physical perspective with killing somebody being the worst, but what about physiological or emotional harm which are much more difficult to quantify, but can be just as damaging if not more so than some form of physical abuse.

Also what about the probability of harm occurring? Someone may not have harmed you yet but if you think that there is a threat of them harming you in the future then is it moral for you to harm them first in order to avoid a perceived threat, or must you first wait until you have been hurt before you can act. And even then, if the damage is done such a retaliation would be case of revenge, and would that then be morally justifiable given that the person may no longer pose a threat to you?

But on the flipside of not doing deliberate harm for your own personal gain, what about incurring loss or harm upon yourself in order to do good? Is there a certain amount of personal risk that a person should be willing to take in order to do a good of a certain magnitude? Would it be considered immoral to stand back and do nothing while something evil was going on around you because acting to prevent such a thing would potentially or definitely harm you?

If morality was a thing which existed solely to aid social cohesion beyond the level at which individual empathy was capable then I would probably lean toward it being relative. It helps the people in your particular area live better lives. However, that then causes problems when people of two different societies clash who have different moral standards and an objective view of do no harm may not be enough to stop harm being caused, due to one group feeling that the threat of the other group's morality may harm their society.

It is also relative to time periods, I’m sure that the people who started the crusades thought they had the moral high ground, and people who kept slaves and subjugated entire peoples had moral justifications for why they did it. Those justifications don’t make much sense to me, as I doubt they make much sense to anyone these days, and perhaps any agreement that we could come to in our time as to what would be considered a privileged and correct moral framework would be looked upon by future generations as abhorrent. Just as any such conclusions reached by people of 500 years ago would look bad to us.

So I don’t think that any moral framework that could be considered objective would be far reaching enough to cover all aspects that a morality should cover and is therefore a bit useless, and attempting to define a morality that could deal correctly with every aspect of life whist simultaneously being accepted globally would not be practical. That is not to say that such a framework does not exist and that everyone is just ignoring it, but in that case it is, surely, equally as useless.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Dthen » Sun Jun 07, 2015 1:53 pm UTC

I think the answer to the OP is "no", unless someone can say something to prove the contrary.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby doogly » Sun Jun 07, 2015 3:40 pm UTC

DR6 wrote:nobody is a pure relativist, and they always favour some moral beliefs over the others

The moral relativist position doesn't mean you can't *favor* one framework or belief over another, it just means that you view these favorings as matters of taste rather than correctness. We often use a language which conflates these - not killing is the "right" thing to do, and saying that I have a beard is "right," and browning meat before you put it in a slow cooker is "right." Some of my own tastes I view as completely private - I wouldn't claim that Disco Tex or family loyalty are things everyone really ought to value, but I'm rather fond of them. Some of my tastes I would put forward as superior, and argue for them - Harry Potter and capitalism are crap. But unlike the fact that I have a beard, these are all just tastes.

It's also worth noting that things like "minimize harm" are vacuous moral statements. What does "harm" mean? You've just swept things under a rug, or relabeled the question. Perhaps you prefer to talk about ethical questions in terms of a harm vocabulary as opposed to, say, a virtue vocabulary, but it gives no metaethical insight.

But yes, objective morality seems ridiculous, and to talk about it this way seems to be a categorical error.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Thesh » Sun Jun 07, 2015 3:45 pm UTC

Harm can be defined as simply anything that results in a loss if overall happiness..
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Izawwlgood » Sun Jun 07, 2015 3:52 pm UTC

There was a great Hardcore History on parenting (unfortunately pay only now), where he talks about how the habits have changed significantly over the years. Parenting! As in, the thing that is required for the human race to perpetuate, and that we ALL know there's a right and a wrong way to do, right? Amiright?
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby doogly » Sun Jun 07, 2015 4:10 pm UTC

Thesh wrote:Harm can be defined as simply anything that results in a loss if overall happiness..

- No it can't
- If it can, what's happiness?
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby morriswalters » Sun Jun 07, 2015 4:35 pm UTC

doogly wrote:But yes, objective morality seems ridiculous, and to talk about it this way seems to be a categorical error.
Why?

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Quercus » Sun Jun 07, 2015 4:48 pm UTC

I have arrived at something that I guess could be termed a "semi-relative" morality. One of the problems I see with full blown moral relativism is the fact that many moral frameworks are mutually incompatible and moral relativism, in and of itself, has no graceful way of dealing with this.

Say we have frameworks I and J. In I activity X is mandatory and activity Y must be opposed at all costs. In J it is activity Y that is mandatory and activity X that must be opposed. I and J are pretty inevitably in conflict with each other, often, practical experience shows, violent conflict. Allowing multiple moral frameworks to exist side-by-side is a practical necessity if there is to be meaning behind the claim that different moral frameworks are a priori equally valid. Therefore we have one scale by which we can judge moral frameworks: the degree to which they allow people the freedom to live their lives according to a moral framework of their own choosing*.

I would also tend to view moral frameworks that are inherently self-contradictory as innately inferior to moral frameworks that are self-consistent, because a self-contradictory morality isn't so much morally wrong as it is fundamentally broken at an underlying level.

Those two things lead to the idea that there are certain classes of framework that are superior to others: ones that are self-consistent and respect the freedom of others to live their lives according to their own morality are superior to those that aren't and/or don't.

This is all pretty tentative, so please feel free to point out problems with this line of thinking.

*That can be either by not interfering in the moral choices of others, or by actively opposing moral choices that cause excessive interference.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Sun Jun 07, 2015 4:53 pm UTC

Morality isn't a thing.

