The basis of ethics and morality

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Variance
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The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Variance » Mon Jul 20, 2009 3:29 am UTC

EDIT: Thread summary October 28th:
Although at some point we agreed that morality cannot exist without god or absolutes, everyone quickly forgot and went back to how morality should exist rather than why it should exist at all. My attempt to create legions of Nihilist serial killers fails due to human compassion and irrationality.

I'm sure this has been discussed before, but I couldn't immediately find anything, and I'm curious as to the board's thoughts.

I propose that morality and ethics in their basest form, such as "it's bad to kill people" (Human life is sacred), have no absolute natural basis for correctness. They are biological responses to what is perceived as "wrong", that which goes against the survival instinct. As with the old conundrum of it being hard to prove one's moral system is better than another's, morality has absolutely no meaning or legitimacy outside of religion to guarantee it as an absolute; religion can transcend the natural world in "correctness".

Not to give an opinion at all relating to religion; ignoring that, I think that there can be no objective correctness of a moral system without religion. It's religion or Nihilism, and anyone in between as an agnostic or a true atheist who is trying to make the best of his life is just humoring the system, the existence arbitrarily given to us by reality. Since the only thing keeping any of us from becoming serial killers or committing suicide is morality, this is a necessarily important thing to think about.

Man's rights are derived from his nature.

Those of you who are familiar with Ayn Rand will recognize that. She made the best attempt I've seen to justify atheistic morality I've seen, but I still don't think that this reasoning is good enough to make a moral system absolutely correct. Man's nature is that of an individual, but this fundamentally guarantees nothing beyond our individuality. Something deeper is needed to legitimize the rights of the individual; something transcending nature, which would necessarily be religion.

(I know this is similar to the Argument from Morality.)
Last edited by Variance on Thu Oct 29, 2009 3:53 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Intercept » Mon Jul 20, 2009 4:35 am UTC

I think most people's morals are either subconsciously or consciously come from the concept of liberty. At least for a lot of people.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Sir-Taco » Mon Jul 20, 2009 7:27 am UTC

It all hinges on self interest in my own opinion. Now why will I not kill someone for their stuff? Because I am looking out for my interests in my social life, and killing someone would not make my social life better. While my statement may seem very fallable at the start, think about it from every factor (survival, pleasure, social scope) and all descions we make look out for these, or compromise one to greatly boost another. Of course we may fail sometimes, to lose control with our emotions, but that adds a whole different can of worms to this topic. Thus a moral decision is just a thinly veiled, selfish, egocentric plan to best suit our own interests.

Note: I do practice a religion, and its pretty easy to guess which one, despite that, this is what I see in both myself and all of humanity. Yes, religion adds a whole new aspect to it, but we still look out for our human interests. Such as why did (in a small town I used to live in) the mayor, who was called a righteous man, sell one of his plots he owned himself to a man whom he fully knew intended to build a strip club on it? It always boils down to what we want.

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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Intercept » Mon Jul 20, 2009 8:40 am UTC

Maybe he doesn't consider strip clubs unrighteous?

I think there's an optimistic and a pessimistic way to look at this issue, and in reality it's a mixture of both for everyone with some people leaning towards one and others leaning towards the other. Some people firmly believe things are clearly right and wrong and base their morals off of it, and some people are more worried about self interest. I'm a humanist, so I tend to think it's more of the first personally.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Variance » Mon Jul 20, 2009 4:56 pm UTC

Intercept wrote:I think most people's morals are either subconsciously or consciously come from the concept of liberty. At least for a lot of people.

Well, yes, I'm sure that this is how most people get their morals, but my main concern was that from a secular viewpoint, there is no way to prove that the moral of liberty, or any morals for that matter, are better than any others.

To use the ultimate analogy, the morals of liberty would, for most people, condemn the Holocaust as wrong; specifically Hitler's actions. Everything there is considered wrong. The reason this is wrong is because the Holocaust infringed on the Jews' liberty in not allowing them to live their lives as they chose, and in many cases, stopped them from living any life at all. So, the Holocaust is wrong on the basis that liberty is good and lack of liberty is bad. However, it's liberty itself that I call into question: from the secular viewpoint, nothing guarantees or sponsors liberty as a good and correct thing in the end. Hey, everyone dies--what does it matter if it's sooner or later? Why should I respect the rights of others? Yes, respecting their rights conforms to liberty; but how can we know that liberty is something that we should attempt to or care about conforming to? How can we know that liberty itself is good? We need a supernatural force to, in essence, sponsor liberty as the correct and right moral system.

Sir-Taco wrote:It all hinges on self interest in my own opinion. Now why will I not kill someone for their stuff? Because I am looking out for my interests in my social life, and killing someone would not make my social life better. While my statement may seem very fallable at the start, think about it from every factor (survival, pleasure, social scope) and all descions we make look out for these, or compromise one to greatly boost another. Of course we may fail sometimes, to lose control with our emotions, but that adds a whole different can of worms to this topic. Thus a moral decision is just a thinly veiled, selfish, egocentric plan to best suit our own interests.

I agree with this, which is where Objectivism, in saying rational self interest benefits everyone, comes in; rational as in not violating the rights of others. Even those who would do something "selflessly", taking the bullet or anything of the sort, do it only because they see their own sacrifice as something mandated by their moral system as extremely good. Even self-sacrifice is a result of a desire to achieve what is considered more good.

However, in the context of the secular viewpoint, even self-interest is causeless, as it gives you only temporary happiness or life in your short lifetime. Whether you die a rich man or a poor man, you die and you will have lived, and making another dollar or helping another child in your lifetime won't have mattered. Essentially, what does it matter if my or someone else's end comes sooner if it is destined to come eventually anyway? Only with a religious viewpoint, in being able to say "the end will not come", can one have a reason for attempting to work hard in one's life, because it actually matters.

Note: I do practice a religion, and its pretty easy to guess which one, despite that, this is what I see in both myself and all of humanity. Yes, religion adds a whole new aspect to it, but we still look out for our human interests. Such as why did (in a small town I used to live in) the mayor, who was called a righteous man, sell one of his plots he owned himself to a man whom he fully knew intended to build a strip club on it? It always boils down to what we want.

I'm not bitter!

Acutally, I consider myself a religious humanist (humanism as in Objectivism), which many would consider a contradiction, considering humanism is commonly atheistic, but I have my own rationalizations for how it works with religion. Relgion provides the necessary base of absolute correctness for the moral system that says "I should not violate the rights of others, because it is bad." Why is it bad? Becuase God can mandate it, given that he transcends reality, and is able to create and define and sponsor absolutes of correctness. In this case, he sponsors Objectivism in a religious context. (You could say one is infinitely indebted to God for having life in the first place, so to attempt to fulfill and repay that debt, it is our duty to serve him at every chance, as with one's debt to a good and loving parent.)

Intercept wrote:Maybe he doesn't consider strip clubs unrighteous?

I think there's an optimistic and a pessimistic way to look at this issue, and in reality it's a mixture of both for everyone with some people leaning towards one and others leaning towards the other. Some people firmly believe things are clearly right and wrong and base their morals off of it, and some people are more worried about self interest. I'm a humanist, so I tend to think it's more of the first personally.

Sexuality is an entirely different question altogether. But yes, I'm thinking that even though people can think that things like liberty are good and should be followed, I suspect that there can be no absolute guarantee for such things as liberty being good in the end without religion.

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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby setzer777 » Mon Jul 20, 2009 6:01 pm UTC

I see the gist of your argument, but it isn't religion that is required for absolute morality. I think your argument mainly points out why *empiricists* have trouble finding an objective basis for morality, but religion (unless defined extremely broadly) isn't the only way to believe in objective morality. For example:

- You could believe that basic moral truths are part of the structure of the universe. Now, this obviously isn't contained in physics, but I don't think believing anything about our universe beyond our scientific understanding should be classified as "religion".

- You could take certain moral imperatives as basic logical assumptions, in the same way that we assume the logical assumptions at the base of logic.

As it happens, I don't believe either of the above, neither do I believe i=that objective (in the sense of "objective" you mean) morality exists. No morality can be "better" in an unqualified sense (some are obviously better than others towards certain goals) than any other. But this isn't a strict result of secularism.



Variance wrote:
However, in the context of the secular viewpoint, even self-interest is causeless, as it gives you only temporary happiness or life in your short lifetime. Whether you die a rich man or a poor man, you die and you will have lived, and making another dollar or helping another child in your lifetime won't have mattered. Essentially, what does it matter if my or someone else's end comes sooner if it is destined to come eventually anyway? Only with a religious viewpoint, in being able to say "the end will not come", can one have a reason for attempting to work hard in one's life, because it actually matters.


This statement makes several unexamined assumptions about what "matters", the nature of time, and what qualifies as "reason" to do something. The idea that because death will eventually end all of your accomplishments (and all memory and significant impact of them) therefore they don't matter and there is no reason for doing them relies on several assumptions that I disagree with.

EDIT: Btw, you might want to take a look at the topic "Language of Morality", as it is related to the issue you bring up here.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby guenther » Mon Jul 20, 2009 11:28 pm UTC

Sir-Taco wrote:It all hinges on self interest in my own opinion.

Man, I have such a different perspective. I think morality and self-interest are opposites. Our concept of morality is about promoting social fitness. Sometimes a decision is good for both us and society, but then it's easy to decide what to do, and the moral rules here are likely irrelevant. The crunch of morality hits when self-interest and social fitness conflict. It's easy to come up with examples where we can gain a boost to ourselves by pushing moral limits. And the iconic "good" actions usually involve self sacrifice to help others.

setzer777 wrote:As it happens, I don't believe either of the above, neither do I believe i=that objective (in the sense of "objective" you mean) morality exists. No morality can be "better" in an unqualified sense (some are obviously better than others towards certain goals) than any other.

This is the concept I was getting at in my "Morality is like DNA" thread. If two different moral codes prove useful, it's very difficult to objectively say which is better without precisely defining a metric of quality. However, it wouldn't be hard to come up with a lousy moral code which everyone would reject, and we could very easily conclude it's objectively worse (because it would fail at any relevant metric we define). So I wouldn't say morality is subjective, but finding an objective metric is tough. Just like DNA.

P.S. I had plans to write up another post over there comparing morality to economics, but I haven't had the chance yet. Basically I was going to compare the "goodness of an action" to the "price of a commodity". Economics gives us an objective way to measure the price of corn, but that price only has meaning in the context of an economy (abundance, cost to produce, competing goods, etc.). But there's no measurement we can do on corn itself to come up with it's economic value. Here's a podcast that inspired these thoughts, and a link talking about behaviorial economics.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Variance » Tue Jul 21, 2009 2:31 am UTC

setzer777 wrote:I see the gist of your argument, but it isn't religion that is required for absolute morality. I think your argument mainly points out why *empiricists* have trouble finding an objective basis for morality, but religion (unless defined extremely broadly) isn't the only way to believe in objective morality. For example:

- You could believe that basic moral truths are part of the structure of the universe. Now, this obviously isn't contained in physics, but I don't think believing anything about our universe beyond our scientific understanding should be classified as "religion".

- You could take certain moral imperatives as basic logical assumptions, in the same way that we assume the logical assumptions at the base of logic.

As it happens, I don't believe either of the above,

Still, these are valid points that warrant discussion. I would say for your first statement that while religion is certainly by no means the only way to believe in objective morality, belief doesn't make something correct. I think religion is the only way to ensure that the moral code one believes in really is right in the end. For the two possible beliefs:
-You could believe this, but I don't think there would be any way to observe these as "cosmological absolutes" unless the universe were to give retribution in some way. A Gaia-style sentient earth theory could work here, if it had any substance at all.
-However, the arguments that prove how logic exists and works don't work with morality. Simply looking at what is in the secular world won't get you past the existence of morality; something higher is needed to establish the correctness of it. A supernatural mandate would be the only way to make a moral system as absolutely correct as existence absolutely exists.

neither do I believe i=that objective (in the sense of "objective" you mean) morality exists. No morality can be "better" in an unqualified sense (some are obviously better than others towards certain goals) than any other. But this isn't a strict result of secularism.

