Author Topic: Do you believe in objective morality?  (Read 21193 times)

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Offline John Albert

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Re: Do you believe in objective morality?
« Reply #105 on: July 07, 2018, 04:25:44 PM »
If they are not all opinions, John, how do you get from what people believe to what they ought to do?

That's the easy part, thanks to Immanuel Kant. His categorical imperatives offer a rational method for determining how to act in accordance to prescribed values. The problem is not so much how to put beliefs into action, but how to determine whether any given beliefs are objectively "good" in the first place (i.e. the Is-Ought Problem).

We as a society are still in the process of working that out. As per Martin Luther King Jr's famous paraphrase of a certain Unitarian theologian, "the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

As I see it, the single question at the root of objective morality is this: Are all value judgments 100% subjective, or is it logically possible to evaluate any one thing as being objectively better than another? Or is better-worse a subjective judgment by necessity?


So far all you’ve argued is that if enough people believe it, it is (or may be?) objectively moral.

That's not exactly my argument. What I've been saying is that some context is always required, even in questions of objectivity. Context is necessitated by the fact that we're not omniscient, dispassionate observers.


I’ll grant that those people objectively believe that it’s moral, but how do you get from that to it being true for all beings in all times and places independent of those people’s beliefs?

I don't believe that any single moral system can be 100% acceptable to all "beings" (read to mean "human beings") in all times and places.

That discrepancy becomes obvious in the study of historiography. I don't believe that it's quite fair to judge the morality of a person living in an earlier historical period by the advanced moral standards of later periods. We can say, for example, that Thomas Jefferson may have been considered a paragon of virtue by the standards of his own day, but a man acting on the same values today would be considered a monster.

But a moral system can be objective from within the context of the parent culture that developed the moral system. For example, we know that the ancient Spartans required their young people to kill another human being as a rite of passage. That fact about their moral system is objectively true, regardless of our own modern opinions about it. From within the context of the ancient Spartan system of values, killing a Heliot was not just an objectively moral act, but a definitive requirement of that society's mores.

That being said, if we humans are ever able to unite all of the world's cultures behind a single moral system (no matter how basic or simplistic that system may be), that moral system could rightly be considered objective, universal, and contemporary. It wouldn't be eternal in the sense of being true for all times and places, but it would be an objective moral system for all humans at that point in time. And it could also be progressive in roughly the same manner as science, with additions of new moral understanding building upon the established knowledge to revise the system going forward. I believe a system like this is worth striving toward.


How do you bridge the is-ought gap?

I don't have a ready solution for that. My only meager contribution is to make the following observations:
  • All evaluations are dependent upon the assessor's own viewpoint.
  • Viewpoints require sentience to make the observations, and a sapient mind to perform the evaluation.
  • Therefore, evaluations are a function of a sentient, sapient mind.
  • Objectivity is that which is true regardless who says it. But just because everyone agrees on a given proposition, that doesn't necessarily mean that said proposition is necessarily true. It may be deemed "objective" in the sense that everyone accepts it as true, but everyone could nevertheless be wrong about it.
 
As for our disagreement about the existence of subjective truth, I’ll grant your position for the sake of argument.  I’m not really interested in arguing over definitions.  Please assume that, from the beginning of this thread, any time I have said “subjective truth” I have meant “subjective opinion.” I’ll stand by all of my arguments with the wording change.

(Note: I do believe that one can validly argue that some things are subjectively true, I just don’t think it’s relevent to the question of whether morality can be objective).

Please don't just grant my position for the sake of argument. I'm genuinely interested to hear how a concept of subjective truth can possibly work.

Does it hinge on the word "justified" in the epistemological definition of truth (as "justified true belief")?
« Last Edit: July 07, 2018, 06:47:00 PM by John Albert »

Offline daniel1948

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Re: Do you believe in objective morality?
« Reply #106 on: July 07, 2018, 06:34:49 PM »
... We can say, for example, that Thomas Jefferson may have been considered a paragon of virtue by the standards of his own day, but a man acting on the same values today would be considered a monster. ...

Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant man and an eloquent writer. But by his own standards as well as the standards of many of his peers, he was a monster and a profligate. Slavery was not universally accepted, even among land-owning white men (Jefferson's peers). Jefferson had his slaves whipped if they took his own words too seriously.
Daniel
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Offline John Albert

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Re: Do you believe in objective morality?
« Reply #107 on: July 07, 2018, 06:42:43 PM »
... We can say, for example, that Thomas Jefferson may have been considered a paragon of virtue by the standards of his own day, but a man acting on the same values today would be considered a monster. ...

Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant man and an eloquent writer. But by his own standards as well as the standards of many of his peers, he was a monster and a profligate. Slavery was not universally accepted, even among land-owning white men (Jefferson's peers). Jefferson had his slaves whipped if they took his own words too seriously.

Then he wasn't a very good example of the concept I was trying to express. Can you think of a better one?

Offline daniel1948

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Re: Do you believe in objective morality?
« Reply #108 on: July 07, 2018, 08:03:48 PM »
... We can say, for example, that Thomas Jefferson may have been considered a paragon of virtue by the standards of his own day, but a man acting on the same values today would be considered a monster. ...

Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant man and an eloquent writer. But by his own standards as well as the standards of many of his peers, he was a monster and a profligate. Slavery was not universally accepted, even among land-owning white men (Jefferson's peers). Jefferson had his slaves whipped if they took his own words too seriously.

Then he wasn't a very good example of the concept I was trying to express. Can you think of a better one?

Actually, I can't. But that might be due to my Aspergers. When I think someone is a jerk I have a really hard time seeing him from the POV of someone who thinks he's not.

I studied a bit of Mexican history while I was learning Spanish in Mexico. The Aztecs migrated to the Valley of Mexico about a hundred years before the Spaniards arrived. In that time they became the dominant nation in the region, conducting a series of wars known as The Flowery Wars, to obtain people to be sacrificed to the Sun god, Huitzilopochtli. By the time of the Conquest, they were sacrificing, IIRC, about ten thousand people a year.

We were then admonished not to judge them by our standards today, but rather by the standards of their time.

But the fact was that this behavior earned them the enmity of all the other nations in the region, so much so that when Cortez arrived he was able to forge alliances with all the other nations of the region. It was not 500 Spaniards against the Aztec empire. It was 500 Spaniards along with the armies of every other nation in Central Mexico, against the Aztec empire.

The Aztecs' behavior, according to the morality of all the surrounding peoples, was evil.

But the Aztecs believed that the sacrifices were necessary, and therefore moral, because without blood to give him strength, Huitzilopochtli, the Sun, would be unable to cross below the Earth at night and rise the next morning. Both sides were convinced that theirs was the correct moral stance. My subjective morality says they were really nasty. But they'd have disagreed.

The sacrifices stopped, and the sun continued to rise. Maybe he really does need blood, but there's plenty of bloodshed in the world without the Aztecs contributing to it. Either way, they didn't need to kill all those people.
Daniel
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Offline The Latinist

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Re: Do you believe in objective morality?
« Reply #109 on: July 08, 2018, 03:52:11 AM »
Alright, John, let's get down to brass tacks: you misunderstand what it means for a thing to be objective or subjective.  You've repeatedly talked about the distinction being whether something is true "no matter who says it," but that's not what objectivity is.  Objectivity and subjectivity are about the relationship of an observer (the subject) and a thing observed (the object). A thing is objectively true if it is true for all subjects.  Such things must be intrinsically true as objects, without regard to the perspective, opinion, or values of the person who is observing it (the subject). The statement "the mass of the electron is approximately 9.10938356(11)×10−31 kg" is such a truth because the mass of the electron does not depend on the opinion or perspective of the observer. Whether you or I or a resident of Alpha Centauri is doing the measuring, the truth or falsity of the statement is the same.  Such things are the province of science, which is uniquely able to verify or falsify them through reproducible experimentation.

The opposite of this kind of truth is one which depends upon the perspective of the observer (the subject). For illustration, let's consider the fact that my wife is beautiful. I can assure you that, from my perspective, this is true; but from your perspective it may not be, and from the perspective of the slime creatures of the bogs of Alpha Centauri she may be positively hideous. While it is true for me that my wife is beautiful, it is only true because of my personal perspective, and its truth may not hold for other subjects. The truth of the statement, because it depends on the perspective of the subject, is called subjective.

Now let's consider the statement "it is moral of a young Spartiate to kill a helot as part of his military training."  You and I both agree that, from the perspective of a Spartan, that statement is true."  And I think we both also agree that from the perspective of a person today that act might not be moral. Just like my wife's beauty, then, the morality of killing a helot depend on the perspective of the subject.  It is not a thing that is independently true, but one which is true, to use your words, only "from within the context of the parent culture that developed the moral system." You want to call that statement objective, but the necessity of the qualifier proves that it is, in fact, subjective.

There is no such thing as a fact that is objectively true from a certain perspective or within a certain context; by definition such facts are subjective. That doesn't make them any less valuable or worth striving to understand, of course.  As I said before, some of the most important truths in the world--including my wife's beauty--are in the eye of the beholder.

I wish to add one more point, which I believe I previously mentioned: it may be possible to know objectively what a person or group believes is moral (such as that the Spartans believed it was moral to kill a helot). Assuming that the historical record is reliable, that is a fact which is true regardless of the perspective of the student of history.  But that doesn't mean that the act of killing a helot itself is (or was) objectively moral; its morality continues to be dependent on the perspectives of those same Spartans, and it is therefore subjective.  Likewise, it is objectively true that I believe torturing a sentient being for pleasure is wrong; but that does not make my opinion objectively true.  And even if you could determine objectively that all living humans believed as I do, that would not render their moral judgment objectively true; its truth would continue to depend on their values and it would continue to be true only in the context of those values.  In other words, it would be subjective.
« Last Edit: July 08, 2018, 03:56:41 AM by The Latinist »
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Offline John Albert

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Re: Do you believe in objective morality?
« Reply #110 on: July 09, 2018, 12:02:08 PM »
Alright, John, let's get down to brass tacks: you misunderstand what it means for a thing to be objective or subjective.

