Is there anything objective about morality?

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Mon Aug 03, 2015 2:05 am UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:I identified three ways in which "good' can have to do with what people want...
I guess then that I disagree with at least the last two of your three statements. I'm undecided about the first statement, because "good" is undefined, unless the statement is taken as a tautology.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Mon Aug 03, 2015 1:14 pm UTC

Umm, ok? Then I don't know what the contradiction is supposed to be between "The good has something to do with what people want" and "The good is objective."
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Mon Aug 03, 2015 2:33 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Umm, ok? Then I don't know what the contradiction is supposed to be between "The good has something to do with what people want" and "The good is objective."
"What people want" is subjective. "Good" is typically defined by (or dependent on) what people want, making it also subjective. People decide something is Good because of something they want (even if indirect), not the other way around.
Spoiler:
Also, don't confuse "good" with "Good". Chocolate is good, but broccoli is Good. :)
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby infernovia » Mon Aug 03, 2015 3:06 pm UTC

ucim wrote:Also, don't confuse "good" with "Good". Chocolate is good, but broccoli is Good. :)

As always, it depends. Chocolate is great if you want a lot of calories really quickly, which is useful when you are expending a lot of calories and don't want to eat 20 pounds of broccoli.

#subjectivityforlife

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby morriswalters » Mon Aug 03, 2015 3:30 pm UTC

Good is having enough calories to survive. If you can eat turtle dung and get the required calories, absent a choice of anything else, then turtle dung is "good". Irrespective if you want it or not.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Mon Aug 03, 2015 4:04 pm UTC

infernovia wrote:
ucim wrote:Also, don't confuse "good" with "Good". Chocolate is good, but broccoli is Good. :)

As always, it depends. Chocolate is great if you want a lot of calories really quickly, which is useful when you are expending a lot of calories and don't want to eat 20 pounds of broccoli.
Yes, of course it depends. I was being a bit flip about it while making a legitimate disambiguation point, that being, "good" is being used to mean "pleasure-producing", as in "I like chocolate; chocolate is good", whereas "Good" is being used in the moral sense. (Ok, it's a bit of a stretch to turn "good for you" into "morally superior", but I thought the point was clear enough.)

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby infernovia » Mon Aug 03, 2015 4:22 pm UTC

Yeah, I understand. I just wanted to do the hashtag.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Mon Aug 03, 2015 8:57 pm UTC

ucim wrote:"What people want" is subjective. "Good" is typically defined by (or dependent on) what people want, making it also subjective.

Two ways in which "What people want" can be subjective:
  1. The correctness of A's judgment "B wants X" depends on facts about B's subjectivity.
  2. The correctness of A's judgment "B wants X" depends on facts about A's subjectivity.
That (1) is true seems obvious. That (2) is true seems absurd (If I ask whether Hank wants ice cream, isn't there just one correct answer, regardless of what I happen to think?).

Granting that the goodness depends on what people want, it's clear that goodness is subjective in a sense corresponding to (1). Isn't that what you'd expect - for example, that whether you should talk in the theater has something to do with the fact that people don't want you to do that?

However, this does not mean that goodness is subjective in the sense of there being "more than one right" answer, or no right answer, which seems to be what people here have in mind when they talk about the subjectivity of morality - when, e.g., we see discussions of moral issues on this forum constantly derailed by people walking in and saying "W/e morality is subjective."
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Mon Aug 03, 2015 9:42 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Two ways in which "What people want" can be subjective:
1: The correctness of A's judgment "B wants X" depends on facts about B's subjectivity.
2: The correctness of A's judgment "B wants X" depends on facts about A's subjectivity.
These are not statements about B's wanting, these are statements about A's judgment. A is irrelevant.

I am talking about the "correctness" of B's desire for X. But I find "correctness" when applied to desire to be absurd, because desire isn't "correct" or "incorrect". It just is. It is the goal that is selected. Actions may contribute to realizing this goal (they would be "effective") or may fail to do so ("ineffective"), but the "Goodness" of these actions is inherited (at least in part) from the "Goodness" of the goal that was selected. And that is subjective.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby infernovia » Mon Aug 03, 2015 9:42 pm UTC

"A" is completely irrelevant when deciding something is "good." Any talk of any morality must be done through the perspective of "B". "A" is just observing that "B" wants something, aka not making a moral judgement. Does that make sense?