It's the label we put on the hammer we use to get people to behave the way we want them to.

Morality is an artificial support structure we give to the desires we happen to be in agreement on.

Agreeing on morals is in essence agreeing on what we desire. So long as we all value the same things (family, freedom, property, security, whatever), there will be way of behaving that best preserves these values. People who come along with different values will have a moral system that supports their desires, and not our desires.

Deciding which moral system is "right" is equivalent to my deciding what kinds of things you ought to desire, without consideration of who you are and how you came to be that way.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Sun Jun 07, 2015 5:12 pm UTC

PeteP wrote:Arguing against objective morality without there being arguments for it you can argue against is like doing the same for souls. It's trying to prove a negative, you can't say much more than that you see no indication for it being a thing that exists?

This just isn't true. Plenty of anti-realist arguments have been offered besides "I see no indication that realism is true." There's the argument from disagreement, the argument from queerness, debunking arguments, constructivist arguments, Ayer's logical positivist argument... as a matter of simple empirical fact, what you say here isn't true.

But, you want arguments for objectivism. Here are a few:

Non-contingency: When Genghis Khan was doing his conquering, one of his big strategies was to systematically murder every single person in cities that opposed him. Rome did this too. It's a pretty effective strategy, since a lot of people would rather surrender in a war that they might win rather than fighting and risking that they and everyone they love will be killed if they lose. But, obviously Genghis Khan and the Romans were wrong to do this. So far, we're on the same page as relativists: since the moral framework of our culture says that the Romans were wrong, they were wrong. But it seems like what the relativist can't say is that what the Romans did would be wrong, even if our culture thought it was right. And it seems like that is the right thing to say: that the wrongness of murdering a city full of people has nothing to do with whether anyone approves of it. Objectivists can happily accept this view.

Handling disagreement: (This argument comes from David Enoch.) Here's a moral commonplace: When there's an interpersonal conflict over a purely subjective matter, an impartial, egalitarian solution is called for. For example, if we have different preferences over where to go to dinner, we should flip a coin, or agree to alternate between preferences, or something like that. But morality doesn't seem to work this way. If I think it's wrong to embezzle money, and Smith is planning to embezzle money, we shouldn't flip a coin, and we shouldn't say "Embezzling today, non-embezzling tomorrow." With respect to embezzling, I should put my foot down, and I should try to stop Smith's plan if she goes through with it. So, moral demands don't seem to be just matters of taste. Can more complicated anti-realist views avoid this problem? I'm not optimistic. For example, a cultural relativist can say that I should put my foot down because Smith and I are in the same culture, and the moral framework of the culture supports my judgment. But not every disagreement happens within a culture.

Companions in guilt: (This argument comes from Terence Cuneo.) Besides good and bad actions, there are good and bad beliefs. Yakk's views about the Blue Eyes problem are justified; this guy's views are not. It seems odd to think that it's a matter of taste whether the "100 days" solution to the Blue Eyes puzzle is justified. But epistemic justification has a lot of the same features that people have found problematic about moral objectivism. People disagree on what counts as justified; accepted views have changed quite a bit over time; claims about justification can look like they fall afoul of "the scientific worldview" (queerness) or like they're supposed to be synthetic, non-empirical claims (logical positivism). To conclude from this that there are no objective facts about justification looks odd and possibly self-defeating. So, why should these things mean that there are no objective facts about morality? (Of course, this is not strictly speaking an argument for objectivism, but it does attempt to disarm the things that are supposed to make objectivism implausible.)

44 stone lions wrote:If morality was a thing which existed solely to aid social cohesion beyond the level at which individual empathy was capable then I would probably lean toward it being relative. It helps the people in your particular area live better lives.

Why not say, instead, that it's objectively good for people to live better lives, and that what it takes to live a better life varies according to time and place?

44 stone lions wrote:It is also relative to time periods, I’m sure that the people who started the crusades thought they had the moral high ground, and people who kept slaves and subjugated entire peoples had moral justifications for why they did it. Those justifications don’t make much sense to me, as I doubt they make much sense to anyone these days, and perhaps any agreement that we could come to in our time as to what would be considered a privileged and correct moral framework would be looked upon by future generations as abhorrent. Just as any such conclusions reached by people of 500 years ago would look bad to us.

Why not say, instead, that the crusaders and the slave-owners were objectively wrong? They were objectively wrong about lots of other things, after all. The Crusaders thought that God wanted them to fight a war, that the sun went around the earth, and that Islam began as a Christian heresy. We wouldn't say that these things were right for them, but wrong for us. We would just say that they're wrong.

Quercus wrote:Say we have frameworks I and J. In I activity X is mandatory and activity Y must be opposed at all costs. In J it is activity Y that is mandatory and activity X that must be opposed. I and J are pretty inevitably in conflict with each other, often, practical experience shows, violent conflict. Allowing multiple moral frameworks to exist side-by-side is a practical necessity if there is to be meaning behind the claim that different moral frameworks are a priori equally valid. Therefore we have one scale by which we can judge moral frameworks: the degree to which they allow people the freedom to live their lives according to a moral framework of their own choosing*.

I think the relativist only has to say that moral frameworks are "equally valid" in the sense that they are equally correct. She doesn't have to say that they are on a moral par. So, at least prima facie a moral relativist in framework I can say that framework J is morally abhorrent and needs to be stopped, even while acknowledging that framework J is no less true than her own.