Yeah, let's get down to brass tacks. I'm trying to have a conversation, whereas you're trying to "win" by condescendingly declaring that I don't understand, and then reiterating your opinion over and over again. I do understand your opinion, and I'm asking you to consider an alternative view.


You've repeatedly talked about the distinction being whether something is true "no matter who says it," but that's not what objectivity is.[/  Objectivity and subjectivity are about the relationship of an observer (the subject) and a thing observed (the object). A thing is objectively true if it is true for all subjects. Such things must be intrinsically true as objects, without regard to the perspective, opinion, or values of the person who is observing it (the subject).

In essence, my definition ("true no matter who says it") means the same thing. Objectivity refers to an object, whereas subjectivity refers to an experience, description, interpretation, or preference in the mind of some observer.

The differences between experience, interpretation, and preference are also well worth exploring in this discussion. Subjectivity includes not only perceptions of real objects, but also personal opinions about them. The distinction between perceptions and opinions parse out very differently in this context.

A human mind is capable of acknowledging a certain object while at the same time holding an unfavorable opinion about it. Does that render the object subjective? No.
 

The statement "the mass of the electron is approximately 9.10938356(11)×10−31 kg" is such a truth because the mass of the electron does not depend on the opinion or perspective of the observer.

That's true if you're talking about the rest mass of an electron in general, or the measured mass of a specific electron with which you happen to share a common inertial reference frame. But in non-inertial reference frames, the relative acceleration and direction of travel of the electron and the observer also factor into calculations of the electron's mass. So it's objective in theory, but subjective in practice. ;)

At any rate, scientific facts aren't the only things that are objective. Math and logic are also objective, as are some fictions.

Instead of a technical problem in physics, let's choose an example that's a little closer to a moral evaluation. I keep going back to laws because they're an easily recognizable example of an objectified system of morality.

The statement "the speed limit for cars on the interstate in Idaho is 80 miles per hour" is an objective truth because that's how the law is written.

It doesn't matter that:
  • a given observer be driving a truck which is only allowed to go 70 mph
  • a given observer may be from Texas where they're allowed to drive 85 mph on the highway
  • a given observer may be from Germany where they're allowed to drive as fast as they want on the Autobahn
  • a given observer gets confused between miles and kilometers
  • a given observer thinks that speed limits in general are bad laws
All those subjective conditions are irrelevant to the fact that the 80 mile per hour speed limit is an objective truth within the context of driving a car on a closed highway in the state of Idaho in the current day.


Whether you or I or a resident of Alpha Centauri is doing the measuring, the truth or falsity of the statement is the same.

Get back to me when you're able to introduce me to your friend from Alpha Centauri. Until then, let's assume we're talking about just human beings making the moral evaluations.
 

The opposite of this kind of truth is one which depends upon the perspective of the observer (the subject). For illustration, let's consider the fact that my wife is beautiful. I can assure you that, from my perspective, this is true; but from your perspective it may not be, and from the perspective of the slime creatures of the bogs of Alpha Centauri she may be positively hideous. While it is true for me that my wife is beautiful, it is only true because of my personal perspective, and its truth may not hold for other subjects. The truth of the statement, because it depends on the perspective of the subject, is called subjective.

I do appreciate the romance of your example. But beyond your own personal feelings of honesty, such a statement really has nothing to do with truth. It's an opinion, or in the language of the US Supreme Court, a "sincerely held belief."   

Truth is "that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality." That is, by definition, objective.

I'm still having trouble understanding how you reconcile an oxymoron like "subjective truth" together with the opinion that morals cannot be objective.


Now let's consider the statement "it is moral of a young Spartiate to kill a helot as part of his military training."  You and I both agree that, from the perspective of a Spartan, that statement is true." And I think we both also agree that from the perspective of a person today that act might not be moral.

If you and I were actually living in ancient Sparta, it would be an objective social obligation for both of us, because it was objectively part of Spartan culture. That is, all observers of Spartan culture could agree that it was a requirement of that culture, regardless whether they liked the idea. Every year, ancient Sparta would declare an ad hoc "war" on helots and young soldiers were required to do the killing; if we were in that position, the moral imperative would have been upon us just as surely as the speed limit is on drivers in Idaho.

Would something like that be considered moral by today's standards? I don't believe it is, and it's not considered moral in any industrialized countries I can think of. Nevertheless, ancient Sparta was a different time and place. There's nothing inherent to the concept of morality that says it must hold true for all observers in all places for all times.

 
There is no such thing as a fact that is objectively true from a certain perspective or within a certain context; by definition such facts are subjective.

No, this is wrong. Things don't have to be universally and/or eternally true in order to be objective. What matters is that they're true for all observers within the same context.

Objects change over time, existing for awhile and then they go away. The World Trade Center towers objectively existed at one time, but are now gone. Not only physical objects, but objective conditions can also exist in some places and not others. It might be a sweltering day in Arizona, but there could be a blizzard in Argentina at exactly the same time. Are those conditions merely subjective just because they're local? No, they're still objective (ie. true independent of all observers) within their local contexts (times and places).


