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Objective Morality?
#1
Objective Morality?
The TAG argument for the Christian god is a fascinatingly fallacious argument, as it combines three spurious assumptions into a triple act of begging the question all in three short steps. Very efficient.

TAG Argument steps:

1. Without God, there can be no objective morality (assumption)
2. Objective morality exists (assumption)
3. Therefore, God exists (who must be the Christian god) (unstated assumption)

The assumption I want to focus on in this thread is the one about "objective morality". I'd like to ask anyone who believes it exists to explain to me what it is.

First, let's define the word objective (from dictionary.com)

Quote:5. not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased: an objective opinion.
6.intent upon or dealing with things external to the mind rather than with thoughts or feelings, as a person or a book.
7.being the object of perception or thought; belonging to the object of thought rather than to the thinking subject ( opposed to subjective).
8.of or pertaining to something that can be known, or to something that is an object or a part of an object; existing independent of thought or an observer as part of reality.

My interpretation, please correct me if I'm wrong, is that things which are objective can be studied and measured in a science experiment whereas subjective matters are weighed out in philosophy discussions. Science is the study of the objective universe where philosophy is the debate of subjective matters.

If I have this right, then objective morals should be something we can scientifically study and measure. Just like we have units of measure for temperature, velocity and mass, we should be able to come up with units of measure for moral goodness. We could plug numbers into a spreadsheet and determine the best moral course of action in each case.

If this sounds silly, you understand why I'm skeptical of claims that "objective morals exist". Perhaps someone could explain it to me a little better?

At this point, I'd also like to mention that I believe that "subjective morality" =/= amorality, as often asserted by theists. Just because we acknowledge that moral questions are complex issues that involve empathy, judgment and conscience doesn't mean "anything goes". We can and do judge "honor killings" and other abuses by religion and still debate right and wrong. Just because we can't plug it into a spreadsheet doesn't mean it can't be rationally discussed.
Atheist Forums Hall of Shame:
"The trinity can be equated to having your cake and eating it too."
...      -Lucent, trying to defend the Trinity concept
"(Yahweh's) actions are good because (Yahweh) is the ultimate standard of goodness. That’s not begging the question"
...       -Statler Waldorf, Christian apologist
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#2
RE: Objective Morality?
I'm not sure that when we apply objective as an adjective to morality that, this necessarily means it is open to science. However I would argue that this isn't because it is of supernatural origin nor that it transcends time/space etc. For objective morality to exist, morality in the first place must exist, and there is nowhere in reality can where we find it. It appears to be a totally abstract concept existing only in ethics, much as numbers only exist in their own framework, ie maths.
"I still say a church steeple with a lightning rod on top shows a lack of confidence"...Doug McLeod.
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#3
RE: Objective Morality?
(August 23, 2011 at 9:59 am)DeistPaladin Wrote: The TAG argument for the Christian god is a fascinatingly fallacious argument, as it combines three spurious assumptions into a triple act of begging the question all in three short steps. Very efficient.

It's not the TAG, that argument deals with the existence of the 'logical absolutes', what you're referring to is the "Moral argument" for the existence of God.

As for objective morality - given that you accept a few premises I can make a case for it, but it's almost 3AM, I'll get around to it later Smile
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#4
RE: Objective Morality?
(August 23, 2011 at 10:52 am)theVOID Wrote: It's not the TAG, that argument deals with the existence of the 'logical absolutes', what you're referring to is the "Moral argument" for the existence of God.

Thanks. My bad. I'd lumped them together in my mind because the arguments are so similar. Thanks for setting me straight.

Quote:As for objective morality - given that you accept a few premises I can make a case for it, but it's almost 3AM, I'll get around to it later Smile

Just to be clear, I welcome discussions of non-theistic objective morality as well.

These are separate issues that can be arranged in a quadrant:

1. God exists, objective morality exists.
2. God exists, morality is subjective.
3. God does not exist, objective morality exists.
4. God does not exist, morality is subjective.
Atheist Forums Hall of Shame:
"The trinity can be equated to having your cake and eating it too."
...      -Lucent, trying to defend the Trinity concept
"(Yahweh's) actions are good because (Yahweh) is the ultimate standard of goodness. That’s not begging the question"
...       -Statler Waldorf, Christian apologist
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#5
RE: Objective Morality?
/subscribe, since it won't let me any other way.
[Image: Untitled2_zpswaosccbr.png]
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#6
RE: Objective Morality?
(August 23, 2011 at 9:59 am)DeistPaladin Wrote: My interpretation, please correct me if I'm wrong, is that things which are objective can be studied and measured in a science experiment whereas subjective matters are weighed out in philosophy discussions. Science is the study of the objective universe where philosophy is the debate of subjective matters.