But perhaps, ultima facie, there's a problem with accepting the authority of framework I while denying that it has any special claim to truth. The "Handling disagreement" argument that I gave above seems relevant here.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby PeteP » Sun Jun 07, 2015 5:16 pm UTC

@Quercus: I don't quite follow your argument, moral relativism doesn't mean you have to respect or tolerate the moral of others. Or rather it does mean that to some but I would consider that in itself a moral claim. Using the wiki description
Spoiler:
Descriptive moral relativism holds only that some people do in fact disagree about what is moral; meta-ethical moral relativism holds that in such disagreements, nobody is objectively right or wrong; and normative moral relativism holds that because nobody is right or wrong, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when we disagree about the morality of it.

When I speak about moral relativism I usually mean what wiki describes as meta-ethical moral relativism and consider normative moral relativism and additional claim (which is in it's nature a moral claim.)

There is no issue with moral frame works being incompatible with each other if you don't ascribe to normative moral relativism. Whether you can or should force your morals on others is part of your moral framework.

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
PeteP wrote:Arguing against objective morality without there being arguments for it you can argue against is like doing the same for souls. It's trying to prove a negative, you can't say much more than that you see no indication for it being a thing that exists?

This just isn't true. Plenty of anti-realist arguments have been offered besides "I see no indication that realism is true." There's the argument from disagreement, the argument from queerness, debunking arguments, constructivist arguments, Ayer's logical positivist argument... as a matter of simple empirical fact, what you say here isn't true.

Maybe I should have said no arguments I consider both a relevant or good answer without making additional assumptions about the claim of morals being objective. Of course there are arguments someone might make. Though about the ones you mentioned:

Ayer's logical positivist: "In this theory of knowledge, only statements verifiable either logically or empirically would be cognitively meaningful." If that description is accurate it is what I would consider arguing that you see no reason why it would exist.

Argument from disagreement --- Has no bearing on objective morality if you aren't making the claim that the objective morality is knowable or that anyone is following it. It can be objective without any existing moral system having any similarity with it.

Argument from queerness -- As the first one that is just part of the "no indication that it exists" argument maybe I would call it a supporting argument for it. It's basically arguing that if they exist in an objective form they would have to be something unlike anything we know. So I group it under "No reason to believe it exists since we know of nothing like it"

Debunking arguments: I would say they would also require the additional claim that our morals have anything to do with the objective morals.
Last edited by PeteP on Sun Jun 07, 2015 5:52 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Quercus » Sun Jun 07, 2015 5:51 pm UTC

PeteP wrote:@Quercus: I don't quite follow your argument, moral relativism doesn't mean you have to respect or tolerate the moral of others. Or rather it does mean that to some but I would consider that in itself a moral claim. Using the wiki description
Spoiler:
Descriptive moral relativism holds only that some people do in fact disagree about what is moral; meta-ethical moral relativism holds that in such disagreements, nobody is objectively right or wrong; and normative moral relativism holds that because nobody is right or wrong, we ought to tolerate the behavior of others even when we disagree about the morality of it.

When I speak about moral relativism I usually mean what wiki describes as meta-ethical moral relativism and consider normative moral relativism and additional claim (which is in it's nature a moral claim.)

There is no issue with moral frame works being incompatible with each other if you don't ascribe to normative moral relativism. Whether you can or should force your morals on others is part of your moral framework.


In that case what are the practical consequences of subscribing to meta-ethical moral relativism? If it doesn't mean at least some degree of normative moral relativism then how does it lead to different behaviour than moral objectivism? After all, you appear to be saying that if you are a moral relativist you are free to live according to your own moral framework, including intolerance of the morals of others, as long as you don't claim your framework is more "true" or "correct" than anyone else's. If it doesn't lead to different behaviour then what is its purpose as a concept (outside of a philosophy classroom)?

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby PeteP » Sun Jun 07, 2015 6:00 pm UTC

Why does there have to be a purpose to a statement on what is real and what isn't? If you are searching for a meaning of life "there is none if you don't pick one yourself" is a valid answer without much of an purpose. Moral relativism is a similar answer to the search for objective arguments for moral stances.


@TGB:
Non-contingency: Let me rephrase the argument to it's essence "I would like horrible things to be objectively wrong, that isn't the case if morals aren't objective." Look at the end of your paragraph, it assumes that murdering a city is objectively wrong to say that morals are objective

Handling disagreement: And again you are arguing from the position that these thing are objective to demonstrate that morals are objective. If you could prove that some things are objectively wrong you would have already reached your goal. As an argument for moral realism I consider that circular.

Edit: Also strong preferences don't work that way, if one hates olives and the other bananas they won't agree to alternate between sharing plates of olives and plates of bananas. You make compromises where you are okay with several results even though you would like one the best. And for morals people don't consider all that important they might make exceptions for others too.
Last edited by PeteP on Sun Jun 07, 2015 6:13 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Puppyclaws » Sun Jun 07, 2015 6:08 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Handling disagreement: (This argument comes from David Enoch.) Here's a moral commonplace: When there's an interpersonal conflict over a purely subjective matter, an impartial, egalitarian solution is called for. For example, if we have different preferences over where to go to dinner, we should flip a coin, or agree to alternate between preferences, or something like that. But morality doesn't seem to work this way. If I think it's wrong to embezzle money, and Smith is planning to embezzle money, we shouldn't flip a coin, and we shouldn't say "Embezzling today, non-embezzling tomorrow." With respect to embezzling, I should put my foot down, and I should try to stop Smith's plan if she goes through with it. So, moral demands don't seem to be just matters of taste. Can more complicated anti-realist views avoid this problem? I'm not optimistic. For example, a cultural relativist can say that I should put my foot down because Smith and I are in the same culture, and the moral framework of the culture supports my judgment. But not every disagreement happens within a culture.