Ninjaed by ucim. Same message.

Edit: A more natural scenario would be A thinks B wanting X is a bad thing or A wants B to do Y instead of X (A is making a moral judgement). Which would depend on the perspective of A (aka subjectivity).
Last edited by infernovia on Mon Aug 03, 2015 10:22 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby morriswalters » Mon Aug 03, 2015 10:03 pm UTC

Morals are irrelevant absent a group. I'm assuming the statements in question are of the type of moral judgements we make about others. 2 would seem to be in the vein of judging gays to be evil because I believe the Bible tells me they are, rather than judging B based what B believes about himself. Or maybe not.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby SPACKlick » Tue Aug 04, 2015 11:50 am UTC

ucim wrote:
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Two ways in which "What people want" can be subjective:
1: The correctness of A's judgment "B wants X" depends on facts about B's subjectivity.
2: The correctness of A's judgment "B wants X" depends on facts about A's subjectivity.
These are not statements about B's wanting, these are statements about A's judgment. A is irrelevant.

I am talking about the "correctness" of B's desire for X. But I find "correctness" when applied to desire to be absurd, because desire isn't "correct" or "incorrect". It just is. It is the goal that is selected. Actions may contribute to realizing this goal (they would be "effective") or may fail to do so ("ineffective"), but the "Goodness" of these actions is inherited (at least in part) from the "Goodness" of the goal that was selected. And that is subjective.

Jose


It depends on how you're defining goodness. I am of the impression that "in alignment with the values of people" is a reasonable (if non-specific) definition.

For a simplistic system with A and B where B desires x and A does not desire not x [note all of these statements are objective] actions tending to bring about x are more Good than actions tending to bring about not x (all else being equal)

There's no subjectivity there. What is moral is objective. As you add more actors and more complex desires the situation does gain a noticeable emergent complexity, that of weighing competing desires. Some kind of average across society of a specific desire needs be ascertained and it is not trivially obvious that any such average exists in every situation.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby infernovia » Tue Aug 04, 2015 12:31 pm UTC

Morality isnt the observation, its a judgement. Saying morality is objective because people want x is the same as saying art is objective because people want x.

Yes, you are stating a fact. No, that does not make it objective. More importantly, how can you say what people should want if all you are doing is observing? That's the whole reason people get into this topic.

The average need not be the most moral path either.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Tue Aug 04, 2015 1:28 pm UTC

SPACKlick wrote:It depends on how you're defining goodness. I am of the impression that "in alignment with the values of people" is a reasonable (if non-specific) definition.
That's actually the opposite of Good.

Your definition is a form of justification of oppression of the miniority. But the whole point of morality is that the majority is not always "right"; there is some other definition of "Good" that is "better". It may take convincing a majority before this actually gets implemented, but under your definition, it would never be the case that (say) the 3/4 white majority whose values include enslaving blacks would ever be "Wrong".

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue Aug 04, 2015 3:55 pm UTC

ucim wrote:I am talking about the "correctness" of B's desire for X. But I find "correctness" when applied to desire to be absurd, because desire isn't "correct" or "incorrect". It just is.

Notice how flagrantly circular this is. "Correctness can't be applied to desire because desire isn't correct." OK. Why should I believe that?

Anyway, it doesn't seem at all true to say that desires can't be correct or incorrect. Compare:
  1. Alice wants to eat chocolate.
  2. Bob wants to give money to an effective charity.
  3. Alice wants to burn her neighbors' house down because she hates the color.
If you take (1) as the paradigm of a want, then I can see how you would think that wants can't be correct or incorrect. But wants aren't all like that, as in the cases of Bob and Carol.

But perhaps the problem here is with conflating someone's wants with their judgments about what is good. What if Carol wants to burn her neighbors' house down (in the same way that a vegetarian might want to eat a steak), but is committed to not burning it down, since she realizes that would be a terrible thing to do? We might want to say that there's nothing wrong with Carol's desire as such, since it can be checked by her deliberations about what's good.

