On subjectivity vs objectivity of moral principles and the importance of self-evidently true moral principles
For quite some days now, a brawling debate has raged across several UD threads on moral principles, truth and self-evidence. It is worth the while to again headline some of the exchange for record.
First, an exchange or two on fairness and subjectivity vs objectivity. And yes, this is a second-order clipping — a lot tends to get buried in comment exchanges:
>>Let us observe an exchange above:
[JS:] My comment presupposes a fair society and claims that they, as a fair society, would base their policies on moral values.
[Trib:] What determines a “fair society”?
Notice, how we almost automatically assume moral government in our argument?
This reflects how persuasion hinges on duties to truth, sound reasoning, fairness etc.
And that goes beyond mere subjective perception.
Speaking of, let us clip again:
[JS, 347:] And where have I said that good and evil don’t exist in the subjective morality realm? I realize that some say that right and wrong, good and evil, don’t exist. But when they say this they are referring to them not existing in the objective sense. There is no prohibition of them in the subjective sense.
[KF, 349:] good and evil existing “in the subjective morality realm” comes across as a synonym for, imagination, with shadings of delusion.
[Trib, 352:] You really have to work on your understanding of the definitions of words and the implications of how you use them. Good and evil would exist in the “subjective morality realm” only in the opinion of the subject and only the subject would be bound by it. Objective morality applies to all and binds all.
This might help you understand it: https://www.diffen.com/difference/Objective_vs_Subjective
Do we see where we are heading?>>
The second, is a reflective comment, presenting a general response in the same discussion:
KF, 337: >>A reminder:
Rom 13:8 [b]Owe nothing to anyone except to [c]love and seek the best for one another; for he who [unselfishly] loves his neighbor has fulfilled the [essence of the] law [relating to one’s fellowman]. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” and any other commandment are summed up in this statement: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor [it never hurts anyone]. Therefore [unselfish] love is the fulfillment of the Law. [AMP]
So, the core teaching is clear enough. The parable of the Good Samaritan — extremely well known — clinches it; the hereditary enemy and heretic was the true neighbour. Neighbours build peace, not murder, theft, deceit or lustful using of neighbour’s body.
Likewise, let us note the same Apostle in Athens:
Ac 17: 24 The God who created the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He [e]served by human hands, as though He needed anything, because it is He who gives to all [people] life and breath and all things. 26 And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands and territories. 27 This was so that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grasp for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. 28 For in Him we live and move and exist [that is, in Him we actually have our being], as even some of [f]your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ [AMP]
So, neighbourliness should extend across a global common brotherhood.
IS is not OUGHT.
One form of a famous gap.
A clue, indeed a vital though somewhat obvious point.
(BTW, for someone who just self-referentially went up on a pedestal, standing up for the significance of the OUGHT vs the IS is not instantly a self-indictment. Lev 19:13 – 18 very explicitly teaches that part of neighbourliness is reasoning frankly to move from a substandard is towards the ought. [Let’s pause and insert, as this is an obviously pivotal reference on what the Judaeo-Christian tradition actually teaches from its Hebraic roots on:
Lev 19:13 ‘You shall not oppress or exploit your neighbor, nor rob him. You shall not withhold the wages of a hired man overnight until morning. 14 You shall not curse a deaf man nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God [with profound reverence]; I am the Lord.15 ‘You shall not do injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor show a preference for the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. 16 You shall not go around as a gossip among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor [with slander or false testimony]; I am the Lord.
17 ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you may most certainly rebuke your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take revenge nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor (acquaintance, associate, companion) as yourself; I am the Lord. [AMP]]
In other words, we are up against one of the key failings of subjectivism and relativism: locking out reform and reformers by targetting, isolating and scapegoating them. Note a current lawsuit at Google where this has been tolerated through internal social media and allegedly backed by HR with senior leadership falling into enabling behaviour. SB’s point is serious and highly relevant.)
Clearly, we are morally governed, even in argument and reasoning.
And the IS-OUGHT gap can become a chasm. One through which holocausts can be and are driven. Including, the in-progress one mounting up at a million more victims per week from our living posterity in the womb on a total from 40+ years of 800+ millions. When we understand how we are implicated and how corrupt and blood-guilt ridden our own institutions, professions, power elites and general populace have become, then we will be better able to answer to past cases.
Until then, our rhetoric is suspect, for cause. And, the fashionable views we support will also very likely be utterly tainted.
Back to the gap.
How can it be bridged?
(Surely, we can appreciate why it needs to be bridged, starting with in our own hearts.)
First, we have to face it, recognising that our IS is nowhere near where we OUGHT to be, in thought, word, deed, culture, civilisation.
Guilty, guilty, guilty.
Precisely the indictment the White Rose martyrs made against Germany at large.
But, we are blood-guilt riddled, warped and corrupt. How can we ever learn to think straight about what OUGHT to be?
We desperately need knowable, warranted, credible MORAL truth. Something that accurately describes what OUGHT to be and with enough credibility that when it points to the gap between that OUGHT and our sorry IS, it breaks us to listen, heed, turn, seek renewal and reformation.
Crooked yardsticks posing as standards of straightness, accuracy and uprightness cannot do this. We need plumb-line, self-evident, naturally and utterly credibly straight MORAL truths.
Not, crooked yardstick values, feelings, impulses, intuitions, consensuses, theories or grand but utterly flawed narratives of progress etc. Genuinely, naturally straight and upright plumb-lines.
One of these was already alluded to: we are inescapably under moral government in our conscious inner life, through the laws of duty to truth, sound reasoning, fairness etc that our consciences keep reminding us of. Indeed, much of the above, seeking to undermine confidence in the truth of that inner testimony, relies for persuasive effect on the force of that voice.