To more carefully define my definition of morality, my morality is itself a set of objective goals, such as "it is wrong to violate the rights of others" or "prosperity is a good thing and should be sought", which would be met. The morality you may be speaking of would be the extrapolations of those goals, such as saying, "therefore, it is good to work hard and not steal or murder." That morality is a level more complex than the morality I speak of.

Variance wrote:
However, in the context of the secular viewpoint, even self-interest is causeless, as it gives you only temporary happiness or life in your short lifetime. Whether you die a rich man or a poor man, you die and you will have lived, and making another dollar or helping another child in your lifetime won't have mattered. Essentially, what does it matter if my or someone else's end comes sooner if it is destined to come eventually anyway? Only with a religious viewpoint, in being able to say "the end will not come", can one have a reason for attempting to work hard in one's life, because it actually matters.


This statement makes several unexamined assumptions about what "matters", the nature of time, and what qualifies as "reason" to do something. The idea that because death will eventually end all of your accomplishments (and all memory and significant impact of them) therefore they don't matter and there is no reason for doing them relies on several assumptions that I disagree with.

I'll try to define my position better. This is all an extrapolation of the idea that without objective morality that is presumably absolutely correct, it is impossible to prove that one's actions, even in just living, but also in achieving, are "good". The moral system may say they're good, but that doesn't work if the correctness of the moral system itself can be called into question.

You may also experience biological happiness in achieving prosperity or staying alive, but that doesn't make living or achieving any more warranted than having reproductive organs make sex a necessarily good thing. It just feels good, just as not committing suicide feels good (for most people), the question of whether sex or life itself ultimately is good is a matter of morality beyond feeling, objective morality.

Anyway, this is getting off on a tangent, because I realize this is touching on why is a correct morality correct, not how can a given morality be proved to be correct or not.

EDIT: Btw, you might want to take a look at the topic "Language of Morality", as it is related to the issue you bring up here.

I do find that to be an interesting observation, in that morality is something we are immersed in and accept, but is uncommonly defined outright. (Unless I misunderstood the google result I skimmed.)

guenther wrote:
Sir-Taco wrote:It all hinges on self interest in my own opinion.

Man, I have such a different perspective. I think morality and self-interest are opposites. Our concept of morality is about promoting social fitness. Sometimes a decision is good for both us and society, but then it's easy to decide what to do, and the moral rules here are likely irrelevant. The crunch of morality hits when self-interest and social fitness conflict. It's easy to come up with examples where we can gain a boost to ourselves by pushing moral limits. And the iconic "good" actions usually involve self sacrifice to help others.

My concept of morality isn't promoting social fitness, and I think self-interest is in line with morality to non-others'-rights-violating extents. I suspect our concepts of morality differ here.

Also, again, the level of morality you're looking at is different than mine. You're looking at questions like, "Is it good to let people make exorbitant amounts of money?" while I'm looking at "Is happiness a good thing?". On my level, morality is necessarily intertwined with why is the best policy in a society.

This is the concept I was getting at in my "Morality is like DNA" thread. If two different moral codes prove useful, it's very difficult to objectively say which is better without precisely defining a metric of quality. However, it wouldn't be hard to come up with a lousy moral code which everyone would reject, and we could very easily conclude it's objectively worse (because it would fail at any relevant metric we define). So I wouldn't say morality is subjective, but finding an objective metric is tough. Just like DNA.

I'll say this again--the idea of morality I'm looking at isn't some out-there extrapolation of good policy or politics, my morality is the metrics themselves. Your metrics would be things like "Are as few people being killed as possible?" or "Is freedom being maximized?". What I'm saying is that religion is necessary to know whether the metrics themselves are correct things to measure decisions against to find "good" decisions, because the metrics would need to be good themselves.

P.S. I had plans to write up another post over there comparing morality to economics, but I haven't had the chance yet. Basically I was going to compare the "goodness of an action" to the "price of a commodity". Economics gives us an objective way to measure the price of corn, but that price only has meaning in the context of an economy (abundance, cost to produce, competing goods, etc.). But there's no measurement we can do on corn itself to come up with it's economic value.

(Huge tangent time, but whatever.)
Sure there is. The measure of the value of corn itself is what people are willing to pay for it, because the only measure of value that corn can have at all is the measure of its utility to humans and their civilization. Since the price as coordinated by demand and supply is a gauge of this, in that corn rises when it becomes more necessary and demand goes up and vice versa, the price value of corn itself is the indicator of corn's one and only value, the value it bears to humanity. Without human context, corn has no value at all, just as a chunk of rock in another universe has no value, because it has no bearing or utility to humans here on Earth.

In essence, price is value itself, because the only value things can have is that of their human utility, which is necessarily gauged by price.

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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby guenther » Tue Jul 21, 2009 5:06 am UTC

I should have read your original post better; I'm largely on the same page as you. I don't think we can justify morality without resorting to "it feels right" or "God says so". However, unless we believe in divine creation, there must be some natural process that determined how we see good and evil. And clearly not all moral systems are equally good since anyone of us could whip up something pretty awful. So I believe it is possible to objectively ask questions like "Which moral code is better?", but it's very hard to answer.

Variance wrote:My concept of morality isn't promoting social fitness, and I think self-interest is in line with morality to non-others'-rights-violating extents. I suspect our concepts of morality differ here.

You may not think in terms of promoting social fitness, but where does your intuitive notion of goodness come from? Why is it good to help someone else be happy? Why is it good to help the needy? Why is it good to protect the innocent? These are intuitively good concepts that most people share, and I suspect they come from a process that is maximizing social fitness. Just like cells work together to create a bigger organism, people work together to create a fitter society.

Variance wrote:Also, again, the level of morality you're looking at is different than mine. You're looking at questions like, "Is it good to let people make exorbitant amounts of money?" while I'm looking at "Is happiness a good thing?".

I would say my question is "Why is happiness a good thing?". And specifically, why in terms of the framework of the natural world. I'm asking "Why does our basis of morality look this way?", while you're asking "What do you personally use for your basis of morality?". At least that's my understanding.

I do find it puzzling where people who profess such an aversion to faith find a basis for goodness. How do we prove that racism is wrong? At some level, we have to accept some axiom as true without any evidence because the only real evidence we have is to point to an external source of goodness or say "it feels wrong".

However, if someone does not believe in a God, but is willing to accept some axioms on morality based on faith, then I think they can have a sense of goodness that's better than Nihilism.

Variance wrote:The measure of the value of corn itself is what people are willing to pay for it, because the only measure of value that corn can have at all is the measure of its utility to humans and their civilization.

I think we're on the same page here. You just restated my point that outside of an economic context, placing a price on corn is completely meaningless. And analogously I think that placing a goodness on an action outside of a cultural context is equally meaningless. What I'm willing to pay for corn, and my moral value on donating money are both subjective, but our concept of economics and morality are based on an aggregate subjectiveness across society. So it's somewhere between completely subjective and completely objective (where completely objective would be like measuring the mass of corn or counting how much I donated last year).

As complicated as it gets, I think that economics is a must simpler beast, and we can implement the aggregate measurements of price across society. But morality is much harder to do this way, and I personally believe that following a rigid, time-tested moral code is most likely to yield results in agreement with our intuitive sense of goodness.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby setzer777 » Tue Jul 21, 2009 5:24 am UTC

Variance wrote:Still, these are valid points that warrant discussion. I would say for your first statement that while religion is certainly by no means the only way to believe in objective morality, belief doesn't make something correct. I think religion is the only way to ensure that the moral code one believes in really is right in the end. For the two possible beliefs:
-You could believe this, but I don't think there would be any way to observe these as "cosmological absolutes" unless the universe were to give retribution in some way. A Gaia-style sentient earth theory could work here, if it had any substance at all.
-However, the arguments that prove how logic exists and works don't work with morality. Simply looking at what is in the secular world won't get you past the existence of morality; something higher is needed to establish the correctness of it. A supernatural mandate would be the only way to make a moral system as absolutely correct as existence absolutely exists.


Belief doesn't make something correct. But just as someone's belief in morality could be incorrect, so could belief in a religion justifying morality. So religion doesn't really ensure that the moral code one believes in really is right in the end, because the religion they believe in could be incorrect. It also isn't the only possible way for objective morality to actually exist.

- Retribution would not constitute proof that they are absolutes. There is no necessary connection between morality and retribution. For an example of morality being "part of the universe", consider Platonism and how it deals with ethics.
- You are confusing logic with empiricism. Accepting basic logical assumptions is not based on observing the natural world and making an "is-ought" connection, they are simply taken as fundamental. So you can take certain "ought" statements as fundamental to your reasoning and then derive the rest of morality from them. The only downside is that you will not be able to meaningfully discuss morality with people who do not share those fundamentals, just as you cannot discuss much of anything with someone who rejects the fundamentals of logic that most people accept.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Intercept » Tue Jul 21, 2009 10:26 pm UTC

I'm a secular humanist and my beliefs basically come down to this: There is no after life, so life is all that matters. Happiness is the ideal state of being for all people. I like being and like other people being happy. Morality basically comes down to, for me, maximizing humanity's happiness. I feel that liberty is a very good way to maintain this.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Variance » Wed Jul 22, 2009 5:14 pm UTC

guenther wrote:I should have read your original post better; I'm largely on the same page as you. I don't think we can justify morality without resorting to "it feels right" or "God says so". However, unless we believe in divine creation, there must be some natural process that determined how we see good and evil.

Remember, I'm not talking about how we form our moral precepts, only whether moral precepts are actually legitimate in any case. "It feels right" doesn't work because there must be a reason behind the feeling for it to be correct, so it's a layer removed from an absolute proof of moral correctness. That's why I propose that only "God says so" works, after, hypothetically, the existence of God is proved.

You may not think in terms of promoting social fitness, but where does your intuitive notion of goodness come from? Why is it good to help someone else be happy? Why is it good to help the needy? Why is it good to protect the innocent? These are intuitively good concepts that most people share, and I suspect they come from a process that is maximizing social fitness. Just like cells work together to create a bigger organism, people work together to create a fitter society.

That may be the case with some people, but not with everyone--and not with me. I don't work to serve the society, and make no attempt to do so. I work for my own self-interest without violating the rights of others, and any charity I engage in is purely to help those whose rights had been violated before. A strong society is a result of this mindset, but only because, through Capitalism, self-interest is maximized.

I would say my question is "Why is happiness a good thing?". And specifically, why in terms of the framework of the natural world.

Asking why happiness is good assumes that we can prove happiness is good. For happiness to be good or not requires a reason, and that is the why component that is a natural feature of the question. And again, I propose that happiness is neither good or bad from the secular viewpoint. Like all prosperity and life, or lack thereof, it is neutral absent a supernatural absolute, God.

I'm asking "Why does our basis of morality look this way?", while you're asking "What do you personally use for your basis of morality?".

I wasn't asking that. I'm saying that nothing matters without God and nothing can be proved "good" or "evil": one's moral system cannot be superior than anyone else's without God, so there's no reason not to engage in, say, murder or suicide.

[quoteI do find it puzzling where people who profess such an aversion to faith find a basis for goodness. How do we prove that racism is wrong? At some level, we have to accept some axiom as true without any evidence because the only real evidence we have is to point to an external source of goodness or say "it feels wrong".[/quote]
This is the thing: the sentiment that it feels wrong is baseless, because one can just as easily claim "it feels right." An external force that guarantees morality is required, and I think the only thing that would be able to prove the correctness of a moral, such as respecting the rights of others, is God.