This argument does not follow. It values an egalitarian and impartial solution to subjective matters above all other solutions, which I can and do reject. My friends may not like it much but there are places I am not going to dinner. I put my foot down on a lot of opinions, and you'd be hard pressed to convince me (or most people) that this is an immoral decision. You're also misreading cultural relativism; the point is not that whatever culture decides is correct, but rather that there are other cultures which value things in a different manner than we do, and that just because our culture values things it does not follow that those things are right.

Companions in guilt: (This argument comes from Terence Cuneo.) Besides good and bad actions, there are good and bad beliefs. Yakk's views about the Blue Eyes problem are justified; this guy's views are not. It seems odd to think that it's a matter of taste whether the "100 days" solution to the Blue Eyes puzzle is justified. But epistemic justification has a lot of the same features that people have found problematic about moral objectivism. People disagree on what counts as justified; accepted views have changed quite a bit over time; claims about justification can look like they fall afoul of "the scientific worldview" (queerness) or like they're supposed to be synthetic, non-empirical claims (logical positivism). To conclude from this that there are no objective facts about justification looks odd and possibly self-defeating. So, why should these things mean that there are no objective facts about morality? (Of course, this is not strictly speaking an argument for objectivism, but it does attempt to disarm the things that are supposed to make objectivism implausible.)


"Looks odd and possibly self-defeating" is not the same as "is odd and self-defeating." Honestly I don't even hear an argument here other than "this makes me uncomfortable."

Why not say, instead, that the crusaders and the slave-owners were objectively wrong? They were objectively wrong about lots of other things, after all. The Crusaders thought that God wanted them to fight a war, that the sun went around the earth, and that Islam began as a Christian heresy. We wouldn't say that these things were right for them, but wrong for us. We would just say that they're wrong.


Yes, that is the difference between facts and opinions. That some people are wrong about facts does not mean that some people are wrong about opinions.

But perhaps, ultima facie, there's a problem with accepting the authority of framework I while denying that it has any special claim to truth. The "Handling disagreement" argument that I gave above seems relevant here.


I think this is what the disagreement comes down to. I do not buy that a special claim to truth is necessary for authority. Ultimately we have to make choices. I attempt to make choices which I think are moral but at the same time accept that there is no completely rational defense for my moral base; it extends from underlying principles which I have chosen.

Anyway, where could a special claim to truth for a moral code possibly come from? There can be no empirical question about what is moral, it will always depend on underlying principles which are not supported.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Sun Jun 07, 2015 6:08 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:When Genghis Khan was doing his conquering, one of his big strategies was to systematically murder every single person in cities that opposed him. [...] But, obviously Genghis Khan and the Romans were wrong to do this.
Was he wrong to "kill everyone who opposed him, given that he's conquering"? or was he wrong to conquer in the first place? If the latter, then the former is mere detail, and morality doesn't really enter into it. The moral question has already been decided. And ignored.

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:...I should put my foot down, and I should try to stop Smith's plan if she goes through with it. So, moral demands don't seem to be just matters of taste....
No, this doesn't follow. It very much is a matter of taste, just globally rather than locally applied. That is to say, it's my preference that I prefer to live in a world where embezzling were not tolerated. Given that, the rest follows. But before being given that, there's no difference between embezzling and restaurants, because the difference is "what kind of world I want to live in".

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Why not say, instead, that it's objectively good for people to live better lives, and that what it takes to live a better life varies according to time and place?
Claiming something is objectively true (and getting that claim taken seriously) requires evidence, as it is a statement about the universe we live in, and is thus testable in principle. Claiming something subjective does not, as it is not a statement about the world, but a statement about one's own world-view.

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:ucim: I'd like to know why you think what you think, not just what you think.
I take it you're referring to my post above. I guess it comes down to the lack of concreteness, and the lack of evidence for a claim of universality. Also from the way morals are used.

Morality is a concept; an idea. A thing we invented. It's not measurable or quantifiable. It is not even a property of behavior, but rather, a judgment about that behavior. In order to be judged, there needs to be a scale against which to do the judging. But there isn't one naturally present in the universe. The best we can come up with boils down to "I prefer it that way". But other people prefer it a different way and "I'm right and you're wrong" is not a convincing argument to prefer one over the other.

I could continue, but then I'll end up just saying what I said in the prior post again. So I guess it really comes down to my not being convinced that judgement about behavior is based on any measurable objective properties of the universe at large, and my noticing that the arguments in that direction that I have seen seem to end up coming down to using a pre-existing moral framework to justify a moral framework.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby 44 stone lions » Sun Jun 07, 2015 6:09 pm UTC

What I was trying to get at is that if you had asked them at the time they would have defined themselves as objectively right, and why not? They had God on their sides. I’d imagine also that all the people that ended up victims of their actions would have defined the crusaders as objectively wrong, and why not? They were getting slaughtered and/or otherwise treated like crap by a bunch of armed people who’d turned up from the other side of the world.

We can comfortably say that those people (the crusaders that is) were in the wrong. But we have near an extra millennium worth of hindsight, development and general experience to work from than they did.

It is apparent that historically it was not considered good (or all least not worth worrying about) making the lives of all people better, some people yes, but not all of them. The models of aristocracy that used to dominate most of the developed world are testament to the fact that people were more than happy to consider themselves better than others and also considered themselves right to do so. And now we consider them wrong.

So what is to say that people in the future will not consider your (and pretty much every other decent person of today) belief, that it is good to make the lives of all people better, wrong? Maybe they will all be a bunch of absolute bastards due to their having to deal with over population, scarcity of resources and catastrophic climate change or such other things? A world where caring very little about the plight of others in favour of your own survival becomes the new “right thing to do”.