Two problems, however. First, your argument was supposed to rely on a connection between what's wanted and what's good. But if we sever this connection, acknowledging that someone can want something without judging it good, then the subjectivity of desire no longer entails the subjectivity of good.

Second, attacking the question more directly, the examples above look no different if we transpose from desires to judgments about the good:
  1. Alice thinks it's good to eat chocolate.
  2. Bob thinks it's good to give money to an effective charity.
  3. Alice thinks it's good to burn her neighbors' house down because she hates the color.
Common sense again says that Bob is right and Carol is wrong. And, to head off an objection that I see coming, I realize that common sense could be wrong. But in that case, the thing to do is to argue that common sense is wrong, not to assert without argument things that directly contradict our common-sense judgments.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby doogly » Tue Aug 04, 2015 4:00 pm UTC

You're proposing the reason why there is some privileged ontological type difference between those three wants / judgments is someone's "common sense" notion that there is?
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Tue Aug 04, 2015 4:05 pm UTC

I'm proposing that arguments should in general start from the way things seem from extrapolate from there, rather than extrapolating from the way things don't seem. Of course, a lot more could be said about the differences between those cases.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Whizbang » Tue Aug 04, 2015 4:07 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
  1. Alice wants to eat chocolate.
  2. Bob wants to give money to an effective charity.
  3. Alice wants to burn her neighbors' house down because she hates the color.
... But wants aren't all like that, as in the cases of Bob and Carol.

...

  1. Alice thinks it's good to eat chocolate.
  2. Bob thinks it's good to give money to an effective charity.
  3. Alice thinks it's good to burn her neighbors' house down because she hates the color.
Common sense again says that Bob is right and Carol is wrong.....


Who's Carol, and why do you slander her so?

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby doogly » Tue Aug 04, 2015 4:14 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:I'm proposing that arguments should in general start from the way things seem from extrapolate from there, rather than extrapolating from the way things don't seem. Of course, a lot more could be said about the differences between those cases.

But they really don't seem to have a type difference to me, at all. Literally nothing suggests that to me. Deliberative desires of some intensity or another, and some internal deliberating narrative or another, but whatever, I'm not Carol's psychologist, I'm an armchair philosopher (ie, physicist.)
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Tue Aug 04, 2015 4:36 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Notice how flagrantly circular this is. "Correctness can't be applied to desire because desire isn't correct." OK. Why should I believe that?
"Desire isn't 'correct' (or 'incorrect') is a premise. It follows from that premise that "correctness" can't be applied to desire. However, this is not by way of showing that the premise is true.

I merely assert that the premise is true. If you disagree with this, then we have identified a point of disagreement that is elementary rather than a misunderstanding (as it was before).

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote: 2. Bob wants to give money to an effective charity.
3. Carol (whose nickname seems to be Alice :) ) wants to burn her neighbors' house down because she hates the color.

[...] But wants aren't all like that, as in the cases of Bob and Carol.
How is Bob's want "correct" or "incorrect"? And in Carol's case, are we talking about the want itself, or the reason given for the want? If the latter, then it's a different question. I'm talking about the want itself. I would say that I disagree that the reason given is sufficient to warrant burning down her neighbors' house. There may be other reasons for doing so that I'd agree with. But my agreement or disagreement does not make the action "correct" or "incorrect", and in any case, we're talking about the desire, not the action.

So Carol (nee Alice) is an irrelevant example.

As you say...
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:We might want to say that there's nothing wrong with Carol's desire as such, since it can be checked by her deliberations about what's good.
"Nothing wrong with" is code for "I don't have a problem with". (eta: ...which is subjective)

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Two problems, however. First, your argument was supposed to rely on a connection between what's wanted and what's good. But if we sever this connection, acknowledging that someone can want something without judging it good, then the subjectivity of desire no longer entails the subjectivity of good.
No, it's not whether a person judges (their own) desire as Good or not, it's whether or not such a judgment (if made) would be objective or subjective. The judgment doesn't actually have to be made. My point is it's subjective even here.