However, if someone does not believe in a God, but is willing to accept some axioms on morality based on faith, then I think they can have a sense of goodness that's better than Nihilism.

Faith, by the definition of believing in something without enough evidence, is a logical fallacy. In the case of believing in morality in the absence of god, this is a complete fallacy, as there is no evidence guaranteeing the correctness of people's moral systems.

Of course, the vast majority of people do take morality based on faith and can't ultimately prove that their morals are correct. I suspect they just haven't thought it through enough to reach Nihilism, which is the ultimate end of secular philosophy.

I think we're on the same page here. You just restated my point that outside of an economic context, placing a price on corn is completely meaningless. And analogously I think that placing a goodness on an action outside of a cultural context is equally meaningless. What I'm willing to pay for corn, and my moral value on donating money are both subjective, but our concept of economics and morality are based on an aggregate subjectiveness across society. So it's somewhere between completely subjective and completely objective (where completely objective would be like measuring the mass of corn or counting how much I donated last year).

Naturally, people can't always judge prices perfectly, but that's beside the point; I think this makes for an interesting analogy: Corn is meaningless without us just as life is meaningless without religion. We, in effect, sponsor corn as valuable, just as God is required to sponsor the value of life, which forms the basis of morality.

As complicated as it gets, I think that economics is a must simpler beast, and we can implement the aggregate measurements of price across society. But morality is much harder to do this way, and I personally believe that following a rigid, time-tested moral code is most likely to yield results in agreement with our intuitive sense of goodness.

Extrapolating the idea that God is required for morality that is ultimately correct, the theoretically correct moral code would be the Christian one as God conveyed it, given that Christianity is the most credible of religions if they must be chosen between.

Belief doesn't make something correct. But just as someone's belief in morality could be incorrect, so could belief in a religion justifying morality. So religion doesn't really ensure that the moral code one believes in really is right in the end, because the religion they believe in could be incorrect.

This is why a religion would need to be proved real on a logical basis to be correct. You can dispute if that is possible, but if it were done, then you could say the morality it prescribes can be proved correct.

It also isn't the only possible way for objective morality to actually exist.

That's the thing, I propose that it is the only possible way. For it to be the only way, all other possible ways for morality to be exist need to be refuted, which is why I'm bouncing this off you guys.

- Retribution would not constitute proof that they are absolutes. There is no necessary connection between morality and retribution. For an example of morality being "part of the universe", consider Platonism and how it deals with ethics.

I was getting off on a tangent with the Gaia thing. I understand how the idea of cosmologically absolute morality works, it holds that morality is an absolute in much the same way that existence is. I'm not sure if Platonic morality is exactly that, but it is likely very close to that.

Anyway, my response would be that while existence can be objectively proved, morality cannot. I could just as easily say that there is no absolute universal morality, given that there is no evidence for such a thing, and the response of moral societies succeeding better doesn't work. While there may be some moralities that guarantee the success of a society, we need a baser morality to tell if success is in and of itself "good", or correct.

- You are confusing logic with empiricism. Accepting basic logical assumptions is not based on observing the natural world and making an "is-ought" connection, they are simply taken as fundamental. So you can take certain "ought" statements as fundamental to your reasoning and then derive the rest of morality from them. The only downside is that you will not be able to meaningfully discuss morality with people who do not share those fundamentals, just as you cannot discuss much of anything with someone who rejects the fundamentals of logic that most people accept.

Edit:To be able to say something "is" requires logic, so empiricism is inexorably based on logic (a logic that makes no fundamental assumptions--see below.)
This is an interesting concept that you touched on, the idea that logic itself can't be proved. There are several ways to prove it, though, and if you want, I'll pull them up. However, working on the basic assumption of all parties in this discussion that logic exists and works, such a person would be discredited as incorrect if they were to question logic. This is because our fundamentals of logic can be proved correct, so we are right. As a corollary, our morality can be proved correct, if only through God, or other ways if you contest that.

However, nothing can be correct unless it is proven without the assumption of any fundamentals. All fundamentals need to be proven themselves. I would not accept a logic that works off of any fundamental assumptions. This is why logic itself needs to be proven, and can be proven as a working and existing thing. Otherwise it could be contested on the same grounds as morality, that it makes base assumptions. Morality, in this way, needs to be proven without any assumptions, and I propose that the only way to do that is to use a God whose existence is proven without any base assumptions.

Intercept wrote:I'm a secular humanist and my beliefs basically come down to this: There is no after life, so life is all that matters. Happiness is the ideal state of being for all people. I like being and like other people being happy. Morality basically comes down to, for me, maximizing humanity's happiness. I feel that liberty is a very good way to maintain this.

And this is a fine morality, but you can't say that the morality is correct beyond that it follows your desire for happiness. In the context of secular humanism, though, nothing exists beyond biological desires to meet happiness as an objective of life and existence, so that's all life and existence, and happiness too, will ever be able to amount to. The question is, "Why is happiness itself good?" That can only be answered, in my opinion, with a moral absolute such as God to mandate that it is good, because without an absolute, it can't be proved good.

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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby guenther » Wed Jul 22, 2009 6:49 pm UTC

Variance wrote:Remember, I'm not talking about how we form our moral precepts, only whether moral precepts are actually legitimate in any case. "It feels right" doesn't work because there must be a reason behind the feeling for it to be correct, so it's a layer removed from an absolute proof of moral correctness. That's why I propose that only "God says so" works, after, hypothetically, the existence of God is proved.

I find it amusing how much people try to hold onto logical proofs. "Proofs" are a fabrication, they only exist in the abstract realm of logic and mathematics. As soon as we enter any measured evidence of how the world works, we're now in the realm of imperfect information where we should use likelihoods, not proofs. Logic is a tool based on approximations of the real world, and it can be very helpful in making good decisions, but there's no magic truth there.

Second, logic doesn't drive behavior, emotions do. I suspect that in the history of logical proofs, very few have had much impact on human behavior unless it was coupled with an emotional appeal. Rather I think we start with feelings and then look for reasonable explanations to validate them. Being logically sound helps, but it's not a game-clencher. Logical fallacies are no-nos in proofs, but they can help us make better estimates and thus better decisions. (e.g. Proving that any man is taller than any woman would be logically bad, but turning it into a guess makes for a good estimation.)

We can't prove that a big TV matters, but we can measure that it does matter to a lot of people and come up with a reasonable explanation. We can't prove that a certain action is good, but we can measure that it is good to lots of people and come up with a reasonable explanation. That measurement will also show that the feeling of goodness is independent of God, and I suspect it's because it's wired inside of us deeper than the rational brain.

I do think that a belief in God is one of the best methods we know of to make a large group of people behave morally (a not too popular opinion that I've been propagating in the Utility of Religion thread) as opposed to merely asserting what they think is moral, but I don't come to that conclusion using logical proofs.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby setzer777 » Wed Jul 22, 2009 6:51 pm UTC

I would really like to see proof of the fundamentals of logic. I really don't see how that's possible. How do you prove something without even making the assumption (for example) that if something is true, its denial or opposite is not true? What does the concept of "proof" even mean if you don't have *any* assumptions? Logical proof requires the rules that connect premises to conclusions, how can the prove the rules themselves without being circular? Suppose I start with the statement "I exist". Suppose I then say "I don't exist". I need an unproven logical assumption to even say that such a contradiction is a problem.


My whole point with alternatives of absolute morality is this - just as you say "If you prove religion you can prove absolute morality", I can say "If you prove the realm of forms you can prove morality". And just as you admit that people can question whether religion can be proven you can question whether the realm of forms can be proven, and so far they are on equal ground *until* you provide an argument that religion can be proven while the realm of forms cannot. So in terms of being capable of proving absolute morality *if true*, there are alternatives to religion.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Dark567 » Wed Jul 22, 2009 9:13 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote:I would really like to see proof of the fundamentals of logic. I really don't see how that's possible. How do you prove something without even making the assumption (for example) that if something is true, its denial or opposite is not true? What does the concept of "proof" even mean if you don't have *any* assumptions? Logical proof requires the rules that connect premises to conclusions, how can the prove the rules themselves without being circular? Suppose I start with the statement "I exist". Suppose I then say "I don't exist". I need an unproven logical assumption to even say that such a contradiction is a problem.


It's impossible to prove logic. Variance is obviously mistaken. Logic does though have three very basic premises that most people hold true.
Classical logics basic assumptions are as follows.
1. A=A, that is something is itself.
2. A != ~A, that is something that is true cannot be false
3. A V ~A, that is any preposition must be true or false.

Proving any of the above is impossible without logic, and proving them with logic is circular. So logic cannot be proved.(Although logic is the only sound, consistent and complete system that humans have ever come up with, hence why we put so much faith in it.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby setzer777 » Wed Jul 22, 2009 9:19 pm UTC

Dark567 wrote:1. A=A, that is something is itself.
2. A != ~A, that is something that is true cannot be false
3. A V ~A, that is any preposition must be true or false.



Just out of curiosity, can you actually derive all of the rest of logic from those three? It seems like you would need more assumptions to have disjunctions and conditionals.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Dark567 » Wed Jul 22, 2009 9:53 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote: Just out of curiosity, can you actually derive all of the rest of logic from those three? It seems like you would need more assumptions to have disjunctions and conditionals.


Yes, you can derive all of (classical)logic from these assumptions.

Conditionals(and disjuntions) are in fact just a short version of conjunctions. X->Y is equivalent to (~X V Y) is equivalent to ~(X &~Y). So all logical statements can actually just be defined as conjunctions. It is just easier for us to use conditionals and disjunctions, because they are closer to our ordinary language.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby inhahe » Wed Jul 22, 2009 11:37 pm UTC

I think that the idea of reducing all psychal phenomena, such as ethics and morality, to results of biological-evolutionary processes is just the scientistic trend du jour. It's too easy, too presumptuous, and too physicalistic. There is just no reason to reframe all living processes in terms of not necessarily living mechanisms, as if that's somehow a better explanation because it writes consciousness out of the equation. But it's definitely in-line with the scientistic thinking of the day.

It's pretty much a logical truism that there is no undeniable axiom on which to base ethical assertions or moral values. It's simply a logical consequence of the type of idea that morality is. It's virtually a tautology, and therefore to draw any further inferences from it regarding morality's origins, legitimacy or general nature is convoluted thinking.

To decry the objectivity, foundations or "correctness" of morality on this basis is pretty much saying that "you can't prove i shouldn't stab my girlfriend to death and then eat her liver for a momentary thrill, so I might as well since there's nothing objectively wrong with that." If you want to commit murder upon your neighbor just because you don't see a reason not to, go ahead, but your logic won't make you not a monster. It won't make you not sick, not perverse, or not inhuman.

The reason we do not understand the objective or quasi-objective bases for morality or ethics is that we don't have a basic understanding of life and what a human, or any other animal, actually, truly is. So instead of trying a bottom-up approach where you understand 'by proxy', in a sort of presumptuous and non-specific sense, life in terms of biology and natural selection, try understanding it from a top-down approach that eschews all rigid and limiting paradigms, such as those of evolutionary biology, physicalism, reductionism and scientism. Subtler things exist in reality than what is lent to by a purely empirical and mechanistic paradigm.

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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Variance » Thu Jul 23, 2009 3:19 am UTC

guenther wrote:
Variance wrote:Remember, I'm not talking about how we form our moral precepts, only whether moral precepts are actually legitimate in any case. "It feels right" doesn't work because there must be a reason behind the feeling for it to be correct, so it's a layer removed from an absolute proof of moral correctness. That's why I propose that only "God says so" works, after, hypothetically, the existence of God is proved.