Not really... Philosophy when dealing with opinions or attitudes is 'subjective' such as 'eastern philosophy', when dealing with logic or reason however in the style of analytic philosophy or Quinean naturalism it's objective, take for instance the old "Socrates is mortal" syllogism, it's perfectly objective in that it is independent of any persons opinions.

Science as far as measuring phenomenon is objective, the interpretations can fall prey to subjectivity though, for instance many scientists will and have interpreted data in terms of their own opinions or attitudes knowingly or not, just look at the climate change debate, while the objective measurements show a trend in increasing temperatures there is still a lot of subjective interpretation of the data, namely in terms of it's significance.

Quote:If I have this right, then objective morals should be something we can scientifically study and measure. Just like we have units of measure for temperature, velocity and mass, we should be able to come up with units of measure for moral goodness. We could plug numbers into a spreadsheet and determine the best moral course of action in each case.

You could only ever measure the various value producing sections of the brain to see the subjective values of that individual, the best you could do is talk about the distribution of values amongst a population, while it might be 'obectively true' that most people value x over y it's not the same as determining that x is morally good and y is morally bad... It's all basically cultural relativism... Studying people from 500 years ago would show things to be 'morally good' that we now find repulsive.

Also, the various value producing centres of the brain often conflict with each other, contrasts between the deontological and utilitarian type judgements our brain produces are commonplace, what often makes us favour one or the other comes down to whether the pleasure (reward) can be outweighed by a long term plan for increasing value.

Quote:If this sounds silly, you understand why I'm skeptical of claims that "objective morals exist". Perhaps someone could explain it to me a little better?

I'm skeptical of the approach you talked about, frankly the idea of measuring moral good and moral bad in a brain is nonsense, measuring distributed values is argument from authority and/or cultural relativism depending on how you approach it... The only sensible way to do it is to understand how values arise through studying neuroscience and then determining philosophically how these values interact/conflict.

Quote:At this point, I'd also like to mention that I believe that "subjective morality" =/= amorality, as often asserted by theists.

If you agree that morality is a subset of value theory dealing with shared/conflicting values then "subjective morality" is utter nonsense, it's naught but an individual's subjective consideration of a situation where values do conflict, judged entirely in terms of their own values.

Quote:Just because we acknowledge that moral questions are complex issues that involve empathy, judgment and conscience doesn't mean "anything goes". We can and do judge "honor killings" and other abuses by religion and still debate right and wrong. Just because we can't plug it into a spreadsheet doesn't mean it can't be rationally discussed.

It can be rationally discussed in terms of goals such as "will this make a healthier/happier society?" or "will this increase freedom?" but those goals themselves are still entirely the product of subjective values, there are no objectively right or wrong goals to have, so even in that sense you've just kicked the can down the road.

(August 23, 2011 at 11:02 am)DeistPaladin Wrote: Just to be clear, I welcome discussions of non-theistic objective morality as well.

That is what I was talking about, I'll explain in more detail later.

Also, seeing as god is a "person" there isn't possibly "objective" theistic morality, if it reduces to god's opinions/values/attitudes it's still subjective.

Quote:These are separate issues that can be arranged in a quadrant:

1. God exists, objective morality exists.
2. God exists, morality is subjective.
3. God does not exist, objective morality exists.
4. God does not exist, morality is subjective.

Or;

5. God does not exist, morality does not exist.

This is known as Error Theory, the idea that moral statements ("x is morally wrong") attempt to make factual claims but since morality does not exist all claims are necessarily false.

It all has to start with a definition of morality basically.



I highly recommend you take a look at this; http://lesswrong.com/lw/5u2/pluralistic_...ductionism



(August 23, 2011 at 10:22 am)Captain Scarlet Wrote: I'm not sure that when we apply objective as an adjective to morality that, this necessarily means it is open to science. However I would argue that this isn't because it is of supernatural origin nor that it transcends time/space etc. For objective morality to exist, morality in the first place must exist, and there is nowhere in reality can where we find it. It appears to be a totally abstract concept existing only in ethics, much as numbers only exist in their own framework, ie maths.

That's contingent upon what a person means when they say "morality" and there is no rigid definition, just a collection of terms trying to get at roughly the same thing.

For me the term refers to the conflict/interaction between subjective values and since subjective value does exist and interact then morality necessarily exists.
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#7
RE: Objective Morality?
(August 23, 2011 at 11:14 am)theVOID Wrote: That's contingent upon what a person means when they say "morality" and there is no rigid definition, just a collection of terms trying to get at roughly the same thing.