I wish to add one more point, which I believe I previously mentioned: it may be possible to know objectively what a person or group believes is moral (such as that the Spartans believed it was moral to kill a helot). Assuming that the historical record is reliable, that is a fact which is true regardless of the perspective of the student of history.  But that doesn't mean that the act of killing a helot itself is (or was) objectively moral; its morality continues to be dependent on the perspectives of those same Spartans, and it is therefore subjective.  Likewise, it is objectively true that I believe torturing a sentient being for pleasure is wrong; but that does not make my opinion objectively true.  And even if you could determine objectively that all living humans believed as I do, that would not render their moral judgment objectively true; its truth would continue to depend on their values and it would continue to be true only in the context of those values.  In other words, it would be subjective.

Subjective beliefs are irrelevant to the truth.

Something (like a moral system) can objectively exist in writing and in practice, and people can nevertheless have subjective opinions about it. People might even subjectively refuse to believe in it, but that doesn't make it cease to exist. Likewise, the Earth is objectively spherical, but some people believing it's flat doesn't change the fact.
« Last Edit: July 10, 2018, 02:35:14 PM by John Albert »

Offline Shibboleth

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Re: Do you believe in objective morality?
« Reply #111 on: July 09, 2018, 01:06:59 PM »
Math and logic are also objective, as are some fictions.

Actually math is an abstraction. The thing that math has over morality is the general consensus that certain axioms are true. Not only can you not say that with morality but you also have value added to moral axioms. Not just if something is bad or good but how bad and how good.
« Last Edit: July 09, 2018, 01:21:07 PM by Shibboleth »
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Offline The Latinist

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Re: Do you believe in objective morality?
« Reply #112 on: July 09, 2018, 03:41:49 PM »
As I said before, John, I don’t care whether you call it subjective truth or subjective opinion.  It’s becoming semantic (although there are very important philosophical implications that we could discuss in another thread), and moving away from the actual topic of this thread.  Assume that everywhere I have said subjective truth or subjectively true I have been referring to what you call subjective opinions.  That doesn’t affect the fact that moral statements are of that type.

So here’s the issue we’re having: you are talking about morality in a descriptive way.  You are saying that morality is whatever obligations a society puts on its members, and that it is possible to determine objectively what those obligations are.  You then call those moral obligations “objective” for members of that society.

The problem is, though, that you haven’t actually removed the dependence upon the subject. In fact, the judgments of the subjects are explicitly how you are defining the morality.  Killing helots isn’t moral right in itself; it is moral for Spartans (the subject) because Spartans (the subject) believe it’s moral. The morality of the act depends utterly on who is doing it.  How can that possibly be anything but subjective?

Ultimately, you are conflating the objective existence of an opinion with that opinion being objectively true.  The two are not the same thing.
I would like to propose...that...it is undesirable to believe in a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. — Bertrand Russell

Offline John Albert

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Re: Do you believe in objective morality?
« Reply #113 on: July 10, 2018, 12:28:59 PM »
As I said before, John, I don’t care whether you call it subjective truth or subjective opinion. [...]  Assume that everywhere I have said subjective truth or subjectively true I have been referring to what you call subjective opinions.  That doesn’t affect the fact that moral statements are of that type.

I acknowledge that "subjective truth" is a recognized concept in philosophy, but I think that it's problematic if we're also defining "truth" as "that which corresponds to reality." In that context, "subjective truth" is an oxymoron.

Experiments in cognitive psychology have revealed that our senses are deceptive, our facilities for logical reasoning are limited, and even consciousness itself is but a narrative that our brains synthesize out of sensory input. Thus, our entire perception of the universe comes to us through a veil of our own subjectivity. If one considers "subjective truth" a real thing, then all truths must be subjective since none of us can get outside our own heads in order to experience objectivity.

But there might be a way out of that problem. A few pages back, Daniel1948 argued that a shared subjective view does not aggregate into objectivity. I'm mostly inclined to agree; opinions don't become facts just because enough people believe.

But on the other hand we paltry humans have already come up with at least one process that leverages aggregate opinions into ideological models that get us very close to an objective view.

You mentioned scientific facts as an example of objective truths. To be honest I'm a little iffy on that, but there's no doubt that the scientific method is the best means we've yet devised to overcome our animal limitations and get closer to an internally-consistent (if not completely objective) view of the universe.


It’s becoming semantic (although there are very important philosophical implications that we could discuss in another thread), and moving away from the actual topic of this thread.

There's nothing wrong with exploring the semantics of this discussion. Semantics are important because the ideas we're discussing are so nuanced, we need to precisely define them to avoid confusion. If we both use the same word in two different ways, a conversation can go round and round for tens of pages without any resolution until we address the semantics.

We could ask the mods to break that discussion off into another thread if you think it would make for a wortwhile topic on its own. But I don't really see a thread about semantics generating much interest on these forums. Most members here just tend to complain about them. And because the semantics are already causing confusion in this discussion, I feel that we may as well address them right here.