My point would be this: we can consider them to be wrong, but we are not criticism them from an objective position, we are doing it from our particular position in time and space and the moral framework that that has granted us. Does that not make it relative? (It does from my understanding of it anyway, I may be wrong)

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Quercus » Sun Jun 07, 2015 6:10 pm UTC

PeteP wrote:Why does there have to be a purpose to a statement on what is real and what isn't?

There doesn't I guess, but given where this thread started (quoted below), I assumed that we were talking about practicalities, because when moral relativism comes up on other places on the fora it usually concerns practical moral choices.

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:I often see people here assert subjectivism or relativism as if it's just obvious, but I don't so often see actual arguments given for it, probably in part because it tends to come up in threads that aren't really about this issue. So, I thought it would be good to have a thread for discussing this. What can be said for objectivism? What can be said for subjectivism and relativism?


I'm also a bit of a pragmatist in the philosophical sense - if two philosophical viewpoints lead to identical judgements and behaviour under all circumstances, then I personally don't find it useful to explore the distinction between them. If there isn't a purpose to a statement on what is real and what isn't then why should one care about the answer? Personally I'm content to leave such issues unresolved.

ETA: In the thread which spawned this thread, people are talking about normative moral relativism as far as I understand it (because otherwise terms like "should" couldn't really come into it).

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby PeteP » Sun Jun 07, 2015 6:23 pm UTC

I edited afterwards a bit but I basically see it this way: We have morals so many of us try to make arguments for our morals which would both enable us to prove our stance and possible to derive other rules. I see relativism as a possible end result of this search, the one where you come to the conclusion that there are no objective arguments to find.

And it doesn't have to have no practical consequences. The consequences are whatever results for you from concluding that your morals have no basis in fact. But what that is differs between people.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby elasto » Sun Jun 07, 2015 6:27 pm UTC

Quercus wrote:In that case what are the practical consequences of subscribing to meta-ethical moral relativism? If it doesn't mean at least some degree of normative moral relativism then how does it lead to different behaviour than moral objectivism? After all, you appear to be saying that if you are a moral relativist you are free to live according to your own moral framework, including intolerance of the morals of others, as long as you don't claim your framework is more "true" or "correct" than anyone else's. If it doesn't lead to different behaviour then what is its purpose as a concept (outside of a philosophy classroom)?

I think one is more likely to be humble and open-minded about learning and growing from other ethical frameworks as a moral relativist than as an objectivist.

By accepting a-priori that there is no one universal truth, you are automatically in a mindset that seeks greater understanding, and it's much easier to accept being wrong - and even make a 180 degree turn in your beliefs.

Belief in an objective truth (and believing that you've already found it) put you in a mindset to reject new data that confounds your worldview - and can even put you in the mindset that learning other ethical systems can be somehow dangerous - lest you 'lose your way'.

Of course, objectivists can be open-minded and relativists can be closed-minded, so it's not an absolute, it's more of a predisposition.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Quercus » Sun Jun 07, 2015 6:42 pm UTC

Ah, okay - that all makes reasonable sense. Thanks (to both PeteP and elasto)

elasto wrote:Belief in an objective truth (and believing that you've already found it)

That's kind of where I was coming unstuck - I wasn't connecting the fact that moral objectivism usually involves already having decided what the objective moral truth you believe in is, and being at least somewhat resistant to changing that view.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby morriswalters » Sun Jun 07, 2015 6:51 pm UTC

Morality is a concept; an idea. A thing we invented. It's not measurable or quantifiable. It is not even a property of behavior, but rather, a judgment about that behavior. In order to be judged, there needs to be a scale against which to do the judging. But there isn't one naturally present in the universe. The best we can come up with boils down to "I prefer it that way". But other people prefer it a different way and "I'm right and you're wrong" is not a convincing argument to prefer one over the other.
Describe it for the purpose it serves. If continuation of life is considered a purpose, then rules which cause life to prosper can be called moral, if they work. And if they don't work then life doesn't prosper and that can be considered immoral.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby elasto » Sun Jun 07, 2015 6:58 pm UTC

Of course, it's more comforting believing in an objective truth. eg. voters tend to admire politicians with 'principles', who 'stick to their guns' - and look down upon ones who 'flip-flop'. Learning and growth is somehow viewed as a childish quality - as meaning that a person hasn't fully 'arrived' yet - whereas in fact it ought to be valued life-long.

Our leaders - whether they be our political leaders, our preachers or even our scientists - admitting they don't have all the answers is... discomforting. It's not a message most want to hear. We want to believe that even if we haven't got everything worked out yet, those we pick as our representatives have.

Hence why many of those who seek to be our leaders purport to an objective truth, which they have learnt, and of which they are certain. People love certainty.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Dthen » Sun Jun 07, 2015 7:05 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:
Morality is a concept; an idea. A thing we invented. It's not measurable or quantifiable. It is not even a property of behavior, but rather, a judgment about that behavior. In order to be judged, there needs to be a scale against which to do the judging. But there isn't one naturally present in the universe. The best we can come up with boils down to "I prefer it that way". But other people prefer it a different way and "I'm right and you're wrong" is not a convincing argument to prefer one over the other.
Describe it for the purpose it serves. If continuation of life is considered a purpose, then rules which cause life to prosper can be called moral, if they work. And if they don't work then life doesn't prosper and that can be considered immoral.