For me the term refers to the conflict/interaction between subjective values and since subjective value does exist and interact then morality necessarily exists.
You would need to help me understand that. Independent of what a person exactly means when they refer to morality, it still would seem to me to be an abstract, at least I have never heard a of a concrete instantiation of morality in the universe. And that is the point for me, without the framework of ethics talk of morality is meaningless as any abstraction needs a framework in which to 'exist'. But existence within a framework is not existence as we know it. Thus I would be forced to conclude that morality doesn't exist. But people and their actions clearly do, and what we at least know through study is that given time, cultures adopt certain values some shared and most not. But again I am not aware of any value that has been consistently shared throughout time/space.
"I still say a church steeple with a lightning rod on top shows a lack of confidence"...Doug McLeod.
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#8
RE: Objective Morality?
(August 23, 2011 at 1:22 pm)Captain Scarlet Wrote:
(August 23, 2011 at 11:14 am)theVOID Wrote: That's contingent upon what a person means when they say "morality" and there is no rigid definition, just a collection of terms trying to get at roughly the same thing.

For me the term refers to the conflict/interaction between subjective values and since subjective value does exist and interact then morality necessarily exists.
You would need to help me understand that. Independent of what a person exactly means when they refer to morality, it still would seem to me to be an abstract, at least I have never heard a of a concrete instantiation of morality in the universe. And that is the point for me, without the framework of ethics talk of morality is meaningless as any abstraction needs a framework in which to 'exist'. But existence within a framework is not existence as we know it. Thus I would be forced to conclude that morality doesn't exist. But people and their actions clearly do, and what we at least know through study is that given time, cultures adopt certain values some shared and most not. But again I am not aware of any value that has been consistently shared throughout time/space.


I agree that it does not exist in the concept that a theist would purport that is exists. However, objective morality may exist on some level. It may very well be the smallest of platforms, but I think it could be argued that it does exist. I don't know of any society (correct me if I'm wrong) that has ever endorsed random violence (killing) of its own people or a society that has ever excused all forms of murder, rape and theft. There does seem to be a general consensus the world over of a very basic nature that opposes violence when it is unchecked and unwarranted within it's own group.

Even the majority of captured serial killers (and of course there are exceptions) who admittedly do not understand why they killed for no reason understand that what they did was wrong on some level. Could this not be argued as objective morality? The understanding that unwarranted violence is inherently wrong seems to be a global phenomenon. Ruling out war and all things associated with conquest and even slavery, there seems to be a basic platform of object morality that may very well have never been defined but exists none the less.

Perhaps a natural ancient survival instinct ... "If I kill indiscriminately, I will be killed." or maybe, "I do not kill my own kind, cause we need each other to survive." Perhaps this concept became the platform we now call morality. Just theorizing at this point. All I'm saying is there seems to be a general sense of objective morality that seems to be at the core of all the subjective morality - which of course, is where you get the supernatural input. God gets to take the credit for all morality when in reality, the object morality platform is simply a result of millions of years of evolution.

Just theorizing of course.
[Image: Evolution.png]

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#9
RE: Objective Morality?
(August 23, 2011 at 3:24 pm)Cinjin Wrote: I agree that it does not exist in the concept that a theist would purport that is exists. However, objective morality may exist on some level. It may very well be the smallest of platforms, but I think it could be argued that it does exist. I don't know of any society (correct me if I'm wrong) that has ever endorsed random violence (killing) of its own people or a society that has ever excused all forms of murder, rape and theft. There does seem to be a general consensus the world over of a very basic nature that opposes violence when it is unchecked and unwarranted within it's own group.
The natural explanation for this, is that any society which did condone wanton destruction of life, property etc would quickly die out leaving only societies that did not condone it.
Quote:Even the majority of captured serial killers (and of course there are exceptions) who admittedly do not understand why they killed for no reason understand that what they did was wrong on some level. Could this not be argued as objective morality? The understanding that unwarranted violence is inherently wrong seems to be a global phenomenon. Ruling out war and all things associated with conquest and even slavery, there seems to be a basic platform of object morality that may very well have never been defined but exists none the less.
I think thats wrong at least in some cases. The psychopath knows no such good or evil distinction, they go to the hangman wondering why what they did was so wrong. To most of us this appears wrong, but stick all these folks on an island and a new society should emerge, and or kill itself.
Quote:Perhaps a natural ancient survival instinct ... "If I kill indiscriminately, I will be killed." or maybe, "I do not kill my own kind, cause we need each other to survive." Perhaps this concept became the platform we now call morality. Just theorizing at this point. All I'm saying is there seems to be a general sense of objective morality that seems to be at the core of all the subjective morality - which of course, is where you get the supernatural input. God gets to take the credit for all morality when in reality, the object morality platform is simply a result of millions of years of evolution.