I find it amusing how much people try to hold onto logical proofs. "Proofs" are a fabrication, they only exist in the abstract realm of logic and mathematics. As soon as we enter any measured evidence of how the world works, we're now in the realm of imperfect information where we should use likelihoods, not proofs. Logic is a tool based on approximations of the real world, and it can be very helpful in making good decisions, but there's no magic truth there.

Second, logic doesn't drive behavior, emotions do. I suspect that in the history of logical proofs, very few have had much impact on human behavior unless it was coupled with an emotional appeal. Rather I think we start with feelings and then look for reasonable explanations to validate them. Being logically sound helps, but it's not a game-clencher. Logical fallacies are no-nos in proofs, but they can help us make better estimates and thus better decisions. (e.g. Proving that any man is taller than any woman would be logically bad, but turning it into a guess makes for a good estimation.)

We can't prove that a big TV matters, but we can measure that it does matter to a lot of people and come up with a reasonable explanation. We can't prove that a certain action is good, but we can measure that it is good to lots of people and come up with a reasonable explanation. That measurement will also show that the feeling of goodness is independent of God, and I suspect it's because it's wired inside of us deeper than the rational brain.

I do think that a belief in God is one of the best methods we know of to make a large group of people behave morally (a not too popular opinion that I've been propagating in the Utility of Religion thread) as opposed to merely asserting what they think is moral, but I don't come to that conclusion using logical proofs.

Most actions are based off emotions, but that doesn't mean they have to be. Personally, I try to base everything I believe on logic whenever possible, but yes, it's impossible to catch everything, before someone points that out.
setzer777 wrote:I would really like to see proof of the fundamentals of logic. I really don't see how that's possible. How do you prove something without even making the assumption (for example) that if something is true, its denial or opposite is not true? What does the concept of "proof" even mean if you don't have *any* assumptions? Logical proof requires the rules that connect premises to conclusions, how can the prove the rules themselves without being circular? Suppose I start with the statement "I exist". Suppose I then say "I don't exist". I need an unproven logical assumption to even say that such a contradiction is a problem.

I'm more than happy to share this, because you won't find it in any philosophy textbook. In essence, existence needs to be proved first:
-Cogito ergo sum works to prove that existence exists, or we can use the fact that the only answer to the question is "yes", given that the answer exists as either yes, no, or maybe.

This establishes that existence exists, or, as Dark567 put it from the classical/stealth objectivist proof, A=A. Either way, it proves that:

-Existence is existence.
-Existence is not nonexistence and never will be under any circumstances. The only possibility is, by definition, that existence is existence and not nonexistence.
-Set A to exist. A is A, by definition, and cannot under any circumstances not be A, just as existence cannot be nonexistence.
-Therefore, A=A and A!=B if B is different than A.
-A will always equal A and never equal B, because time is irrelevant in the abstract.

This is another absolute that cannot be considered a fundamental, because the only possible answer to the question "does A equal A and not B?" is yes. For it to be no would deny A=A, and by extension, deny that existence is existence. Contrary to what Dark567 said, these have been proved without logic, because they are the only possibilities for the nature of existence and A that can exist. Essentially, to say that A=B would deny existence itself. (A by definition can be nothing but A, and that is by definition as much an absolute as existence itself is.)

Basically, the stuff I enumerated is proved because it cannot be shown to ever not be true, and cannot even hypothetically not be true, which would be possible with a non-absolute such as morality or the Wet Nurse.

Now, to establish that this proves logic requires a consistent definition of logic, but we can generally agree that logic has to do with the application of principles to evidence or reason, or something of the sort. Since logic holds that A=A by its most fundamental rules, it is correct in that sense and in the sense that A!=B. Every such rule that logic follows works now, such as A+B=C if C-A=B and C-B=A, and so on into the more abstract math.

Essentially, all parts of logic will always work and be correct in the context of existence or nonexistence, the two irrefutable absolutes. Therefore, since ours is a world where existence exists, logic will always work. Were logic not to work, existence would possibly not exist and A would not necessarily equal A, but B. So logic is proved to always work, and since it's ability to work or not work requires that it exists, it also exists.

There you go. I welcome input on the proof, and I know it's very abstract.

My whole point with alternatives of absolute morality is this - just as you say "If you prove religion you can prove absolute morality", I can say "If you prove the realm of forms you can prove morality". And just as you admit that people can question whether religion can be proven you can question whether the realm of forms can be proven, and so far they are on equal ground *until* you provide an argument that religion can be proven while the realm of forms cannot. So in terms of being capable of proving absolute morality *if true*, there are alternatives to religion.

The original question was based on the condition that religion could be proved, in which case it would establish an absolute morality. But yes, if something else existed and could be proven to sponsor morality, such as the realm of forms, or a cosmological absolute, or whatever--then yes, there would be other ways to have absolute morality. However, the question of whether any of these things actually do exist is another argument altogether, and a much, much more spiky one at that.

So yes, there are other possible ways to have objective morality if those other ways can be proven, but I don't think things like the realm of forms or a cosmological absolute can be proven. However, theoretically, with enough historical and practical evidence, religion could be proved. It then comes down to the ancient dispute of whether the existing evidence for religion is sufficient to prove its existence.

Dark567 wrote:It's impossible to prove logic. Variance is obviously mistaken. Logic does though have three very basic premises that most people hold true.
Classical logics basic assumptions are as follows.
1. A=A, that is something is itself.
2. A != ~A, that is something that is true cannot be false
3. A V ~A, that is any preposition must be true or false.

Proving any of the above is impossible without logic, and proving them with logic is circular. So logic cannot be proved.(Although logic is the only sound, consistent and complete system that humans have ever come up with, hence why we put so much faith in it.

To answer your specific arguments in the final paragraph, existence is an absolute that cannot be denied; that doesn't require logic, it just is, and to say that existence does not exist is wrong unconditionally. In much the same matter, logic has always worked and always will when it says that A=A or A!=B, by definition. So while you say it's a logical thing, I say it's an absolute thing which transcends even logic itself, because it is impossible to even hypothesize a scenario where logic does not work and exist, let alone have one be real.

Actually, and I just thought of this, the only undeniable absolutes are existence and non-existence; 0 and 1. This means all reasoning can be accomplished through these mediums, just as computers use such mechanical logic to prove everything else. That means that existence and nonexistence, 0 and 1, are the truest and basest components of logic, and on their own, as through a computer, can be used to simulate and prove everything else possible when in the context of the things that do exist, just as 0 and 1 can accomplish anything when in the context of what does exist in a computer, which is circuitry and computing apparatuses.

setzer777 wrote: Just out of curiosity, can you actually derive all of the rest of logic from those three? It seems like you would need more assumptions to have disjunctions and conditionals.

I would even go so far as to say that logic can be entirely derived from existence and non-existence, 0 and 1, just as it is in a computer. A=A and A!=B (A!=~A) are just extensions of those two. The fundamental one is A V ~A, which is existence or nonexistence, so you could actually prove everything with just that one statement.

inhahe wrote:I think that the idea of reducing all psychal phenomena, such as ethics and morality, to results of biological-evolutionary processes is just the scientistic trend du jour. It's too easy, too presumptuous, and too physicalistic. There is just no reason to reframe all living processes in terms of not necessarily living mechanisms, as if that's somehow a better explanation because it writes consciousness out of the equation. But it's definitely in-line with the scientistic thinking of the day.

I think the philosophy meme you noted persists because it does have a strong basis: in the secular viewpoint, we don't have souls, and consciousness therefore only can be a result of biology.

It's pretty much a logical truism that there is no undeniable axiom on which to base ethical assertions or moral values. It's simply a logical consequence of the type of idea that morality is. It's virtually a tautology, and therefore to draw any further inferences from it regarding morality's origins, legitimacy or general nature is convoluted thinking.

I think it's a bit misguided to say that one can't question morality, which is certainly not a fundamental and irrefutable absolute itself. Either it's not correct or it needs to be made correct by something, but I understand that our culture views morality largely the way you said.

To decry the objectivity, foundations or "correctness" of morality on this basis is pretty much saying that "you can't prove i shouldn't stab my girlfriend to death and then eat her liver for a momentary thrill, so I might as well since there's nothing objectively wrong with that." If you want to commit murder upon your neighbor just because you don't see a reason not to, go ahead, but your logic won't make you not a monster. It won't make you not sick, not perverse, or not inhuman.

That's a great and very descriptive scenario. However, it does come down to whether morality can be proved right or not, because to call someone or their actions monstrous and evil assumes morality is already proven. However, go and ask someone how the scenario you described is evil, and they'll say it's immoral. Why is it immoral? Because it violates the rights of another (if you get a politcal philosopher.), and the whole liver thing is cannibalism, which is also bad. Why is it wrong to violate others' rights, or be a cannibal? It's either God says so, or, "It just is wrong". Absent God, most people hold morality itself as an absolute, which is most certainly not the case.

The reason we do not understand the objective or quasi-objective bases for morality or ethics is that we don't have a basic understanding of life and what a human, or any other animal, actually, truly is. So instead of trying a bottom-up approach where you understand 'by proxy', in a sort of presumptuous and non-specific sense, life in terms of biology and natural selection, try understanding it from a top-down approach that eschews all rigid and limiting paradigms, such as those of evolutionary biology, physicalism, reductionism and scientism. Subtler things exist in reality than what is lent to by a purely empirical and mechanistic paradigm.

But of course, morality must be correct for some reason. Science won't find that for you; it will tell you, particularly through evolutionary biology, sociology, and psychology, why we have the morals we have; but they can't explain if, ultimately, those morals are good things. All they can show is that "good" morals advance the culture and "bad" ones don't, but that has little weight when we can call the idea of helping people and forming stable societies into question as ultimately good, or even call the idea of goodness into question.

Edit: Grammar everywhere.

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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Cup of Dirt » Thu Jul 23, 2009 3:28 am UTC

Variance: Very interesting topic. I have a question about your argument. You said that if the existence of God could be proved, then the code of morality and ethics given by (the correct) religion would then be on a logically sound footing. But you're missing a step: you need to prove that God is good, not just that he exists. Or, to put it another way, goodness would be among the properties you would need to prove that God has, along with existence, omnipotence, and so on. But that is impossible to do without knowing what is good in the first place -- okay, God acts this way, but how do we know that those actions are morally right? It seems like God is just another turtle.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Variance » Thu Jul 23, 2009 3:43 am UTC

Cup of Dirt wrote:Variance: Very interesting topic. I have a question about your argument. You said that if the existence of God could be proved, then the code of morality and ethics given by (the correct) religion would then be on a logically sound footing. But you're missing a step: you need to prove that God is good, not just that he exists. Or, to put it another way, goodness would be among the properties you would need to prove that God has, along with existence, omnipotence, and so on. But that is impossible to do without knowing what is good in the first place -- okay, God acts this way, but how do we know that those actions are morally right? It seems like God is just another turtle.

In this case, we would need to be taking the extra step and specifically proving the existence of a good god, likely the Christian god or something of the sort, but yes, I did skip over that step. Generally, whenever I say God, I intend the Christian god as the stereotypical monotheistic absolutely good God, but it's my bad for not noting that.

In the idea of God himself not proving morality, you hit on another interesting thing, which is the idea of absolute Nihilism. Essentially, even were we to live forever, would anything matter anyway? It could be said that no, that doesn't make anything more likely to matter. However, secular morality ensures the benefit of people while they live finite lives, and supernatural morality guarantees both that and afterlife morality. However, secular morality becomes irrelevant when we die, which is why it could be said to not matter--conversely, were there to be a point at which heavenly morality didn't affect us any more in the afterlife, than even that morality wouldn't matter any more; but since we would live forever and morality would apply to us as long as we live, morality would always apply to us. Therefore, since the actions we chose would ultimately result in some effect to us, morality would never not matter, and Nihilism would not work.