Why would you say it serves that purpose?
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Sun Jun 07, 2015 7:24 pm UTC

PeteP wrote:Non-contingency: Let me rephrase the argument to it's essence "I would like horrible things to be objectively wrong, that isn't the case if morals aren't objective." Look at the end of your paragraph, it assumes that murdering a city is objectively wrong to say that morals are objective

This response and your next response both seem to have a problem with the fact that I am assuming things that are incompatible with relativism. Well, that is how arguments work. You put together some premises that logically entail a conclusion. Logically entailing the conclusion means that the premises are incompatible with what you're arguing against. If you aren't OK with doing this some of the time, you aren't going to be able to argue for much of anything.

In the present case, I think it's at least reasonable to start off thinking that Genghis Khan was wrong and would have been wrong even if we thought otherwise. Am I making an assumption? Yeah, but so is everyone else. Is my assumption in conflict with relativism? Sure, and the relativist's assumptions are in conflict with objectivism.

PeteP wrote:Handling disagreement: And again you are arguing from the position that these thing are objective to demonstrate that morals are objective. If you could prove that some things are objectively wrong you would have already reached your goal. As an argument for moral realism I consider that circular.

I don't think I've assumed that anything is objectively wrong. I've assumed that we should be impartial on matters of taste, and we should not be impartial on morality, but I haven't assumed that either of those "should" claims is objectively true. Even if relativism is right, those claims are at least correct relative to my framework.

PeteP wrote:Edit: Also strong preferences don't work that way, if one hates olives and the other bananas they won't agree to alternate between sharing plates of olives and plates of bananas. You make compromises where you are okay with several results even though you would like one the best. And for morals people don't consider all that important they might make exceptions for others too.

The point is that preferences, weak or strong, need to be settled in an impartial way. Sometimes the impartial thing is to flip a coin; other times the right impartial solution is to decide that you just can't have dinner together, since your tastes are that far apart. What you can't do is say "No, goddammit, we are going to Applebees whether you like it or not!" Contrast that with morality, where often you do have to put your foot down and prevent other people from doing what they prefer.

Puppyclaws wrote:You're also misreading cultural relativism; the point is not that whatever culture decides is correct, but rather that there are other cultures which value things in a different manner than we do, and that just because our culture values things it does not follow that those things are right.

There are different senses of the term "moral relativism." What you're describing is descriptive moral relativism; what I'm talking about, and what I describe in the OP, is metaethical moral relativism. This thread is about the latter. I don't think I could be mistaken about this, since I'm the one who made the thread.

Puppyclaws wrote:"Looks odd and possibly self-defeating" is not the same as "is odd and self-defeating." Honestly I don't even hear an argument here other than "this makes me uncomfortable."

"I don't hear an argument" is not the same thing as "There is no argument."

Obviously, phrases like "I don't hear" and "seems" are idiomatic hedges that we use when we don't want to come off as overconfident. My conclusions aren't supposed to follow from the fact that some claims seem right; they're supposed to follow from the claims. So why not address the claims, and the arguments, instead of this silly "gotcha"?

ucim wrote:Claiming something is objectively true (and getting that claim taken seriously) requires evidence, as it is a statement about the universe we live in, and is thus testable in principle.

If by "testable" you mean "empirically testable," then this looks obviously false. For example, it's objectively true that 2 + 2 = 4, but I can't think of any way to test that claim. For another example, I doubt there's any way to test whether every statement that's objectively true is testable in principle.

44 stone lions wrote:My point would be this: we can consider them to be wrong, but we are not criticism them from an objective position, we are doing it from our particular position in time and space and the moral framework that that has granted us. Does that not make it relative? (It does from my understanding of it anyway, I may be wrong)

I think this shows that our viewpoint is located in a particular time and place, and that's going to give us particular biases, evidence, experiences, circumstances, assumptions, intellectual heritage, and so on. I don't think that makes things relative. It just means that we need to be humble. We need to realize that there are all kinds of things that can get in the way of the truth. And we need to realize that we can't dismiss other viewpoints just because they're different. But that doesn't mean that things are relative. The same points could be made about science, or about whether moral relativism is true.

elasto, I don't see how relativism helps you accept being wrong. According to relativism, so long as you're in line with your culture's framework, you're not wrong. The only way that you can be open to being wrong in what you think (or that your culture could be wrong in what your culture thinks) is if you accept that there's more to the matter than your own beliefs.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Quercus » Sun Jun 07, 2015 7:35 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
PeteP wrote:Non-contingency: Let me rephrase the argument to it's essence "I would like horrible things to be objectively wrong, that isn't the case if morals aren't objective." Look at the end of your paragraph, it assumes that murdering a city is objectively wrong to say that morals are objective

This response and your next response both seem to have a problem with the fact that I am assuming things that are incompatible with relativism. Well, that is how arguments work. You put together some premises that logically entail a conclusion. Logically entailing the conclusion means that the premises are incompatible with what you're arguing against. If you aren't OK with doing this some of the time, you aren't going to be able to argue for much of anything.

This looks like begging the question to me. Specifically because this:

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Genghis Khan was wrong and would have been wrong even if we thought otherwise.

is not a premise that implies moral objectivism, it is a conclusion that derives from moral objectivism.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Puppyclaws » Sun Jun 07, 2015 7:36 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:"I don't hear an argument" is not the same thing as "There is no argument."

Obviously, phrases like "I don't hear" and "seems" are idiomatic hedges that we use when we don't want to come off as overconfident. My conclusions aren't supposed to follow from the fact that some claims seem right; they're supposed to follow from the claims. So why not address the claims, and the arguments, instead of this silly "gotcha"?