Just theorizing of course.
Empathy is something we learn in infancy, usually from maternal bonding. Isn't that what we are really saying here: I wouldn't want others to suffer, for my own sake as well as theirs, because I can imagine it happening to me or my family.

These are interesting points. I agree that a god is not required for any of this but why call this objective morality? It seems to mystify something we can comprehend on a purely naturalistic basis and still I am left feeling that talk of morality is meaningless. Interesting nonetheless.
"I still say a church steeple with a lightning rod on top shows a lack of confidence"...Doug McLeod.
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#10
RE: Objective Morality?
(August 23, 2011 at 1:22 pm)Captain Scarlet Wrote: You would need to help me understand that. Independent of what a person exactly means when they refer to morality, it still would seem to me to be an abstract, at least I have never heard a of a concrete instantiation of morality in the universe. And that is the point for me, without the framework of ethics talk of morality is meaningless as any abstraction needs a framework in which to 'exist'. But existence within a framework is not existence as we know it. Thus I would be forced to conclude that morality doesn't exist. But people and their actions clearly do, and what we at least know through study is that given time, cultures adopt certain values some shared and most not. But again I am not aware of any value that has been consistently shared throughout time/space.

'Moral good' and 'moral bad' are no more abstract than 'good' and 'bad' are in regards to subjective value, they are all evaluative terms that measure some quantifiable change in a system, in the latter it's quantifiable changes in an individual as they experience phenomenon that thwart or promote their desires/pleasures and in the former it's quantifiable changes in multiple individuals as they interact. Something being 'morally good' to me simply means that when two value systems interact there is a net increase in value, such as the act of voluntary charity, it promotes the values of both the person giving and the person receiving - both their values exist, moral language is simply a set of evaluative terms to describe the result of an interaction.

You don't need values to be "consistently shared throughout time/space", nor do you need to consider the change in cultural values over a length of time or some framework. Moral theories that use frameworks often end up with the problem of the framework being arbitrary.

Take the following example; In a society where water is extremely scarce bathing would be morally bad, consuming water in such a way would be an action that has a negative impact on the values of other people to have enough drinking water, so in such a scenario bathing would be condemned because the availability of water would be more valuable than the negative experience of smelling someone else's stench, contrast that to a society with an abundant supply of water, in that circumstance not bathing would be an act that would negatively effect the values of the other people to avoid foul odours and seeing as there is abundant water the value given to water is low.


(August 23, 2011 at 3:24 pm)Cinjin Wrote: I agree that it does not exist in the concept that a theist would purport that is exists. However, objective morality may exist on some level. It may very well be the smallest of platforms, but I think it could be argued that it does exist. I don't know of any society (correct me if I'm wrong) that has ever endorsed random violence (killing) of its own people or a society that has ever excused all forms of murder, rape and theft. There does seem to be a general consensus the world over of a very basic nature that opposes violence when it is unchecked and unwarranted within it's own group.

Something being a consensus opinion doesn't make it objective, all you are doing is multiplying the values of individuals and if you're concluding from that "rape is morally wrong" you've got little more than an argument from authority/popularity.

Quote:Even the majority of captured serial killers (and of course there are exceptions) who admittedly do not understand why they killed for no reason understand that what they did was wrong on some level. Could this not be argued as objective morality?

No, it's still individual opinions/attitudes.

Quote:The understanding that unwarranted violence is inherently wrong seems to be a global phenomenon.

Nothing is "inherently wrong", it's only wrong relative to the subjective values of the people experiencing it.

Quote:Ruling out war and all things associated with conquest and even slavery, there seems to be a basic platform of object morality that may very well have never been defined but exists none the less.

Still not objective Wink

Quote:Perhaps a natural ancient survival instinct ... "If I kill indiscriminately, I will be killed." or maybe, "I do not kill my own kind, cause we need each other to survive." Perhaps this concept became the platform we now call morality. Just theorizing at this point. All I'm saying is there seems to be a general sense of objective morality that seems to be at the core of all the subjective morality - which of course, is where you get the supernatural input. God gets to take the credit for all morality when in reality, the object morality platform is simply a result of millions of years of evolution.

I generally make a distinction here between "morality" and "evolved social/consequential dynamics", the former is an evaluation of a interacting values, the latter is the product of selection pressures. If we all evolved to prefer the colour green and thought that saying we like blue more would get us locked in an orange box (and nobody liked orange) then it would be just the same as our evolved sense not to kill indiscriminately would put an individual in a situation where killing would get them killed (which nobody likes), giving them reason for action to abstain from killing and giving people who fear being killed reason for action to condemn murder.

Take this example for instance; We evolved to avoid pain and self harm, but someone who chose to hack off their own foot (or the foot of a willing participant) could not be said to be doing something "morally wrong" even though they may be doing something contrary to evolved values.
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