What God then defines as good is presumably life and existence or a good god would not exist; therefore, life and existence would form the good basis of morality. Although beyond God that morality couldn't be proved correct, one could say there isn't anything beyond God, given a god that is the absolute bottom turtle, since he defies infinity being supernatural. Since God and his realm, and therefore his morality are absolute, his morality wouldn't necessarily be true outside of his realm, but that wouldn't matter, because it's impossible to exist outside his realm. Since morality is absolute within his realm, morality is absolutely absolute for all intents and purposes, because the realm of God is absolute.

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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby setzer777 » Thu Jul 23, 2009 4:18 am UTC

variance wrote:To answer your specific arguments in the final paragraph, existence is an absolute that cannot be denied; that doesn't require logic, it just is, and to say that existence does not exist is wrong unconditionally. In much the same matter, logic has always worked and always will when it says that A=A or A!=B, by definition. So while you say it's a logical thing, I say it's an absolute thing which transcends even logic itself, because it is impossible to even hypothesize a scenario where logic does not work and exist, let alone have one be real.



That isn't really proof so much as assertion: you assert that A=A and A v ~A are undeniable. That is an assumption - you are assuming that no mind can possibly deny A=A and A v ~A, unless you say that the fact that no mind can deny it is itself something that no mind can deny, as is the fact that no mind can deny that no mind can deny, ad infinitum. You are also making the implicit assumption that "If X is theoretically impossible to deny then X is true", and *this* statement is hypothetically deniable (and even if it wasn't it would be begging the question to say that it is true because it isn't deniable).
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Dark567 » Thu Jul 23, 2009 4:52 am UTC

Variance wrote:
To answer your specific arguments in the final paragraph, existence is an absolute that cannot be denied; that doesn't require logic, it just is, and to say that existence does not exist is wrong unconditionally. In much the same matter, logic has always worked and always will when it says that A=A or A!=B, by definition. So while you say it's a logical thing, I say it's an absolute thing which transcends even logic itself, because it is impossible to even hypothesize a scenario where logic does not work and exist, let alone have one be real.


When you assume existence just is you seem to be also already assuming that it also is not is doesn't exist at the same time. That is to say you assume A!=A. This is still an assumption you have not proven. Also to say we cannot hypothesize a scenario where logic does not work doesn't mean logic works, that is definitely fallacious. In fact Zen Buddhism often hypothesizes of scenarios that logic does not work.

Ultimately you say these things are true by definition but without logic you can't tell me that two completely different definitions of a word can't exist at the same time.


Variance wrote:Actually, and I just thought of this, the only undeniable absolutes are existence and non-existence; 0 and 1. This means all reasoning can be accomplished through these mediums, just as computers use such mechanical logic to prove everything else. That means that existence and nonexistence, 0 and 1, are the truest and basest components of logic, and on their own, as through a computer, can be used to simulate and prove everything else possible when in the context of the things that do exist, just as 0 and 1 can accomplish anything when in the context of what does exist in a computer, which is circuitry and computing apparatuses.

I would even go so far as to say that logic can be entirely derived from existence and non-existence, 0 and 1, just as it is in a computer. A=A and A!=B (A!=~A) are just extensions of those two. The fundamental one is A V ~A, which is existence or nonexistence, so you could actually prove everything with just that one statement.

Just saying that 1 and 0 exist, does not define them as 1!=0, you undoubtedly still need both of the other assumptions.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Cup of Dirt » Thu Jul 23, 2009 5:30 am UTC

Variance wrote:
Cup of Dirt wrote:Variance: Very interesting topic. I have a question about your argument. You said that if the existence of God could be proved, then the code of morality and ethics given by (the correct) religion would then be on a logically sound footing. But you're missing a step: you need to prove that God is good, not just that he exists. Or, to put it another way, goodness would be among the properties you would need to prove that God has, along with existence, omnipotence, and so on. But that is impossible to do without knowing what is good in the first place -- okay, God acts this way, but how do we know that those actions are morally right? It seems like God is just another turtle.

In this case, we would need to be taking the extra step and specifically proving the existence of a good god, likely the Christian god or something of the sort, but yes, I did skip over that step. Generally, whenever I say God, I intend the Christian god as the stereotypical monotheistic absolutely good God, but it's my bad for not noting that.


No, my objection goes a little deeper than that. Suppose a device was invented that let you observe any time and place in the history of Earth, and suppose that using it proved once and for all that every word of the Christian Bible is true. You could actually hear God speaking out of the burning bush and dictating the Ten Commandments; flipping forward, you could hear God telling John the Baptist that Jesus is his son in whom he is well pleased. You could see every miracle being performed. It would be verified empirically that the Christian God is real. But logically it would not follow that this God is good. To say that God is good, would be to evaluate the actions of God based on a notion of morality that is already in place. But God is supposed to be the logical basis for your notion of morality, so that does not work. In fact, you are simply assuming that God is good, and making the actions and laws of God the basis for your morality. But this assumption is no more sound than the assumption of an atheist that his particular moral system is a good one.

Tl;dr: The Is-Ought problem applies to God just as much as to anything else.

Variance wrote:In the idea of God himself not proving morality, you hit on another interesting thing, which is the idea of absolute Nihilism. Essentially, even were we to live forever, would anything matter anyway? It could be said that no, that doesn't make anything more likely to matter. However, secular morality ensures the benefit of people while they live finite lives, and supernatural morality guarantees both that and afterlife morality. However, secular morality becomes irrelevant when we die, which is why it could be said to not matter--conversely, were there to be a point at which heavenly morality didn't affect us any more in the afterlife, than even that morality wouldn't matter any more; but since we would live forever and morality would apply to us as long as we live, morality would always apply to us. Therefore, since the actions we chose would ultimately result in some effect to us, morality would never not matter, and Nihilism would not work.


Not quite sure what you're getting at, here. But I don't think the question of whether we live forever really affects moral philosophy. Presumably actions are either right or they aren't, and it doesn't matter whether we die sometime after doing them. Of course, the concepts of heaven and hell are great for enforcement purposes if they're believed, but they're not actually philosophically necessary to an ethical system.

Variance wrote:What God then defines as good is presumably life and existence or a good god would not exist; therefore, life and existence would form the good basis of morality. Although beyond God that morality couldn't be proved correct, one could say there isn't anything beyond God, given a god that is the absolute bottom turtle, since he defies infinity being supernatural. Since God and his realm, and therefore his morality are absolute, his morality wouldn't necessarily be true outside of his realm, but that wouldn't matter, because it's impossible to exist outside his realm. Since morality is absolute within his realm, morality is absolutely absolute for all intents and purposes, because the realm of God is absolute.


So... might makes right? God can do anything, so therefore he is perfectly good too? I don't think that follows at all. Omnipotence and perfect goodness are two different things; the one does not imply the other. Again, God runs into the is-ought problem like anything else. If you want to just assume that God is perfectly good, fine. But you're making the same logical leap as someone who just assumes a moral system is correct.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby guenther » Thu Jul 23, 2009 6:09 am UTC

inhahe wrote:I think that the idea of reducing all psychal phenomena, such as ethics and morality, to results of biological-evolutionary processes is just the scientistic trend du jour. It's too easy, too presumptuous, and too physicalistic. There is just no reason to reframe all living processes in terms of not necessarily living mechanisms, as if that's somehow a better explanation because it writes consciousness out of the equation. But it's definitely in-line with the scientistic thinking of the day.

I see science as looking for answers, and if there's an interest and there's funding, why not do the science. Plus it might be trendy because it makes sense to a lot of people. If it's a path of bad science, the best way to figure that out is to let the efforts fail.

inhahe wrote:The reason we do not understand the objective or quasi-objective bases for morality or ethics is that we don't have a basic understanding of life and what a human, or any other animal, actually, truly is. So instead of trying a bottom-up approach where you understand 'by proxy', in a sort of presumptuous and non-specific sense, life in terms of biology and natural selection, try understanding it from a top-down approach that eschews all rigid and limiting paradigms, such as those of evolutionary biology, physicalism, reductionism and scientism. Subtler things exist in reality than what is lent to by a purely empirical and mechanistic paradigm.

What's an example of a top-down approach, and how is it advantageous? What are the limits of thinking in terms of evolutionary biology?

I'm not sure how to read your comment other than "I don't like to think of morality in terms of evolutionary biology." But since you used a lot more words than that, I'm sure there's something I'm missing. :)
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby inhahe » Thu Jul 23, 2009 7:01 am UTC

guenther wrote:
inhahe wrote:I think that the idea of reducing all psychal phenomena, such as ethics and morality, to results of biological-evolutionary processes is just the scientistic trend du jour. It's too easy, too presumptuous, and too physicalistic. There is just no reason to reframe all living processes in terms of not necessarily living mechanisms, as if that's somehow a better explanation because it writes consciousness out of the equation. But it's definitely in-line with the scientistic thinking of the day.

I see science as looking for answers, and if there's an interest and there's funding, why not do the science. Plus it might be trendy because it makes sense to a lot of people. If it's a path of bad science, the best way to figure that out is to let the efforts fail.


Yeah, i don't have much of a grievance with this relatively neutral approach..
specifically i'm not *against* doing science.
science has its uses, and we don't know everything - yet.
and yeah, it's trendy because it makes sense to a lot of people
but it doesn't make sense to me.. i guess i could make further arguments for that, it's just not what i was focusing on particularly in that post
as for good vs. bad science, it's not even about that, for me. i mean it's great when people can reverse scientific dogma (i know that, in an idealistic sense, science has no dogma), it's also about the scientific approach itself. not that it's not useful, but that it's not all-encompassing. now.. the word 'scientism' comes in when one presumes that the scientific approach is, basically, all-encompassing. that's also where the completely unfounded presumption comes in that morality and other matters of the mind and consciousness all boil down to Darwinism.


inhahe wrote:The reason we do not understand the objective or quasi-objective bases for morality or ethics is that we don't have a basic understanding of life and what a human, or any other animal, actually, truly is. So instead of trying a bottom-up approach where you understand 'by proxy', in a sort of presumptuous and non-specific sense, life in terms of biology and natural selection, try understanding it from a top-down approach that eschews all rigid and limiting paradigms, such as those of evolutionary biology, physicalism, reductionism and scientism. Subtler things exist in reality than what is lent to by a purely empirical and mechanistic paradigm.

What's an example of a top-down approach, and how is it advantageous? What are the limits of thinking in terms of evolutionary biology?

I'm not sure how to read your comment other than "I don't like to think of morality in terms of evolutionary biology." But since you used a lot more words than that, I'm sure there's something I'm missing. :)


I guess you could read it that way, but then what you might be missing could be all about "why I don't like to think of morality in terms of evolutionary biology." ;]
it's true there's a lot more to my mentality than the fact that i just don't like it for some unknown reason. i tried to give an overview of these reasons in so many words.. i don't know if i want to make a large essay on why i believe these things
but i'll break down this overview:

inhahe wrote:The reason we do not understand the objective or quasi-objective bases for morality or ethics is that we don't have a basic understanding of life and what a human, or any other animal, actually, truly is.

the specific myths i'm trying to bust here are a) the fact that we think we know, when we really don't. there is much more that we don't know than that we do. science never approached Jung, for example, in matters of understanding human life. we don't know the simplest of things. why do we smile when we're happy? why do we roll our eyes when we're incredulous? it's grandiose to think that our scientific answers even come close to explaining life. of course you can say that it's all chemical processes resulting from biological evolution, and that the details of how this occurred are not relevant to the question of whether biological evolution is responsible.. but i'm not agreeing with that assumption and therefore contend that my examples don't fall under it. and b) i totally forgot what b was. :(


So instead of trying a bottom-up approach where you understand 'by proxy', in a sort of presumptuous and non-specific sense, life in terms of biology and natural selection,


The point here is that we presume to understand some things when it's actually an understanding by proxy. We don't understand exactly how natural selection has produced this or that, but we presume that the questions are answered, on a fundamental level, by this theory. Not only is the theory not shown to be sufficient for the same reasons we don't know the exact details of the process, but even the fact that such an easy, simple, indirect, and vague "understanding" of the matter in question suffices for some people is rather ridiculous. It pretty much shows that the original intention is not to truly understand the matter, but to write off the matter.

try understanding it from a top-down approach that eschews all rigid and limiting paradigms


this here is an idea in itself. by the very nature of a paradigm of thought's being a paradigm of thought, it is self-limiting, and neither the truth, nor the mind, need conform to any such limitations. for example we can be ambidextrous and consider things from the mechanical light and from the light of something like intention or karma.


such as those of evolutionary biology, physicalism, reductionism and scientism.