Because there were no claims that I could see; as I said, what I read was "this makes me uncomfortable." Taking a closer look...I come to the same conclusion. Your argument reads something like "We can make claims about logic and truth, so why not about opinions? It seems silly and self-defeating not to." I don't see anything self-evident or interesting in that. I am sure you will say I don't understand, maybe so, but your crusades comparison certainly seemed to make that same point, and as far as I am concerned that is a non-argument.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Cradarc » Sun Jun 07, 2015 7:38 pm UTC

Short answer: Yes, for the individual. No, in a social arena.

If you look up the definition of "objective", it invokes "fact".
If you look up "fact', the definition invokes "indisputable" and "evidence".
If you look up "evidence", it invokes "supporting/showing the validity of something"
Everything objective comes with the implicit questions: "Who is going to dispute you?", "How do you show validity to that person?"

In a social setting, there is always going to be someone who will dispute with you, there is always someone who will not see what you think is obvious. In that sense, we can never be objective. When we throw around "objective" in everyday speech, we are actually referring to group consensus. If the plurality think something is obvious, it becomes objectively obvious.
In a personal setting, you are the person disputing with yourself. You are looking for satisfactory evidence to your own consciousness. Something is objective once it becomes indisputable to you.

Morality is a personal matter, so I see it objectively (I also expect other people to see morality objectively). Ethics is a social matter, and I treat it as such. Ethics isn't about establishing objective morality, but rather finding a practical compromise to the multitude of individual moralities. When speaking to other people, it may be easy to confuse the two. After all, you are engaged socially. When someone asks for morality, it's more natural to answer in ethics to avoid pissing them off.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby elasto » Sun Jun 07, 2015 7:43 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:elasto, I don't see how relativism helps you accept being wrong. According to relativism, so long as you're in line with your culture's framework, you're not wrong.

Not being wrong isn't the same as your morality being optimal. But the optimality might be relative, not absolute. What is right today could be wrong tomorrow.

An objectivist is more likely to think that a belief system with sub-optimal outcomes is because the rest of the world has got it wrong. Great advances can occur if an objectivist with a good idea manages to change the world. But terrible backsliding can occur if an objectivist with a bad idea manages to get into power.

A relativist is more likely to tailor their belief system to match reality - what is likely to help in the here and now - producing local maxima. They are less likely to cause a revolution, but more likely to aid an evolution.

The only way that you can be open to being wrong in what you think (or that your culture could be wrong in what your culture thinks) is if you accept that there's more to the matter than your own beliefs.

Of course there's more to the matter than one's own beliefs - assuming we expand 'wrongness' beyond merely 'moral wrongness' and into 'factual wrongness' that is.

Now we're getting into morris' territory of what is the goal of your moral system? If it's for human life to continue into the future, then killing everyone on earth goes beyond mere moral wrongness and into actual 'objective' wrongness. But what if the goal of your moral system changes? What if it's to ensure that everyone goes to heaven? Now your morals may compell you to kill everyone on earth...

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Sun Jun 07, 2015 7:59 pm UTC

Quercus wrote:
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
PeteP wrote:Non-contingency: Let me rephrase the argument to it's essence "I would like horrible things to be objectively wrong, that isn't the case if morals aren't objective." Look at the end of your paragraph, it assumes that murdering a city is objectively wrong to say that morals are objective

This response and your next response both seem to have a problem with the fact that I am assuming things that are incompatible with relativism. Well, that is how arguments work. You put together some premises that logically entail a conclusion. Logically entailing the conclusion means that the premises are incompatible with what you're arguing against. If you aren't OK with doing this some of the time, you aren't going to be able to argue for much of anything.

This looks like begging the question to me. Specifically because this:

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Genghis Khan was wrong and would have been wrong even if we thought otherwise.

is not a premise that implies moral objectivism, it is a conclusion that derives from moral objectivism.

Well, it certainly is a premise that implies moral objectivism: it's not possible that the thing you've quoted is true and objectivism is false. Could you derive it from objectivism? Well, you could, but my impression is that for most people the quoted claim is the sort of thing that looks right before anyone lays down terms like "objectivsim" and "relativism" and starts arguing about them. I didn't start with objectivism, derive the quoted claim, and then re-derive relativism. More likely I came across the notion of relativism, and thought it was false because it would be incompatible with things like the quoted claim, which I already believed.

I think more needs to be said about what counts as begging the question before it's a very forceful criticism. Again, it can't just be that we're not allowed to assume things that entail our conclusions.

A good example of question-begging, I think, would be taking someone's argument that morality is not just a matter of opinion, and re-writing that argument by taking "opinion" as a synonym for "moral judgment." If someone did that, it might looks something like:
Puppyclaws wrote:Your argument reads something like "We can make claims about logic and truth, so why not about opinions? It seems silly and self-defeating not to."

No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that it would be self-defeating, and otherwise false, to say that justification and other epistemic notions are relative. That part is supposed to be self-defeating, not the thing about morality. So one premise is that epistemic justification is not relative (the point about self-defeat is a subsidiary premise supporting this one). Another premise is that the arguments for moral relativism have analogous arguments for epistemic relativism, which are just as good as the original arguments. The conclusion is that the arguments for moral relativism aren't successful.

There is nothing in there about relativism being self-defeating, and there's nothing about what makes me uncomfortable.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby doogly » Sun Jun 07, 2015 8:05 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:This response and your next response both seem to have a problem with the fact that I am assuming things that are incompatible with relativism. Well, that is how arguments work. You put together some premises that logically entail a conclusion. Logically entailing the conclusion means that the premises are incompatible with what you're arguing against. If you aren't OK with doing this some of the time, you aren't going to be able to argue for much of anything.