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Second, attacking the question more directly, the examples above look no different if we transpose from desires to judgments about the good:

1. Alice thinks it's good to eat chocolate.[...]

But this is a different statement. "wants to" and "thinks it's good to" are different animals. (eta:) This is now a statement about Alice's thoughts, not desires. It might be objectively true that Alice thinks it's good to eat chocolate. But this in no way makes the "goodness" itself of eating chocolate objective. And it doesn't follow from this statement that Alice would want to eat chocolate. There are many things that I think are Good to do that I do not want to do.

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Common sense again says that Bob is right and Carol is wrong.
Common sense also tells me that a feather falls slower than a lead balloon. But there's no reason to argue that "common sense is wrong" until common sense has been brought up as support for a line of reasoning, which up until now it hasn't.

And the question isn't whether or not it's Good to burn houses down. The question is whether or not it is objectively Good to do so. The common sense notion that it's a good idea to burn down houses whose ugliness is oppressive to society is irrelevant here. Common sense is not support for (or refutation of) objectivity.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Cres » Wed Aug 05, 2015 12:27 am UTC

Ucim, can you lay out your argument for the slow of thinking (me) with enumerated premises, showing how you end up with the conclusion that morality is subjective (without implicitly including this conclusion among the premises)? Is it just the Queerness argument? Reading back through the last half dozen pages or so, it feels like the argument is shifting a lot, and certainly flirting with circularity.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Wed Aug 05, 2015 12:55 am UTC

@Cres: Between "subjective" and "objective" morality, the "objective" case is the stronger one to make. It has more requirements. It is less simple. So, the case to be made is for "objective morality", failing that, "subjective morality" should be accepted. IMHO the case for "objective morality" is not convincing. That's the essence of my argument.

Subjective morality is the idea that morals arise from negotiation and communication between moral agents (i.e. people) and nothing else.

Objective morality is the idea that there is an external "registry" of morality that our moral system can aspire to, and that this external registry represents the One True Morality. This is an extraordinary claim.

Contrast this with subjective reality and objective reality. You could substitute "morality" with "reality" and have the same pattern of words, but there is one important differences; that being, that your own existence is not in question. (from my POV of course this would be my existence). This implies that existence... well... exists, and further implies that it does so without reference to any other entities that may observe this existence. It's kind of what "existence" means.
Spoiler:
QM does throw a monkey wrench into this, but if existence itself were subjective, I'd have no handle whatsoever on reality. So for now, the existence of objective reality is my default paradigm. In that sense, my acceptance of objective realty is an act of faith.
Now, what "objective reality" means is that an object has certain properties, in an absolute sense. The object is a well-defined part of the universe. Our senses and instruments may not be able to completely describe it to us, but there is a "one true description" of the thing outside of our minds. The consistency with which we interact with the world bears this out.

So, while my attempt at measuring an electron may alter what it now is, my thoughts about that electron do not - the electron has existence outside my thoughts. This implies that my thoughts about an electron would not affect what somebody else measures, and this seems to be borne out by experiment (so long as I don't touch the electron first!).

There is also a big difference between "correct" or "True" (these apply to existence), and "right" or "Good" (these apply to moral actions). So, just changing the words does not lead to an argument with the same form.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby morriswalters » Wed Aug 05, 2015 2:06 am UTC

Just talking to hear myself think. There need be no case for subjective morality, it isn't something that needs to be argued. The existence is a given. The existence of the concept is sufficient on to itself. It's a purely a popularity contest of ideas, fed by the actions of movers in the herd. Objective morality would be best ascribed as a property of the herd. In terms of actions which promote the continued existence of the herd. Defined in that fashion then personal morality would by definition be subjective.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Cres » Wed Aug 05, 2015 2:31 am UTC

So your first argument is:

1. Moral subjectivity is simpler than moral objectivity.
2. We should accept simpler accounts over more complicated ones in the absence of other persuasive reasons to choose one over the other.
3. We don't have persuasive reasons to accept objective morality.
4. Therefore we should accept moral subjectivity.