I'm specifically saying here:
- evolutionary biology is a limited paradigm that doesn't fully account for the reality
- physicalism is a limited paradigm that doesn't fully account for the reality
- reductionism is a limited paradigm that doesn't fully account for the reality (for one thing, where do you stop reducing? it's an infinite regress)
- scientism (not science, but a reliance on science and science alone to answer everything) is an unduly limited paradigm


Subtler things exist in reality than what is lent to by a purely empirical and mechanistic paradigm.


the entire scientific interpretation of life and the universe, and the resultant skeptics' scoffing at all spiritualistic notions, is founded in the precept that if it's not a) empirical, and b) mechanistic, then it's not real.

what i am saying is that the lack of something's being empirical does not make it illusion, or necessarily fanciful, or whatever. this necessarily implies some amount of uncertainty, because if it's not empirical how do you prove it's true? the answer is you don't. you just don't limit yourself to that which you could possibly defend in an argument. and some people are wrong, yes. perhaps you will be wrong as well. but on the other hand, perhaps you have better acuities than other people. and perhaps you've found that way to the truth that's everyone's rite, that we have been trained to ignore. and perhaps in growing, you will come closer to a correct understanding of the truth. and perhaps what you want to do more than satisfy your psychological biases, is actually know the truth, in which case you will, sooner or later, find it. what kind of truths am i talking about that aren't empirical? well, maybe i should leave that up to the individual, but for me it's very visual and imaginative.

and also not everything that's real can be mechanistically understood. rather than trying to prove my case, i'm just hoping that by calling a spade a spade people will realize their unrealistic, *hidden* assumption that something must be mechanistic to be a valid explanation. this is pretty much a basis for all of science. again, not that science isn't useful. it just has its place.

so, to answer your question about what a top-down approach might entail..

let's start with the inner experience of mind, consciousness, and all other facets of ourselves and others.
that's more top-based than atoms bouncing around and gene mutation, right? then from there we can try to infer truths about how this stuff is structured and what it's made up of. without being encumbered by unnecessary paradigms such as physical reductionism, we don't have to assume that this top-down approach is superseded by a bottom-up one.

let's add in some new-age notions such as soul, spirit, chakras, the astral body, the etheric body, reincarnation, karma, God, oneness, and so on. of course you can't just blindly believe because some new ager says it, right? and that's not what i'm suggesting. i'm suggesting that you don't outright dismiss it, either. of course some more specific tapestry than those concepts in-themselves that i just listed may be necessary for actually 'understanding' the valid bases for morality, but these are just starters. i'm breaking down an overview here.

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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Variance » Thu Jul 23, 2009 5:37 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote:That isn't really proof so much as assertion: you assert that A=A and A v ~A are undeniable. That is an assumption - you are assuming that no mind can possibly deny A=A and A v ~A, unless you say that the fact that no mind can deny it is itself something that no mind can deny, as is the fact that no mind can deny that no mind can deny, ad infinitum. You are also making the implicit assumption that "If X is theoretically impossible to deny then X is true", and *this* statement is hypothetically deniable (and even if it wasn't it would be begging the question to say that it is true because it isn't deniable).

In the case of the ad infinitum argument, since the chain of "X cannot deny that X cannot deny that X cannot deny...{infinity}...that A=A and A V ~A" goes on forever, you can definitionally never reach a point where an "X can deny that" clause can be put on. The ad infinitum property of the argument is what makes it undeniable. In the same manner, Pi would be computable if it were a rational number that could be found at some point, but since it can definitionally not be a rational number, it will never be a rational number and will always be irrational. The same chain results: "X cannot deny that...Pi is irrational", because a "X can deny that" clause could only be put on at the beginning of the statement, which doesn't exist because the length is infinite.

As for X not being deniable if it cannot be theoretically denied, this is the definition of truth. The statement "X is true if it cannot be theoretically denied" is also
theoretically undeniable, so you get another "cannot deny" chain that goes on forever and makes X undeniable within the range of the statement, but since the statement is infinite, the range that the statement is true for is also infinite, so X will always be undeniable.

Dark567 wrote:When you assume existence just is you seem to be also already assuming that it also is not is doesn't exist at the same time. That is to say you assume A!=A. This is still an assumption you have not proven.

I assume you mean either that A!=~A needs to be proved, or that A!=A needs to be disproved. This is, again, a definitional thing. Cogito ergo sum proves that existence exists and is existence and that it is not nonexistence, so one could argue that the claim that "existence exists" is an exception to burden of proof on the grounds that it is as much a default in arguments as the negative is everywhere else. It is, in essence, an absolute just like the negative absolute of nonexistence is. This means that the burden of proof is on the person who denies the default of existence existing, which means an infinite chain of "cannot deny" clauses can prove that A!=~A and 0!=1.

This is not the case for God, because as a thing, even a supernatural one, he can either exist or not exist. He is not an absolute because there are conditions below him. However, a God that could be proved to exist would be an absolute.
Also to say we cannot hypothesize a scenario where logic does not work doesn't mean logic works, that is definitely fallacious. In fact Zen Buddhism often hypothesizes of scenarios that logic does not work.

One day, Manjushri stood outside the gate when Buddha called to him. "Manjushri, Manjushri, why do you not enter?"
"I do not see a thing outside the gate. Why should I enter?" Manjushri replied.

Since logic works by the virtue that existence exists, it always works. The Zen koans you speak of don't challenge logic, they're usually just petty reasoning traps; ones like the one above are ill-defined, and that lack of definition and understanding is not a failure of logic, it's a failure of the creator to provide a basis on which to reason. Either there is logic to be applied to evidence to reach a conclusion, or there is insufficient evidence on which to base a logical conclusion and no conclusion can be reached. There is never a scenario where a correct conclusion can be reached through something other than logic, because for the conclusion to be correct, there must be a reason behind it for it to be correct. A lack of logic in any case means a lack of evidence for correctness.

Ultimately you say these things are true by definition but without logic you can't tell me that two completely different definitions of a word can't exist at the same time.

You mean that we can't disprove that {A=A, A=~A}? We've been through this before at this point, but existence is existence and nonexistence is nonexistence, and existence is not and never will be nonexistence because they are mutually exclusive absolutes. As long as existence exists, which it does through cogito ergo sum, existence will be exclusive of nonexistence because for it to not exist would preclude that existence is not existence, but is nonexistence instead. To claim that existence can be both existence and nonexistence at the same time would only be possible if such a scenario existed, which mean that it could only happen when the scenario did exist. In this case, the scenario's existence would mean that something exists, and therefore existence exists by virtue of the scenario existing.

Essentially, were something to exist and not exist at the same time, it would exist, which would mean it would not be nonexistent. It's state of being would be one or the other, never both, because both would just mean that it is the former, existing.

Just saying that 1 and 0 exist, does not define them as 1!=0, you undoubtedly still need both of the other assumptions.

See above reasons why 1=1 and 1!=0 when 1 and 0 exist, the condition of 1 and 0 existing is all that is used.

Cup of Dirt wrote:No, my objection goes a little deeper than that. Suppose a device was invented that let you observe any time and place in the history of Earth, and suppose that using it proved once and for all that every word of the Christian Bible is true. You could actually hear God speaking out of the burning bush and dictating the Ten Commandments; flipping forward, you could hear God telling John the Baptist that Jesus is his son in whom he is well pleased. You could see every miracle being performed. It would be verified empirically that the Christian God is real. But logically it would not follow that this God is good. To say that God is good, would be to evaluate the actions of God based on a notion of morality that is already in place.

In the case of a God that exists as an absolute, he would set definitions of morality in the first place. He would be self-fulfilling as long as we were in the context of the extent of his power over the absolute, which would be his realm, and since his realm is infinite, so is his power over the absolute, so his morality being right would never be escaped. Conversely, the morality of an insane lunatic is correct when in the context of only himself, but since the lunatic is finite, his morality's correctness is finite. Since it is impossible to escape the context of God it is impossible to be beyond the context of his morality being right.
But God is supposed to be the logical basis for your notion of morality, so that does not work. In fact, you are simply assuming that God is good, and making the actions and laws of God the basis for your morality. But this assumption is no more sound than the assumption of an atheist that his particular moral system is a good one.

This is why the existence of a good God would need to be proven, and one can dispute if that is possible. But if it is possible under the right circumstances, which would only be that he exists and is infinite, while establishing some form of morality. Even if we would consider that morality "bad", hypothesizing a God who says it's good to kill people, it would be an issue of God says versus we say, in which case, we consider who is infinite and actually capable of being right.

Variance wrote:Not quite sure what you're getting at, here. But I don't think the question of whether we live forever really affects moral philosophy. Presumably actions are either right or they aren't, and it doesn't matter whether we die sometime after doing them. Of course, the concepts of heaven and hell are great for enforcement purposes if they're believed, but they're not actually philosophically necessary to an ethical system.

My idea was rather experimental, but I don't want to go too far down yet another ridiculously abstract road.

So... might makes right? God can do anything, so therefore he is perfectly good too? I don't think that follows at all. Omnipotence and perfect goodness are two different things; the one does not imply the other. Again, God runs into the is-ought problem like anything else. If you want to just assume that God is perfectly good, fine. But you're making the same logical leap as someone who just assumes a moral system is correct.

Might makes right is a bit misleading here, but since it comes down to the fact that since he presumably is omnipotent, then yes, what God sets as right is therefore right.

Coming full circle, this leads into the beginning of the thread all over again: it would seem that the only definition of what is "right" is "what God says", and absent that, nothing is right or wrong and there is no right or wrong, so for something to be right, God would need to say it. God is the only way for something to be right, and since he is omnipotent and can establish absolutes such as existence and himself if he exists, what he establishes as good is necessarily absolutely good.

let's start with the inner experience of mind, consciousness, and all other facets of ourselves and others.
that's more top-based than atoms bouncing around and gene mutation, right?

Rather, I would say as a response to you entire post that the existence of the mind, through cogito ergo sum, is the foremost undeniable thing in existence, and is consequentially the most logical thing out there. The only question is the existence of a soul, a supernatural portion of consciousness, which is necessarily nonexistent in secularism and arguably existent in religion, which would (arguably) require that God logically exists, which would make the existence of the soul, or some portion of consciousness transcending the natural world, or even just a slot in heaven where the natural consciousness would become a supernatural consciousness, a logical necessity.
Edit: moar dialogue.

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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby guenther » Thu Jul 23, 2009 6:03 pm UTC

Thanks for the big explanation. :)

inhahe wrote:the specific myths i'm trying to bust here are a) the fact that we think we know, when we really don't. there is much more that we don't know than that we do. science never approached Jung, for example, in matters of understanding human life. we don't know the simplest of things. why do we smile when we're happy? why do we roll our eyes when we're incredulous? it's grandiose to think that our scientific answers even come close to explaining life. of course you can say that it's all chemical processes resulting from biological evolution, and that the details of how this occurred are not relevant to the question of whether biological evolution is responsible.. but i'm not agreeing with that assumption and therefore contend that my examples don't fall under it. and b) i totally forgot what b was. :(

I'm not for placing faith in science as a source of wisdom. I think it's actually a very poor source of wisdom. Evolution is an extremely chaotic system that's hard to model. We're lucky with biological evolution that we have fossils and old DNA, and that the structure of DNA itself is directly measurable.