In the present case, I think it's at least reasonable to start off thinking that Genghis Khan was wrong and would have been wrong even if we thought otherwise. Am I making an assumption? Yeah, but so is everyone else. Is my assumption in conflict with relativism? Sure, and the relativist's assumptions are in conflict with objectivism.

But there are two problems with these sorts of things:
- The assumption you introduce, as if it were simpler than your conclusion and something that an opponent might more easily get on board with, is actually just the entire argument
- The sense that Genghis Khan was "wrong" is an ethical judgment, and it is probably impossible to get metaethical insight from ethical judgments

It's quite possible that metaethics is meaningless, or purely semantic. Behaviorally I don't think one's metaethical model matters, and I think some behavioral research [cit needed] has been done that shows this.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Sun Jun 07, 2015 8:29 pm UTC

doogly wrote:- The assumption you introduce, as if it were simpler than your conclusion and something that an opponent might more easily get on board with, is actually just the entire argument

I don't think simplicity or acceptability to an opponent are what I'm relying on. My idea is that some things seem initially plausible and we try to find the best way of fitting together incompatible seemings. The initial plausibility of the Genghis Khan thing is only partly connected with is simplicity, and barely connected with what opponents will get on board with. Now, if there are considerations for relativism, then we can take a look at whether those considerations really support relativism, and how the plausibility of those considerations compare with the plausibility of the claim about Genghis Khan - above, I've tried to disarm some considerations that have been offered in favor of relativism. What ultimately matters, though, is the considerations underlying each side of the argument - the fact that relativists will disagree with my premises isn't independently significant.

In this thread, the reason I started giving positive arguments for objectivism is that PeteP insisted that it wouldn't even be possible to give positive arguments for relativism. It would be weird to say, on the one hand, that relativism needs no argument, but on the other hand that relativism itself is a reason for dismissing premises that conflict with it.

doogly wrote:- The sense that Genghis Khan was "wrong" is an ethical judgment, and it is probably impossible to get metaethical insight from ethical judgments

I don't see any reason to believe that this is impossible. To the contrary, I've just given a couple arguments with ethical premises and metaethical conclusions.
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Derek
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Derek » Sun Jun 07, 2015 8:43 pm UTC

I believe in an objective morality, but I don't believe it is an obvious or easily knowable thing. We all hold moral views that we hope are as close as possible to the correct morality, but we're almost certainly not right about some things. It is our duty to try to improve our moral frameworks, to make them more correct as we learn more and are exposed to new ideas. But when evaluating other people's moral frameworks, we should remember that ours may not be correct, and theirs may be more correct. So if their framework only differs a bit, maybe it's not such a big deal, and instead of fighting them maybe we should debate them, and through that debate maybe both of us can become a little more correct. But if you encounter someone who's moral framework is radically different and repugnant (to your framework, which you acknowledge is flawed), then it can be acceptable to intervene.

There's probably a name for this belief, but I don't know what it is.
Last edited by Derek on Sun Jun 07, 2015 8:49 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.

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Quercus
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Quercus » Sun Jun 07, 2015 8:44 pm UTC

@tgb

Actually re-reading your post I think there's two possible interpretations. If your premise is the assertion that "Genghis Khan was wrong and would have been wrong even if we thought otherwise." than I persist in believing that that is begging the question because that is pretty much a straight example of the definition of moral objectivism - there isn't really any step of logic there at all.

If however your premise is the intutitve reasonableness of the belief that "Genghis Khan was wrong and would have been wrong even if we thought otherwise.", then, IMO, you have provided an argument. In my view it's not an excellent argument, as there is nothing compelling intuitivly reasonable things to be real, but it isn't begging the question.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby PeteP » Sun Jun 07, 2015 8:58 pm UTC

Then please give an argument, TGB, that what he did is objectively wrong. As I said if you can prove he is objectively wrong you have already proven your stance. Your argument is basically "X has probability Y" some in between steps "Thus Y is a thing"
Obviously it's a thing if you can find something that has the property no in between steps would be necessary. You start with your conclusion and pretend it was just some statement you were building an argument from. Which is why that argument looks like obfuscating the actual argument to me. It is either begging the question or your argument is what Quercus said and you should have directly argued for that.

I summarized the argument in my last post as "I would like horrible things to be objectively wrong, that isn't the case if morals aren't objective."
(If you like remove the "I would like … to be" and replace it with "I consider some horrible things to be objectively wrong")
Is this summary of the argument missing anything, if so what?

Edit:
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:In this thread, the reason I started giving positive arguments for objectivism is that PeteP insisted that it wouldn't even be possible to give positive arguments for relativism. It would be weird to say, on the one hand, that relativism needs no argument, but on the other hand that relativism itself is a reason for dismissing premises that conflict with it.

My stance is that Moral Objectivism is akin to arguing for the existence of a soul or God or any undetectable supernatural claim. That it is a positive claim about something unobservable which without additional claims has no effect on the world you can check while relativism is the corresponding negative claim. Moral relativism is true if there is no objective morality. Thus arguing for it runs into the same problems as arguing for the non existence of a god.

Look at the arguments you considered examples against my statement and you might see the similarities to arguments against gods or souls. Logical positivism applies to gods and souls in the same way. The argument from disagreement is akin to pointing out that there are several religions with different beliefs. As for queerness you could say similiar things about concepts like souls but they are less queer than morals existing objectively so it doesn't quite translate. I think you could make similar arguments to the debunking ones by analyzing developments of early religions and how new ones arrive.


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