I don't think (1) or (3) have much plausibility - there are many arguments for objectivity, some discussed in this thread, which would take you far beyond needing to use simplicity as a tie-breaker. But (2) is what I want to focus on here.

Your argument relies on an epistemic norm - which accounts we should or should not accept. For the conclusion (4) to follow, (2) must be true - it must be an epistemic fact - otherwise the argument fails. But the same grounds that lead you to reject moral facts will also lead you to reject epistemic facts: they have the same normative structure (ie they are claims about what we should do), the same relation to the physical furniture of the world.

So there are two possibilities: either there are no epistemic facts, meaning that (2) is false and your argument fails. Or there are epistemic facts, in which case we should not regard the existence of moral facts as so extraordinary, given their close similarities.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Whizbang » Wed Aug 05, 2015 2:44 am UTC

morriswalters wrote:Objective morality would be best ascribed as a property of the herd. In terms of actions which promote the continued existence of the herd.


I don't think continued existence of the herd is nearly good enough definition. After all, many immoral things can be done in the name of species propegation. Continued health and wellbeing for the individuals of the herd comes much closer.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby doogly » Wed Aug 05, 2015 2:48 am UTC

That's a rather culturally bound sentiment though.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Wed Aug 05, 2015 3:07 am UTC

Cres wrote:So your first argument is:

1. Moral subjectivity is simpler than moral objectivity.
2. We should accept simpler accounts over more complicated ones in the absence of other persuasive reasons to choose one over the other.
3. We don't have persuasive reasons to accept objective morality.
4. Therefore we should accept moral subjectivity.
Yes. Pretty much (with the caveat that "should" is not used here in the moral or imperative sense, but rather, in the sense of being most compelling). It's of course not proof; such a thing is non-possible. But it's the most compelling direction.

Cres wrote:I don't think (1) or (3) have much plausibility - there are many arguments for objectivity, some discussed in this thread
... which have failed to convince me. Of course, I may just be a dumb oaf, but I'm the one that needs convincing if I'm to be convinced. :)

Cres wrote:But (2) is what I want to focus on here.
[...]
the same grounds that lead you to reject moral facts will also lead you to reject epistemic facts: they have the same normative structure (ie they are claims about what we should do)
No, because the word "should" is being used in two subtlely but importantly different ways. See my caveat above.

And there's an important difference between epistemic ("which accounts we should or should not accept") and deontic ("which actions we should or should not perform"). Thus, epistemic facts are actually very different from "moral facts" (should such a thing exist).

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Cres » Wed Aug 05, 2015 3:33 am UTC

morriswalters wrote:Just talking to hear myself think. There need be no case for subjective morality, it isn't something that needs to be argued. The existence is a given. The existence of the concept is sufficient on to itself. It's a purely a popularity contest of ideas, fed by the actions of movers in the herd. Objective morality would be best ascribed as a property of the herd. In terms of actions which promote the continued existence of the herd. Defined in that fashion then personal morality would by definition be subjective.


You misunderstand what the question of moral objectivity is about. The problem is not to (A) identify some empirically measurable property of the world, (B) arbitrarily say 'that's morality', and then (C) claim that therefore morality is objective.

Instead, moral realism is the metaethical position that there are true statements of the form 'x is right' and 'y is wrong'. It is agnostic about which specific 'x's and 'y's are true, and about theories (utilitarianism, contractualism, divine command theory etc.) which try to take all those individual 'x's and 'y's and provide a unified explanation for them. This latter question is a problem of substantive ethics, not metaethics.

Whether morality is objective or not is independent of whether our substantive morality identifies rightness with promoting the survival of the species, or with the aggregated expected well-being of individuals, or with actions which would be permitted under a principle that no one can reasonably reject, or whatever else.

ucim wrote:And there's an important difference between epistemic ("which accounts we should or should not accept") and deontic ("which actions we should or should not perform"). Thus, epistemic facts are actually very different from "moral facts" (should such a thing exist).


There seems to be a sentence missing in the middle here? What is the important difference?