With behavior, I think we get a natural selection of culture where the fittest one survives. But we can't directly measure it since most of it lives in an abstract form in our mind. And we've got no fossils to look at the past. So it's a very fuzzy thing to study, and I'd say one of the most complex systems we know of.

However, I do like thinking of it in the big picture sense because it matches my intuition really well. Because it's so complicated, when we introduce large cultural changes, there are very likely to be very serious, unplanned side effects. I see people wanting to throw away old tradition because we can't explain why it's important, basically saying "I will ignore culture as a source of wisdom unless you can prove to me that it's valid.".

inhahe wrote:let's start with the inner experience of mind, consciousness, and all other facets of ourselves and others.
that's more top-based than atoms bouncing around and gene mutation, right? then from there we can try to infer truths about how this stuff is structured and what it's made up of. without being encumbered by unnecessary paradigms such as physical reductionism, we don't have to assume that this top-down approach is superseded by a bottom-up one.

Rather than looking within one mind, I'm more inclined to look bigger in scope. We should measure results of using varios moral systems. One mind is so limiting in scope (though it should be studied as a piece of the bigger picture). I think there's a huge gulf between what people think and how people actually behave.

And I do see evolutionary biology as a big-scope process. I think humans are such adaptable creatures because evolution gave us a way to store our programming in something more fluid than DNA. Culture itself is part of a natural selection process, and I think that is what gives rise to morality (though there's probably hooks for it down at the DNA level). What we see as good today is very different than 2000 years ago, and I doubt that comes from genetics. So I see it as a process at the macro level, not a culmination of countless micro events (even though that must be what happens). However, since it's such an unapproachable science in terms of evidence, I don't think it will yield a whole lot of results. (Unless of course we can figure out how to model and simulate it, but we're a very long ways from that.)
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Dark567 » Thu Jul 23, 2009 6:09 pm UTC

Variance wrote:I assume you mean either that A!=~A needs to be proved, or that A!=A needs to be disproved. This is, again, a definitional thing. Cogito ergo sum proves that existence exists and is existence and that it is not nonexistence, so one could argue that the claim that "existence exists" is an exception to burden of proof on the grounds that it is as much a default in arguments as the negative is everywhere else. It is, in essence, an absolute just like the negative absolute of nonexistence is. This means that the burden of proof is on the person who denies the default of existence existing, which means an infinite chain of "cannot deny" clauses can prove that A!=~A and 0!=1.

Yes I mean A!=~A needs to be proved, or that A!=A needs to be disproved. Really Cogito ergo sum proves existence, but no where does it disprove non-existence. You can't prove to me existence isn't non-existence unless you appeal to the assumption A!=~A. It's only an absolute because you say it is, you are still making the assumption that it is an absolute, that is something you haven't proven.

Although I generally agree that the burden of proof is on the person of those who deny existence, it doesn't mean you have proven logic, just that we should use it because it is the best system we have.

Variance wrote:You mean that we can't disprove that {A=A, A=~A}?

Not without logic, which you haven't proven yet.
Variance wrote:We've been through this before at this point, but existence is existence and nonexistence is nonexistence, and existence is not and never will be nonexistence because they are mutually exclusive absolutes.


All of those statements are assumptions. Actually those are two of the foundational assumptions of logic. (A=A and A!=~A) Yes they may be (arguably)trivial assumptions, but they are still assumptions. To assume anything is mutually exclusive is to assume A!= ~A. Again you are trying to prove the assumptions of logic with logic, something that is going to always end up in fallacy.
Variance wrote:As long as existence exists, which it does through cogito ergo sum, existence will be exclusive of nonexistence because for it to not exist would preclude that existence is not existence, but is nonexistence instead. To claim that existence can be both existence and nonexistence at the same time would only be possible if such a scenario existed, which mean that it could only happen when the scenario did exist. In this case, the scenario's existence would mean that something exists, and therefore existence exists by virtue of the scenario existing.
Essentially, were something to exist and not exist at the same time, it would exist, which would mean it would not be nonexistent. It's state of being would be one or the other, never both, because both would just mean that it is the former, existing.


To say "it would exist, which would mean it would not be nonexistent" is to assume (A!~=A).
For all of the above you are assuming logic, logic which you haven't proven to exist yet. You are using circular reasoning, a logical fallacy.


See above reasons why 1=1 and 1!=0 when 1 and 0 exist, the condition of 1 and 0 existing is all that is used.

What reasons? Reasons based off logic? You can't use logic to prove logic. And you can't prove 1!=0 without assuming A!=~A.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby setzer777 » Thu Jul 23, 2009 6:12 pm UTC

Variance wrote:
Ultimately you say these things are true by definition but without logic you can't tell me that two completely different definitions of a word can't exist at the same time.

You mean that we can't disprove that {A=A, A=~A}? We've been through this before at this point, but existence is existence and nonexistence is nonexistence, and existence is not and never will be nonexistence because they are mutually exclusive absolutes. As long as existence exists, which it does through cogito ergo sum, existence will be exclusive of nonexistence because for it to not exist would preclude that existence is not existence, but is nonexistence instead. To claim that existence can be both existence and nonexistence at the same time would only be possible if such a scenario existed, which mean that it could only happen when the scenario did exist. In this case, the scenario's existence would mean that something exists, and therefore existence exists by virtue of the scenario existing.


The problem is that when you say (for example), "They are mutually exclusive absolutes" you are ultimately just restating A!=~A, not providing proof for it. You say: "as long as existence exists ....[it] will be exclusive of nonexistence because for it to not exist would preclude that existence is....existence, but nonexistence instead." What if I deny that assertion and say that there is no need for "instead". If existence is nonexistence then it is existence *and* nonexistence - I suppose that claim would be dictated as:

(A=~A) = (A & ~A).

You can say that it's the definition that excludes it, but the definition of "nonexistence" can basically be boiled down to "not existence", or ~A, where A is existence. But then the claim that the definitions exclude each other is ultimately the claim that A!=~A, which is the very claim you are trying to prove as undeniable.

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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Variance » Fri Jul 24, 2009 3:22 am UTC

guenther wrote:Thanks for the big explanation. :)

No problem. I don't expect anyone to necessarily accept these ideas, it's more that I'm stress-testing them.

Dark567 wrote:Really Cogito ergo sum proves existence, but no where does it disprove non-existence. You can't prove to me existence isn't non-existence unless you appeal to the assumption A!=~A. It's only an absolute because you say it is, you are still making the assumption that it is an absolute, that is something you haven't proven.

Although I generally agree that the burden of proof is on the person of those who deny existence, it doesn't mean you have proven logic, just that we should use it because it is the best system we have.

All of those statements are assumptions. Actually those are two of the foundational assumptions of logic. (A=A and A!=~A) Yes they may be (arguably)trivial assumptions, but they are still assumptions. To assume anything is mutually exclusive is to assume A!= ~A. Again you are trying to prove the assumptions of logic with logic, something that is going to always end up in fallacy.

To better explain my premise, I'm going to try out a more Socratic bottom-up method. First, I think we need to come to a consensus on the nature of definitions. Definitions are, at least in my understanding, meanings of concepts that are always true. As for truth, truth is when correctness can be observed, such as how we observe "it is correct that A=A because it is always observed to be so." In much the same way as a deity's morality working only so far as the extent of his domain, logical fundamentals presumably will always work for our domain of existence because they cannot ever be shown to not work.

Let's say that somehow, a dimension could exist where existence equals nonexistence, or some such contradiction. Maybe there, logic would not work, but that is not the case here where existence observably is existence and the truth of the logical fundamentals is omnipresent in our dimension of existence existing. You could say that perhaps existence could be nonexistence when not observed, a basis for some kind of a brain-in-a-vat argument, but this is irrelevant, because anything that affects us necessarily can be observed.

So hypothetically, existence could equal nonexistence if you set A to equal ~A, but since that is not observable the case for our world, for all intents and purposes, anything that affects us even theoretically comes out of existence being existence and the logical fundamentals working. In essence, the only relevant possibility is that existence exists, because any possibility of existence not being existence or the logical fundamentals not working would not be able to affect us in any way. At least in my opinion, that establishes that logical fundamentals work in our world of existence, and even though they might not work elsewhere, we're not going anywhere else, so "elsewhere" is irrelevant.

From here, we would require proof that God exists, his kingdom is infinite, and his status of logical fundamentals is the same as ours (logic still works in the supernatural realm). Then, and presumably only then, would we be able to say that it is absolutely impossible for our logical fundamentals not to work because there is nowhere except where they do work, the infinite kingdom of God. Of course, proving the three things at the beginning of the paragraph consumes lives and sanity wholesale, so I won't venture into there. What I posit is that those three are the essential conditions for an absolute logic, and, therefore, the conditions for the basis of an absolutely correct moral system if the god were to have a defined moral system, such as in Christianity.

You can say that it's the definition that excludes it, but the definition of "nonexistence" can basically be boiled down to "not existence", or ~A, where A is existence. But then the claim that the definitions exclude each other is ultimately the claim that A!=~A, which is the very claim you are trying to prove as undeniable.

As a specific reply, they are undeniable where they work, which is our reality. They cannot be absolutely proven, but they can be empirically proven as scientific laws (Logic has always been observed and hypothetically always will be observed to work, so for all intents and purposes, it does.) Perhaps they could be deniable elsewhere or in other circumstances, but here, the nature of our universe and existence lends itself to the logical fundamentals when we encounter the fact that a scenario cannot even hypothetically be conceived of where one of the fundamentals would be observed to be untrue. So for all intents and purposes in life, logic works.

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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby setzer777 » Fri Jul 24, 2009 3:34 am UTC

By justifying logic by observation you are appealing to empiricism, which relies on significantly *more* assumptions than logic does.

I'm not saying we shouldn't accept all of this stuff, just that it doesn't meet your criteria of being proven without any assumptions at all.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Variance » Fri Jul 24, 2009 6:08 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote:By justifying logic by observation you are appealing to empiricism, which relies on significantly *more* assumptions than logic does.

I'm not saying we shouldn't accept all of this stuff, just that it doesn't meet your criteria of being proven without any assumptions at all.

I was moving more towards a probability argument with the whole observations thing, but I don't think I want to really go there. Anyway, this is why I argue that only the things that can be imagined or perceived could possibly affect us, because in order to affect us, they would need to be perceived, and I don't think we can perceive anything that does not agree with the fundamentals of logic or probability.

It could be said that we just haven't perceived anything yet that violates the fundamentals of logic, but at that point, I would have to question the origin of such a thing. As with anything that exists in the universe, it would have to have been created by a supernatural force (Cosmological argument), so there are two options: We can have a supernatural force that does not respect the fundamentals of logic, in which case all logic, and by extension, objective morality is useless, or we can have a supernatural force that respects logical fundamentals, in which case logic and objective morality can exist. This is why I argue that it is only by a logical supernatural being establishing absolutes can a moral system be absolutely correct.

Also, to be able to establish one correct moral system would seem to require some level of sentience, because while it can be argued that an unintelligent supernatural force created infinite universes, and so the existence of an intelligent supernatural force is not guaranteed, in the case of there being one objective morality across all space and time and existence, moralities would have to have been chosen between, and so probability indicates sentience. Anything less would not make the morality absolute.

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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Cup of Dirt » Sat Jul 25, 2009 1:38 am UTC

Variance, I have a question about something you said a little up-thread:

Variance wrote:What God then defines as good is presumably life and existence or a good god would not exist; therefore, life and existence would form the good basis of morality.