So here’s the issue we’re having: you are talking about morality in a descriptive way. You are saying that morality is whatever obligations a society puts on its members, and that it is possible to determine objectively what those obligations are.

Yes. That is one of the common usages of "morality."

         
Quote
mo·ral·i·ty

noun

1. principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.

2. a particular system of values and principles of conduct, especially one held by a specified person or society.
plural noun: moralities
"a bourgeois morality"

3. the extent to which an action is right or wrong.
"behind all the arguments lies the issue of the morality of the possession of nuclear weapons"

For whatever it's worth, I don't believe that any single, universal and eternal form of morality exists, and I seriously doubt that such a thing could possibly exist. But you know what they say about saying "never."

Just the same, I don't find that question very interesting. For most of us freethinkers, it's just, "no, of course not!" then close the thread and move on.

That's why I find it much more edifying to look at the past and present moral systems that objectively exist, and explore the means by which some universally acceptable, science-based moral system (perhaps something akin to the progressive social environment of the Federation in the Star Trek universe) might be achieved in the future. 


You then call those moral obligations “objective” for members of that society.

Moral systems become objectified when they become acknowledged by the populace and ingrained into social behaviors. The most obvious example of this is when laws are codified. Laws are systems of morality devised and enforced by the authority of some government, state, religious institution, etc. Once a law has been laid down, it becomes an objective "fact" whether individuals like it or not.


The problem is, though, that you haven’t actually removed the dependence upon the subject.

The question becomes, "who is the subject"? Is it a necessity that each individual must decide for themselves which actions are moral? I don't believe it is.

If a given moral question is decided by dictate from some prevailing authority (like a legal code, religious dogma, or cultural tradition) then I as an individual living in the society can't honestly say that such dictate is untrue. Of course I could decide on my own to act as if it were untrue, but that action may bring about some inconvenient consequences. In that sense, the given moral question is for all practical purposes an objective fact.

But this also raises an interesting possibility: can the "subject" of a "subjective" moral system be derived from an objective fact? The study of Sociology uses quantitative techniques to reach objective determinations about "subjective" topics like collective opinions and cultural values. These kinds of objective metrics often make their way into the design of institutional and civic moral systems. Does this approach make those systems better or worse, or more or less objective?   


In fact, the judgments of the subjects are explicitly how you are defining the morality.  Killing helots isn’t moral right in itself; it is moral for Spartans (the subject) because Spartans (the subject) believe it’s moral. The morality of the act depends utterly on who is doing it.

When you say "depends utterly on," I'm taking that to mean "is determined by." Hence, "The morality of the act [is determined by] who is doing it."

The morality doesn't necessarily depend on the individual doing the action; it depends on whatever authority or cultural imperative has mandated the action. The authority in question may be an autocrat (in which case the "objective" moral system is enforced at the "subjective" whim of an individual under the threat of violence). Or it may have developed culturally over the course of centuries by the society as a whole (I don't know if that necessarily means its origins are more or less subjective).

By the way, I fully realize that this view I'm espousing is a kinda-sorta moral relativism. But while I acknowledge that countless objective moral systems may exist, I still reserve the right to my own subjective moral judgment as to which are better or worse then others, and which of their specific moral precepts are "right" or "wrong." 


How can that possibly be anything but subjective?

It's "subjective" in the sense that it was originally derived from some individual or society's set of values, but "objective" in the sense that it's been codified or accepted into law by the culture at large and all observers would agree that it's an established characteristic of the society.


Ultimately, you are conflating the objective existence of an opinion with that opinion being objectively true. The two are not the same thing.

I'm not conflating those two things. Of course I'm well aware that there's no eternal, universal, "true" source of morality that all individuals in the universe (even those hypothetical beings from another planet) must agree upon. That's a false, self-serving narrative promoted by some religions, which invariably includes the doctrine that all morality must originate from the religion's own creator god, or else be merely "subjective" and based on the whims of individuals.

But I don't believe that's necessary for morality to exist. Objective moral systems exist all around us. We as a global society already agree on a number of basic moral precepts without any overarching authority to impose them on us. And any student of history can observe that human morality and ethics tends to evolve and refine itself over time, according to the social progress of civilizations.

Here are the questions I propose: can a similar methodology, akin to science, be developed to evaluate moral questions in such an objective way? Can we find a testable, verifiable way to determine a universally-agreeable set of root values, and thereby implement universal human rights? Can we also balance that imperative with effective curation of our environment? 
« Last Edit: July 11, 2018, 03:03:14 PM by John Albert »

Offline John Albert

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Re: Do you believe in objective morality?
« Reply #114 on: July 10, 2018, 02:37:25 PM »
Math and logic are also objective, as are some fictions.

Actually math is an abstraction. The thing that math has over morality is the general consensus that certain axioms are true. Not only can you not say that with morality but you also have value added to moral axioms. Not just if something is bad or good but how bad and how good.

It wasn't my intention to compare the objectivity of math with that of morality.