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby infernovia » Wed Aug 05, 2015 3:40 am UTC

@Cres, The way I would argue it is:

1. For something to be objective, it needs to be beyond personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased. Strictly speaking, we cannot know of an objective reality, because everything is through our lens of our prejudice, interpretation (the desire to know the truth is itself a prejudice and a bias). The objective reality simply exists, and that's all there is to say about it.

2. Therefore, the objective/subjective dichotomy doesn't really exist, but it is important to understand what people mean when they separate things to objective/subjective. What they usually mean when something is objective is that it is:

- Undoubtedly true in a system that we created, systems that are usually created to help us understand and utilize our world/clear our thoughts. Ex. in our mathematical language, the statement 2+2=4. The key property here is that as long as the person understands the system, it makes no sense to argue against it. And as is logic, a useful tool that removes contradictory thinking. I know a lot of people enjoy exploring the system outside of practical reasons, but that doesn't change why they became so pervasive and why they are so associated with objective truth.

- If one removes as much error and blindness as is humanely possible using all the tools we have created (and not just physical tools, but mental ones like math) and tries to look at all the data, one can come to very exact predictions and useful properties. This usually amounts to observing the system, and we are so good at it, that we can predict a lot of things amazingly and even if "we weren't here." It's amazing really, and this kind of data is considered objective due to how far we can understand (as in model/predict/simulate) our universe using them.

3. So from this comes the desire to create an "objective" morality, it still has the veneer of "truth". But saying what one SHOULD do is no longer just observing statements of fact/measuring things. It is directly influencing and changing the world, to force and shape it to your desires and wants (what you want to shape it to and how you go about achieving it comes from your observation about the universe) by saying "this is right and this is wrong". Morality doesn't have an existence outside of that. It makes no sense to call such a thing objective.
Last edited by infernovia on Wed Aug 05, 2015 4:02 am UTC, edited 6 times in total.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Wed Aug 05, 2015 3:42 am UTC

Cres wrote:Instead, moral realism is the metaethical position that there are true statements of the form 'x is right' and 'y is wrong'.
[...]
Whether morality is objective or not is independent of whether our substantive morality identifies rightness with {whatever}
But for moral realism to have any meaning at all, "right" and "wrong" need to have some definition that is an intrinsic property of the universe.

How do you define "right" and "wrong" in the context of your statement above?

eta:
Cres wrote:
ucim wrote:And there's an important difference between epistemic ("which accounts we should or should not accept") and deontic ("which actions we should or should not perform"). Thus, epistemic facts are actually very different from "moral facts" (should such a thing exist).
There seems to be a sentence missing in the middle here? What is the important difference?
The italicized words: the difference is the one between accounts and actions, and between accept and perform. Accepting an account is passive (and does not affect the account that is being accepted), performing actions is active, and does affect the thing upon which the action is performed. Morality is about actions.

n.b. - I use the word "objective" to mean outside of our perceptions, prejudice, etc... an intrinsic property of the universe - and thus inaccessible to us (except that through our senses we can conjure up a subjective image of this objective reality).

Jose
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Cres » Wed Aug 05, 2015 4:21 am UTC

ucim wrote:
Cres wrote:Instead, moral realism is the metaethical position that there are true statements of the form 'x is right' and 'y is wrong'.
[...]
Whether morality is objective or not is independent of whether our substantive morality identifies rightness with {whatever}


But for moral realism to have any meaning at all, "right" and "wrong" need to have some definition that is an intrinsic property of the universe.

How do you define "right" and "wrong" in the context of your statement above?


I don't think this is true. To give two analogies: being a 'water realist' - believing that there are true statements of the form 'x is water' - can have meaning even if I don't myself know the 'definition' that 'water == H20' (this may mean I'm not very good at making true 'x is water' statements, but that's fine - my water realism position is just that there are such statements).

You don't even need to believe that such a clear definition exists. There are other concepts where a 'Water == H20'-style identification is impossible: 'weeds' and 'dirt' are the canonical examples. We can be competent users of these terms (and be realists about weeds and dirt) even though they don't pick out natural kinds or intrinsic properties of the universe.