I think you're doing kind of a sleight-of-hand here. You're saying that God is the basis of morality. Any correct notion of morality follows from the properties of God. I said, okay, why are you assuming God is good? And you said, God lives and exists, and also created all other life and existence, and life and existence are good, and therefore God is good. You see? You're just assuming that life and existence are good, and from that assumption, the goodness of God follows. Not that that's a bad assumption to make; it's a very reasonable one that I make also. But it's logically prior to the inference that God is good. It doesn't depend on God's goodness, God's goodness depends on it. What's more, you can derive some system of morality just from the assumption that life and existence are intrinsically good, presumably without needing to invoke God at all. So, it's fine to assume that God is good, you can certainly form a consistent system using that assumption. But I don't see how that assumption buys you any more metaphysical certainty than the simple assumption that life and existence are good. But you seem to be saying that assuming God does give you more certainty, and I don't see how that can be. Can you explain?
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Variance » Sat Jul 25, 2009 2:26 pm UTC

Cup of Dirt wrote:Variance, I have a question about something you said a little up-thread:

Variance wrote:What God then defines as good is presumably life and existence or a good god would not exist; therefore, life and existence would form the good basis of morality.


I think you're doing kind of a sleight-of-hand here. You're saying that God is the basis of morality. Any correct notion of morality follows from the properties of God. I said, okay, why are you assuming God is good? And you said, God lives and exists, and also created all other life and existence, and life and existence are good, and therefore God is good. You see? You're just assuming that life and existence are good, and from that assumption, the goodness of God follows. Not that that's a bad assumption to make; it's a very reasonable one that I make also. But it's logically prior to the inference that God is good. It doesn't depend on God's goodness, God's goodness depends on it. What's more, you can derive some system of morality just from the assumption that life and existence are intrinsically good, presumably without needing to invoke God at all. So, it's fine to assume that God is good, you can certainly form a consistent system using that assumption. But I don't see how that assumption buys you any more metaphysical certainty than the simple assumption that life and existence are good. But you seem to be saying that assuming God does give you more certainty, and I don't see how that can be. Can you explain?

Yeah, I'm not sure as to the context of the quote, but this is what I've been trying to convey:

-Life and existence are not inherently good from any secular point of view, as nothing exists to guarantee them and set them as absolutes. So something supernatural is required to establish absolutes like morality.

-Given an omnipotent God, anything he sets as good is therefore good. A non-omnipotent God wouldn't cut it, kind of in the sense that whatever morality he set would not necessarily be absolutely correct because absolute power is required to set absolutes. So an omnipotent God is capable of establishing absolute morality. (Also, if such a god set morality to "kill everything", it would presumably be good and override our inherent morality, because he has absolute power.)

-All that is left now is to find out which God exists, if that can be found, which is contested, and match your morality up to his if you want to prove your morality. You can argue that God can't be proved with logic, but in that case, he can't really be proved at all. The three points here establish my two requirements of absolute morality:
---A supernatural force that can be empirically or logically proven.
---That the force you prove has a morality, arguably precluding that it be sentient.

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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby andrewclunn » Sat Jul 25, 2009 3:13 pm UTC

I have a question for the original poster. Was the thread that inspired this one this one? I'm only asking because I'm not sure if my input here would derail this from a general thread about morality into a discussion about Objectivism (Since you mentioned Rand in your first post though, that might not be unwelcome.) I would like to post here, but I've noticed that (for some reason) when I post in a thread I tend to always lead the argument a certain way, and wouldn't want to do that here if that goes against what you were intending with this thread.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby thatblackguy » Sat Jul 25, 2009 6:37 pm UTC

andrewclunn wrote:I have a question for the original poster. Was the thread that inspired this one this one? I'm only asking because I'm not sure if my input here would derail this from a general thread about morality into a discussion about Objectivism (Since you mentioned Rand in your first post though, that might not be unwelcome.) I would like to post here, but I've noticed that (for some reason) when I post in a thread I tend to always lead the argument a certain way, and wouldn't want to do that here if that goes against what you were intending with this thread.

You do terrible job representing Objectivism.
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Variance » Sun Jul 26, 2009 3:30 pm UTC

andrewclunn wrote:I have a question for the original poster. Was the thread that inspired this one this one?

No. But, I do agree with Ayn Rand's philosophy, at least insofar as that it fully works with the Natural World.

thatblackguy wrote:
andrewclunn wrote:I have a question for the original poster. Was the thread that inspired this one this one? I'm only asking because I'm not sure if my input here would derail this from a general thread about morality into a discussion about Objectivism (Since you mentioned Rand in your first post though, that might not be unwelcome.) I would like to post here, but I've noticed that (for some reason) when I post in a thread I tend to always lead the argument a certain way, and wouldn't want to do that here if that goes against what you were intending with this thread.

You do terrible job representing Objectivism.

Well, he does seem very focused on his ability to turn the tide of threads through the sheer power of his ideas and input.

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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby diotimajsh » Mon Jul 27, 2009 6:08 am UTC

Variance wrote:... I argue that only the things that can be imagined or perceived could possibly affect us, because in order to affect us, they would need to be perceived, and I don't think we can perceive anything that does not agree with the fundamentals of logic or probability.
Hmm. I think it's a bit misleading to say we're only affected by "things we can perceive". In the ordinary sense of the word, we do not directly perceive ultrasonic sounds or ultraviolet light; rather, we infer their existence from otherwise observable consequences (e.g., we perceive a spectrogram or spectrometer, or we observe ultrasonic disintegration, etc.). Yet, clearly these things do affect us (see also: skin cancer).

It does not seem far-fetched to me that we might be affected (perhaps constantly and severely!) by things the nature of which we cannot properly imagine. That may be the case with quantum mechanics, for example (or whatever the "correct" theories of physics are). It is an optimistic assumption that the human mind can accurately model the full extent of the natural world--an assumption that helps us make progress with our understanding, true, but an assumption nonetheless.

As for empirical observations that do not accord with logic, for the most part you're right. But, again quantum mechanics makes things a little hazy: the study of quantum logic suggests that our ordinary, intuitive understanding of logic might not apply perfectly to reality in all cases.

Variance wrote:Also, to be able to establish one correct moral system would seem to require some level of sentience, because while it can be argued that an unintelligent supernatural force created infinite universes, and so the existence of an intelligent supernatural force is not guaranteed, in the case of there being one objective morality across all space and time and existence, moralities would have to have been chosen between, and so probability indicates sentience. Anything less would not make the morality absolute.
I disagree. Based on what you've said in this thread, there's no reason that a "randomly selected" morality couldn't be just as absolute as one chosen by sentience--I mean, it would still apply absolutely and it would have been created by a being with absolute power, yes? As you say in your following post, "Given an omnipotent God, anything he sets as good is therefore good", which I take to mean literally anything, not just anything that we think corresponds to an intelligently chosen moral system.

Unless you try to smuggle intelligence into the definition of omnipotence too...?

Variance wrote:Definitions are, at least in my understanding, meanings of concepts that are always true. As for truth, truth is when correctness can be observed, such as how we observe "it is correct that A=A because it is always observed to be so." In much the same way as a deity's morality working only so far as the extent of his domain, logical fundamentals presumably will always work for our domain of existence because they cannot ever be shown to not work.
So, I'm basically borrowing one of the critiques of logical positivism here, but can you observe the truth of the principle that "Truth is when correctness can be observed"? If you can't, then surely we can't say that it's a true statement... in which case, we cannot say that your definition of "truth" is correct itself, going by your stated definition of "definition". Moreover, I do not see how you can ever make an observation about something so abstract as truth, nor do I see how you can "observe correctness" without already having a notion of truth to judge from. (In the sense that I think you're using observation, that is.)
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Re: The basis of ethics and morality

Postby Variance » Mon Jul 27, 2009 6:41 pm UTC

diotimajsh wrote:Hmm. I think it's a bit misleading to say we're only affected by "things we can perceive". In the ordinary sense of the word, we do not directly perceive ultrasonic sounds or ultraviolet light; rather, we infer their existence from otherwise observable consequences (e.g., we perceive a spectrogram or spectrometer, or we observe ultrasonic disintegration, etc.). Yet, clearly these things do affect us (see also: skin cancer).

I include scientific measurement (indirect observation) and deductive reasoning (logic) in my definition of "perceive", to clarify that.

It does not seem far-fetched to me that we might be affected (perhaps constantly and severely!) by things the nature of which we cannot properly imagine. That may be the case with quantum mechanics, for example (or whatever the "correct" theories of physics are). It is an optimistic assumption that the human mind can accurately model the full extent of the natural world--an assumption that helps us make progress with our understanding, true, but an assumption nonetheless.

My point was more that anything that can be perceived to affect us is being perceived indirectly, in that we can see that it is affecting us. If perception of an effect is not the basis of our reality, then I can say unicorns exist despite no perception of nature of effect of their being. The only things that can be shown to exist or act are the only ones that matter, because otherwise they have no bearing on us. In all truth, unicorns could exist, but because they don't affect us and can't be seen or understood, they have no meaning for us and for all intents and purposes, they don't exist. The burden of proof concept doesn't really mean that unicorns don't exist unless shown otherwise, but that they have no relevance unless shown to exist, and therefore can be disregarded without proof.

our ordinary, intuitive understanding of logic might not apply perfectly to reality in all cases.

Regardless of what we think it is, reality has a nature, so if a new thing is observed, it becomes part of a new revision of our reality. However, that means the old reality was incorrect, meaning that the reality we perceive is not necessarily the absolute correctness, but is all that is relevant. After all, quantum mechanics was never relevant before we discovered it had an impact, so while it existed, it had no bearing on life. As soon as we observed it, it became reality, even if we didn't and never do fully understand it.

Also, I just want to clarify that I am defining absolute reality separate from perceived reality.

I disagree. Based on what you've said in this thread, there's no reason that a "randomly selected" morality couldn't be just as absolute as one chosen by sentience--I mean, it would still apply absolutely and it would have been created by a being with absolute power, yes? As you say in your following post, "Given an omnipotent God, anything he sets as good is therefore good", which I take to mean literally anything, not just anything that we think corresponds to an intelligently chosen moral system.

I agree that a randomly selected morality could be just as absolute, I'm more saying that there would have been no reason for an unintelligent force to establish an absolute morality while there is a reason for God to establish a morality to accomplish goals, mostly the preservation of life. God is the only one conscious to be able to accomplish the action of setting and defining morality, regardless of its content. So the unlikelihood of a random moral system lies not in the likelihood of accidental choice of a "correct" moral system, it lies in the choice of a moral system at all, which I contend to be extremely unlikely.


So, I'm basically borrowing one of the critiques of logical positivism here, but can you observe the truth of the principle that "Truth is when correctness can be observed"? If you can't, then surely we can't say that it's a true statement... in which case, we cannot say that your definition of "truth" is correct itself, going by your stated definition of "definition". Moreover, I do not see how you can ever make an observation about something so abstract as truth, nor do I see how you can "observe correctness" without already having a notion of truth to judge from. (In the sense that I think you're using observation, that is.)

The definitions of definition and truth were me getting a bit off topic, but to clarify through epistemology: Truth is when something that can be potentially correct, an assertion or fact, can be shown to be correct, through proof of some sort. i.e, The assertion that "unicorns exist" is not true because it cannot be shown to be correct through proof, but the assertion that "My consciousness exists" can be proved through Cogito ergo sum, or the idea that "molten iron is hot" can be shown to be true by observing molten iron and seeing if it complies with the commonly accepted and existing definition of "hot".

An ethical corollary to the above is that the assertion that "murder is bad" can be shown to be true if it is corroborated by the commonly accepted morals. My conflict is whether the commonly accepted morals have any basis or reason for truth, which would be the only way to prove that murder is bad.


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