Offline The Latinist

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Re: Do you believe in objective morality?
« Reply #115 on: July 10, 2018, 04:24:11 PM »
So this comes down to semantics.  You’re interpreting the question of whether morality can be objective as about whether moral systems objectively exist.  Forgive me, but I don’t think that’s what anyone else in this thread means when we talk about morality being objective.  Frankly, it’s a pretty inane question since there is ample and accessible evidence everywhere for the objective existence of a multitude of moral systems; there’s just no controversy or reason to ask that question  What everyone else here is asking is the much more important question (about which there is significant disagreement in our society) of whether it is possible for moral judgments to be objectively true or “right.”

So, yes, I’ll readily grant that moral systems objectively exist.  But I don’t think that’s what this thread is about, and I find it rather hard to believe that you think it is.
I would like to propose...that...it is undesirable to believe in a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. — Bertrand Russell

Offline John Albert

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Re: Do you believe in objective morality?
« Reply #116 on: July 11, 2018, 02:19:51 PM »
So this comes down to semantics.

Yeah, we already established that.


You’re interpreting the question of whether morality can be objective as about whether moral systems objectively exist.

No, I am not interpreting the question as whether moral systems objectively exist.

First of all, the question is not whether morality can be objective. The question posed in the OP is whether I [or we] believe in objective morality. (Itself eliciting a subjective opinion, but that's neither here nor there.)

I'm interpreting the question of "objectivity" to mean whether a moral system can be objectively regarded as a binding set of rules for a given people at a given time. There's a difference between saying that, and saying a moral system merely "exists."

Everybody has their own ideas about morals. A personal, subjective moral precept may serve as a guideline for one's own behavior, but that doesn't extend beyond the individual.

But when a moral precept is adopted by a society, codified as a law, or dictated by a ruling authority, it becomes applicable to the members of that society. Its legitimacy becomes an objective truth, regardless of any individual's opinion. In that sense, it becomes objectified. Same goes for religious laws like the Ten Commandments. All observers, regardless whether they're part of that society or whether they personally agree it's right, can still agree that it's an objective moral precept of that society.

You appear to be interpreting the word "objective" to mean that every sentient being in all places in the universe at all points in time must agree, or else it's not objective. (At least that's what you implied.) That's not only wrong, but physically impossible for nearly all categories of statements.

I'm saying that objectivity can be context-dependent; a statement can be objectively true for a certain time and place, but untrue for another. The statement, "it's 98 degrees Fahrenheit" may have been objectively true for somebody taking a temperature reading last Saturday afternoon in Chicago, but such a statement is not true right now in my air conditioned office. There's nothing in the definition of "objective" that requires that a statement be true for all times and places.

You also appear to be interpreting the word "morality" to mean only personal, individual opinions about right and wrong, while ignoring the part of the definition that includes mores collectively held by societies. That may be a consequence of your misinterpretation of "objectivity," but I'm not sure.


Forgive me, but I don’t think that’s what anyone else in this thread means when we talk about morality being objective. Frankly, it’s a pretty inane question since there is ample and accessible evidence everywhere for the objective existence of a multitude of moral systems; there’s just no controversy or reason to ask that question

Like I said before, that's an appeal to popularity. It doesn't matter what anybody else in this thread means, or whether my position is controversial. What matters is whether my argument is internally consistent, and whether it raises useful points.

Even if I were merely arguing that moral systems exist, the ample supply of evidence would make that argument even more valid, not less.

For what it's worth, I agree that the objective existence of moral systems is trivially true. That conclusion is bloody obvious to me. Why it isn't obvious to everybody else, is the most curious part.

Why does everybody automatically assume that mankind cannot define an objective morality? Why the tacit belief that "objective morality" would necessitate an omniscient supernatural being, or inherent feature of the universe that differentiates good from evil? 

That, to me, is the most curious question.


What everyone else here is asking is the much more important question (about which there is significant disagreement in our society) of whether it is possible for moral judgments to be objectively true or “right.”

Yeah, I get that.

And I'm not discounting the possibility that some moral judgments may be objectively true or "right." I think it may be possible to create a fundamental moral system whose precepts are objectively "true" and "right" for everyone in the world. The biggest hurdle would be getting everyone to agree on it.


I don’t think that’s what this thread is about, and I find it rather hard to believe that you think it is.

So now you're adding dishonesty to your list of accusations about me? This, in a thread about morality?

And you haven't engaged a single one of my actual points, or answered a single one of the questions I've posed to you. All you've been doing is taking swings at the same strawman.

Come on, man, where's your principle of charity?
« Last Edit: July 11, 2018, 05:32:57 PM by John Albert »

Offline The Latinist

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Re: Do you believe in objective morality?
« Reply #117 on: July 11, 2018, 09:35:08 PM »
You appear to be interpreting the word "objective" to mean that every sentient being in all places in the universe at all points in time must agree, or else it's not objective. (At least that's what you implied.)

No, that's not at all what I have said or implied; that's exactly the opposite of what I've been clearly saying throughout this entire thread.  I am saying that no morality is objective if it is dependent on ANYONE's opinion or values, even if you could get every sentient being in the universe to agree to it.  That morality would be SUBJECTIVE, because it would depend upon the values of the SUBJECTS.