(My view of substantive ethics is that Scalon's contractualism is the most convincing account. But as I noted in my previous post, beyond tautologically saying that an right action is an action you should do, and a wrong action one that you shouldn't do, I don't think the moral realist needs to give up any generality here. It's not as if 'right' and 'wrong' are confusing jargon terms requiring further elaboration: they're concepts that your average 8-year old can use, same as water, weeds or dirt).

ucim wrote:The italicized words: the difference is the one between accounts and actions, and between accept and perform. Accepting an account is passive (and does not affect the account that is being accepted), performing actions is active, and does affect the thing upon which the action is performed. Morality is about actions.


Sure, but what we ultimately use moral vs epistemic facts for does not make a difference to whether we should be realists about them. The key, shared property is their normativity. For them to be normative facts, as you argue in the moral case, there needs to be a correct, privileged framework for both. The epistomological and metaphysical commitments (or lack thereof) required by these frameworks - and the prima facie implausibility that your argument hinges on - would be the same.

EDIT: it's also not clear that the active-passive distinction works. Fantasising about killing infants is plausibly morally wrong, even if never acted upon.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby morriswalters » Wed Aug 05, 2015 4:37 am UTC

Cres wrote:You misunderstand what the question of moral objectivity is about. The problem is not to (A) identify some empirically measurable property of the world, (B) arbitrarily say 'that's morality', and then (C) claim that therefore morality is objective.
That's how I define good, not moral. The rest follows from that.
Cres wrote:Whether morality is objective or not is independent of whether our substantive morality identifies rightness with promoting the survival of the species, or with the aggregated expected well-being of individuals, or with actions which would be permitted under a principle that no one can reasonably reject, or whatever else.
Morality is either useful or it isn't. It has to have a purpose. That purpose defines good or bad. If it's just guys with Tweed Jackets arguing in paneled offices, than it's a waste. I believe that statements exist of the type, A is good and B is not, that serve that purpose. And that they are always true. In the same way I believe that there is a path through a minefield, even if I don't know what it is.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Wed Aug 05, 2015 4:41 am UTC

Water (or weeds or dirt) is a thing whose existence (or nonexistence) is an intrinsic property of the universe. You don't have to know all the properties of water to talk intelligently about it, but you do need to know some things about it - specifically the properties that you are using to identify something as water or not.

So what are you using to identify something as "right" or "wrong"? The important part of the definition (for these purposes) is whether or not your definition describes an intrinsic property of the universe.

Cres wrote:It's not as if 'right' and 'wrong' are confusing jargon terms requiring further elaboration: they're concepts that your average 8-year old can use, same as water, weeds or dirt).
It's exactly as if they are confusing jargon terms. The 8-year old "sorta knows what it is" is not sufficient for a Serious Business discussion of philosophy about whether or not Right and Wrong are intrinsic properties of the universe.

Cres wrote:The key, shared property is their normativity.
I hold that they do not share this property.

Cres wrote:Fantasising about killing infants is plausibly morally wrong, even if never acted upon.
Well, I disagree. But in any case, the question would be whether or not it would be objectively morally wrong.

Jose
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby The Mighty Thesaurus » Wed Aug 05, 2015 4:43 am UTC

Cres wrote:It's not as if 'right' and 'wrong' are confusing jargon terms requiring further elaboration: they're concepts that your average 8-year old can use, same as water, weeds or dirt

And an 18th century Polynesian child could use the word "tapu". That doesn't mean it actually referred to anything.
ucim wrote: intrinsic property of the universe

What exactly do you mean by this?
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby infernovia » Wed Aug 05, 2015 4:48 am UTC

So wait, what is Cres's argument that "X is good" is an objective statement? Outside of appealing to 8 year olds I mean.