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You also appear to be interpreting the word "morality" to mean only personal, individual opinions about right and wrong, while ignoring the part of the definition that includes mores collectively held by societies. That may be a consequence of your misinterpretation of "objectivity," but I'm not sure.

No, as I've repeatedly said, a society may objectively have a shared moral code; but that code is not objectively moral: it is subjectively moral because its truth depends on the opinions of that society.

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Forgive me, but I don’t think that’s what anyone else in this thread means when we talk about morality being objective. Frankly, it’s a pretty inane question since there is ample and accessible evidence everywhere for the objective existence of a multitude of moral systems; there’s just no controversy or reason to ask that question

Like I said before, that's an appeal to popularity. It doesn't matter what anybody else in this thread means, or whether my position is controversial. What matters is whether my argument is internally consistent, and whether it raises useful points.

When you knowingly use words in ways that nobody you are conversing with is using them and answer a question nobody is asking as if you are answering the question they are, then you are in the wrong.

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For what it's worth, I agree that the objective existence of moral systems is trivially true. That conclusion is bloody obvious to me. Why it isn't obvious to everybody else, is the most curious part.

I think it is obvious to everyone; I don't think I've seen anyone in this thread denying the objective existence of moral systems.  What people have been denying is the existence of objective moral systems.  The two things are not the same.

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Why does everybody automatically assume that mankind cannot define an objective morality? Why the tacit belief that "objective morality" would necessitate an omniscient supernatural being, or inherent feature of the universe that differentiates good from evil?

Because we understand the meaning of 'objective' and 'subjective.'

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What everyone else here is asking is the much more important question (about which there is significant disagreement in our society) of whether it is possible for moral judgments to be objectively true or “right.”

Yeah, I get that.

And yet, knowing what everyone else means by 'objective morality' you make your own argument using your own meanings of the words.

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And I'm not discounting the possibility that some moral judgments may be objectively true or "right." I think it may be possible to create a fundamental moral system whose precepts are objectively "true" and "right" for everyone in the world. The biggest hurdle would be getting everyone to agree on it.

Which would make them subjectively right, since you're basing the rightness of the act on the opinion of the actor.  Definitionally subjective.

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I don’t think that’s what this thread is about, and I find it rather hard to believe that you think it is.

So now you're adding dishonesty to your list of accusations about me? This, in a thread about morality?

[...]

Come on, man, where's your principle of charity?

So you genuinely believed that someone else in this thread besides you thought this thread was about whether moral systems objectively exist rather than about whether moral statements could be objectively true?  If not, I stand by my statement and suggest that if you feel accused of dishonesty it's because you know you're being dishonest.

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And you haven't engaged a single one of my actual points, or answered a single one of the questions I've posed to you. All you've been doing is taking swings at the same strawman.

I'm not sure that I have any disagreement with you other than about the meaning of the words "objective" and "subjective." I recognize the existence of moral codes, I think that they're real, and I think that they are meaningful and in some sense binding upon members of those societies (though I believe that societies are often wrong, and I reserve for each the right to follow his own conscience). I think that they vary with time and place, etc. The only disagreement I have with you, as far as I can see, is on the question of whether such a system, no matter how universally accepted, can be called 'objectively moral' so long as the morality of an act depends upon the upon the value judgments of that society.  If you think we disagree about something else, ask away and I will be glad to answer any point you wish to make.
I would like to propose...that...it is undesirable to believe in a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. — Bertrand Russell

Offline John Albert

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Re: Do you believe in objective morality?
« Reply #118 on: July 12, 2018, 04:34:44 PM »
You appear to be interpreting the word "objective" to mean that every sentient being in all places in the universe at all points in time must agree, or else it's not objective. (At least that's what you implied.)

No, that's not at all what I have said or implied; that's exactly the opposite of what I've been clearly saying throughout this entire thread.  I am saying that no morality is objective if it is dependent on ANYONE's opinion or values, even if you could get every sentient being in the universe to agree to it.  That morality would be SUBJECTIVE, because it would depend upon the values of the SUBJECTS.

So you believe that the only kind of objectivity is physical objectivity, and all other kinds of objectivity are invalid? You don't recognize ontological objectivity or dispositional objectivity?

In an epistemic sense, physical objectivity is not even a thing that can be known for certain. So if that's the only kind of objectivity you accept, then talking about objectivity at all is a moot point.
 

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You also appear to be interpreting the word "morality" to mean only personal, individual opinions about right and wrong, while ignoring the part of the definition that includes mores collectively held by societies. That may be a consequence of your misinterpretation of "objectivity," but I'm not sure.

No, as I've repeatedly said, a society may objectively have a shared moral code; but that code is not objectively moral: it is subjectively moral because its truth depends on the opinions of that society.

Societies don't have opinions, individuals have opinions.

Most societies, however, employ some method to derive moral judgments and codify them into legal systems. Those systems may be as simple as the recorded edicts of an autocrat, the collective decisions of some group of judges, elders, or religious leaders, it could be directly democratic like ballot referendums, or the society may employ some more elaborate system like a parliamentary legislature and judiciary. Either way, all the dictates, declarations, fatwas, executive orders, legal codes, etc. that the government enshrines into law become objective in the sense that they're not just dependent on somebody's opinion. They're recorded, legally binding and actionable regardless of the perspective or personal opinions of the observer. That is an objective morality.

Which is the entirety of my point. You can either agree or disagree, but I don't want to hear you beat the same dead horse that I've already conceded about five times in this discussion.

We all agree that there's no inherent force of nature or all-powerful man in the sky issuing proclamations about right and wrong, okay?

I'm trying to move the conversation past that nonsense into some more productive territory.


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Forgive me, but I don’t think that’s what anyone else in this thread means when we talk about morality being objective. Frankly, it’s a pretty inane question since there is ample and accessible evidence everywhere for the objective existence of a multitude of moral systems; there’s just no controversy or reason to ask that question

Like I said before, that's an appeal to popularity. It doesn't matter what anybody else in this thread means, or whether my position is controversial. What matters is whether my argument is internally consistent, and whether it raises useful points.

When you knowingly use words in ways that nobody you are conversing with is using them and answer a question nobody is asking as if you are answering the question they are, then you are in the wrong.

I'm not "[using] words in ways that nobody you are conversing with is using them" or "[answering] a question nobody is asking." The way in which you and many others in this thread have chosen to interpret the question (which derives from Judeo-Christian religious culture), is not the only way to consider the question.

I'm answering the question in a way that you don't personally like, so you're choosing to be a dick about it and trotting out fallacy after fallacy in a weak defense.

Misrepresenting my viewpoint is not a valid argument.

Pointing out that my viewpoint is contrary to popular opinion is not a valid argument.

Pretending that certain key words have only one usage preferential to your viewpoint (while ignoring all other usages), is not a valid argument.

Asserting the same fallacious argument over and over again is not a valid argument.

There are different ways in which a thing can be considered "objective," and there's nothing in the definition of "morality" that makes it necessarily dependent upon one individual's opinion. Some things are objectively true, regardless of your opinion about them. Laws are an example of that, and laws are one type of moral system. Therefore, some types of moral systems can be regarded as "objective" in a certain sense.

 
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What everyone else here is asking is the much more important question (about which there is significant disagreement in our society) of whether it is possible for moral judgments to be objectively true or “right.”

Yeah, I get that.

And yet, knowing what everyone else means by 'objective morality' you make your own argument using your own meanings of the words.

I'm not changing the meanings of any words. It's not my fault that you refuse to read definitions.


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And I'm not discounting the possibility that some moral judgments may be objectively true or "right." I think it may be possible to create a fundamental moral system whose precepts are objectively "true" and "right" for everyone in the world. The biggest hurdle would be getting everyone to agree on it.

Which would make them subjectively right, since you're basing the rightness of the act on the opinion of the actor.  Definitionally subjective.

Nope. Objectivity means something which is true or right regardless of the opinion of the actor. I'm not basing the objectivity on the moral system of the actor, I'm basing the universality of the moral system on the opinion of the actor. The objectivity comes from the moral system becoming codified. 


So you genuinely believed that someone else in this thread besides you thought this thread was about whether moral systems objectively exist rather than about whether moral statements could be objectively true?

I don't care what context in which other people want to consider the question. I am proposing a different context than the useless religious one that judges objectivity on some supernatural authority.


If not, I stand by my statement and suggest that if you feel accused of dishonesty it's because you know you're being dishonest.

Quit with the gaslighting. You said you "find it hard to believe" that my responses are honest. I'm not being dishonest, you're being a dick.


The only disagreement I have with you, as far as I can see, is on the question of whether such a system, no matter how universally accepted, can be called 'objectively moral' so long as the morality of an act depends upon the upon the value judgments of that society. 

I don't believe I used the phrase "objectively moral," did I? If I did, then I was speaking of a context from within a given moral system. I've clearly stated numerous times that I don't believe in any supernatural source of morality inherent to the universe. 


If you think we disagree about something else, ask away and I will be glad to answer any point you wish to make.

They're still there in my previous posts.
« Last Edit: July 12, 2018, 05:04:55 PM by John Albert »

Offline The Latinist

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Re: Do you believe in objective morality?
« Reply #119 on: July 12, 2018, 07:15:30 PM »
I've reread all your posts, and I've seen nothing in them that I disagree with other than your insistence on calling things objective that are based on opinions (and, now, your characterization of my arguments; but I have no wish to engage in a meta-argument).  There are minor quibbles I would have with the way you've phrased a few things, but I don't think they're substantive.  As I said, I'm happy to discuss any point of disagreement you feel we have, but you'll have to raise it again.

You raised two terms in your last post with which I am not familiar: "ontological objectivity" and "dispositional objectivity."  My limited research online did not give me a good idea of what you meant by them in this context, so I would be happy to have you explain further what you mean before I say whether I accept those types of objectivity.  I would also be happy to know under which type of objectivity you think moral systems are objective.
I would like to propose...that...it is undesirable to believe in a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. — Bertrand Russell

 

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