@ucim, you don't need to argue about any intrinsic property of the universe. It just makes everything you say more exploitable.
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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Wed Aug 05, 2015 4:49 am UTC

The Mighty Thesaurus wrote:
ucim wrote:intrinsic property of the universe

What exactly do you mean by this?
An intrinsic property of the universe is a property that something has, that is completely independent of our senses, interpretations, prejudice, consciousness, etc. That which would exist even if we didn't. Assuming water does, in fact, have objective existence, the properties of water are intrinsic properties of the universe - they are what they are whether we can perceive them or not. We can interact with water and come up with our ideas of what water is and what properties it has; but that's just in our minds. That "water" exists as a mental construct - it is subjective. It is not an intrinsic property of the universe, but merely our limited image of what we think water probably is like.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby infernovia » Wed Aug 05, 2015 4:51 am UTC

Why do you argue about a "intrinsic property" of the universe? There is absolutely no need to bring up that argument.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby ucim » Wed Aug 05, 2015 4:56 am UTC

infernovia wrote:Why do you argue about a "intrinsic property" of the universe? There is absolutely no need to bring up that argument.
Because that's what "objective" means, as opposed to "subjective". We are discussing whether morality is objective; that's what it means. At least to me.

If by "objective" one merely means "pretty convincing", the question isn't interesting.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby infernovia » Wed Aug 05, 2015 5:23 am UTC

I guess. I don't see the point of making a question "interesting," although it might be useful to understand the opposition's viewpoint. If we instead talking about thoughts as representation, models, simulacrum etc. things become a lot clearer.

As a side note, I find the whole "realism" thing kinda ridiculous, insofar it doesn't further any understanding. The problem is not that reality is real, it certainly is (at least as far as we are "real"), and it will definitely wake us up when we forget (well, sometimes only when we are looking for it). The problem comes from predicting/simulating/mirroring/distorting reality through the use of words/numbers/thoughts etc. Realism just kinda assumes certain things are true.

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Re: Is there anything objective about morality?

Postby Cres » Wed Aug 05, 2015 5:34 am UTC

infernovia wrote:So wait, what is Cres's argument that "X is good" is an objective statement? Outside of appealing to 8 year olds I mean.


The point about 8-year olds is only to illustrate that we all have a pre-theoretic understanding of 'right' and 'wrong', and that we can use these concepts successfully without needing a precise definition (indeed, as with most other concepts in philosophy, the precise definition only follows from an exploration of how we use the concepts in practice - trying not to forget what you knew when you were 8 when you put on your philosophy hat is one of the hardest things about it. Sure there's a good Wittgenstein quote about this somewhere).

I'm also not (currently) arguing for the claim that there are true 'x is good' statements. I'm arguing for the related but separate position that there are true statements of the form 'x is right'. And at the moment really I'm arguing that the 'moral relativism is simpler' argument doesn't work rather than anything grander. But if you want you can recast this as a positive argument for realism you can do so along the lines of Cuneo's normative web:

(1) If moral facts do not exist, then epistemic facts do not exist.
(2) Epistemic facts exist.
(3) So moral facts exist.
(4) If moral facts exist, then moral realism is true.
(5) So moral realism is true.

The Mighty Thesaurus wrote:
Cres wrote:It's not as if 'right' and 'wrong' are confusing jargon terms requiring further elaboration: they're concepts that your average 8-year old can use, same as water, weeds or dirt

And an 18th century Polynesian child could use the word "tapu". That doesn't mean it actually referred to anything.


Of course not - I don't know what point you're getting at here.

ucim wrote:Water (or weeds or dirt) is a thing whose existence (or nonexistence) is an intrinsic property of the universe.

Which 'intrinsic property' of the universe does 'weeds' pick out?
ucim wrote:
Cres wrote:The key, shared property is their normativity.

I hold that they do not share this property.


They are both 'should' statements - that is what normativity means.

ucim wrote:
Cres wrote:Fantasising about killing infants is plausibly morally wrong, even if never acted upon.
Well, I disagree. But in any case, the question would be whether or not it would be objectively morally wrong.

This would not be the question at all. Your argument depends on finding a relevant distinction between moral and epistemic facts. Your point was that epistemic facts are different to moral facts because the former has to do with thoughts and the latter has to do with actions. My point is that moral facts can be about thoughts as well. So, as well as being irrelevant, the distinction also fails in its own terms.


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