OUGHT, is inescapable, though we may warp it out of its true course.
Likewise, once we have something that pervasive, if it is written off as delusional, the rot spreads throughout our inner life of mindedness. In particular, reason is now twisted into clever deceit and manipulation, unfettered by duty to the right.
So, we must see this absurdity and name it for what it is, a sign of gross error.
A fresh start is: we are self-evidently under moral government, witnessed to by conscience. And thus, we face, whence that law, and why does it have force.
A glance at the yardstick case I have repeatedly raised will show it does not come from the might, eloquence or voice of the individual or the community. The monster bound and gagged the innocent child to have his perverse way, but that only underscored how demonic what was being done was. He proceeded to sexually violate and murder then conceal and make a getaway. Thirty-odd years later, he is likely some seemingly respectable greying man who we would never dream is such a monster.
None of this changes the fact of self-evident evil that points to the dignity and rights thus respect owed to even the weakest, least articulate among us. Indeed, we who have strength, voice and eloquence are duty-bound to stand up on their behalf. Something that has been notably missing for many days, in the part of too many.
But that just pushes the matter back further.
Where does this government come from, how can it be true, how can it be warranted as credibly true?
Hume’s guillotine points to one place: the world-root.
Where, we need a world-root sufficient to ground not only the cosmos or biological life but a new phenomenon: the inescapably spiritual life of certain morally governed creatures. Us.
Utter non-being cannot do. For, were there ever utter nothing, such has no causal powers and that would forever obtain. There would be no world. A world is, so something always was, the world-root.
Nor can the chain of successive causation be extended back into a circle at some point. That would imply that the non existent creates itself. Fail again. Nor is infinite stepwise causal succession credible, not least as such cannot bridge endlessness. Never mind arguments that boil down to implying that the endless span has always already been bridged.
We need a finitely remote world root of adequate capacity to bridge and fuse IS to OUGHT.
I have often pointed to the only serious candidate after centuries of debates. A point underscored by how over many days, in many threads, no serious alternative is forthcoming: ___. So, we see: the inherently good creator God and world-root, a necessary and maximally great being, worthy of loyalty and of the reasonable, responsible service of doing the good in accord with our evident nature. A nature that has sometimes been described in terms of being in the image of God, ensouled with a value exceeding the resources of a planet.
The God of ethical theism would be the unique world-root, reality and its aspects are not independent of him. Goodness is not an arbitrary decree, it reflects the purest character, the maximally great one, and it reflects him who is communicative reason himself, so it is materially intelligible. As necessary being he would be eternal, answering to “something always was.” Indeed, on the logic of being, a serious candidate necessary being (as opposed to say a material composite such as the flying spaghetti monster failed parody) will be either impossible or actual in any possible world, part of its core framework. And more.
The issue is, are we open to re-think?
Do we have a genuinely viable alternative, or are we merely clinging to crooked yardsticks and mocking plumb-line cases for failing to conform to our fashionable yardsticks?>>
Thirdly, let us ponder some of where this points for our civilisation:
>>We may elaborate on Paul, Locke, Hooker and Aristotle, laying out several manifestly evident and historically widely acknowledged core moral principles; for which the attempted denial is instantly and patently absurd for most people — that is, they are arguably self-evident (thus, warranted and objective) moral truths; not just optional opinions.
So also, it is not only possible to
(a) be in demonstrable moral error, but also
(b) there is hope that such moral errors can be corrected by appealing to manifestly sound core principles of the natural moral law.
1] The first self evident moral truth is that we are inescapably under the government of ought.
(This is manifest in even an objector’s implication in the questions, challenges and arguments that s/he would advance, that we are in the wrong and there is something to be avoided about that. That is, even the objector inadvertently implies that we OUGHT to do, think, aim for and say the right. Not even the hyperskeptical objector can escape this truth. Patent absurdity on attempted denial.)
2] Second self evident truth, we discern that some things are right and others are wrong by a compass-sense we term conscience which guides our thought.
(Again, objectors depend on a sense of guilt/ urgency to be right not wrong on our part to give their points persuasive force. See what would be undermined should conscience be deadened or dismissed universally? Sawing off the branch on which we all must sit.)
3] Third, were this sense of conscience and linked sense that we can make responsibly free, rational decisions to be a delusion, we would at once descend into a status of grand delusion in which there is no good ground for confidence in our self-understanding.
(That is, we look at an infinite regress of Plato’s cave worlds: once such a principle of grand global delusion is injected, there is no firewall so the perception of level one delusion is subject to the same issue, and this level two perception too, ad infinitum; landing in patent absurdity.)
4] Fourth, we are objectively under obligation of OUGHT. That is, despite any particular person’s (or group’s or august council’s or majority’s) wishes or claims to the contrary, such obligation credibly holds to moral certainty. That is, it would be irresponsible, foolish and unwise for us to act and try to live otherwise.
5] Fifth, this cumulative framework of moral government under OUGHT is the basis for the manifest core principles of the natural moral law under which we find ourselves obligated to the right the good, the true etc. Where also, patently, we struggle to live up to what we acknowledge or imply we ought to do.
6] Sixth, this means we live in a world in which being under core, generally understood principles of natural moral law is coherent and factually adequate, thus calling for a world-understanding in which OUGHT is properly grounded at root level.
(Thus worldviews that can soundly meet this test are the only truly viable ones. If a worldview does not have in it a world-root level IS that can simultaneously ground OUGHT — so that IS and OUGHT are inextricably fused at that level, it fails decisively.*)
7] Seventh, in light of the above, even the weakest and most voiceless of us thus has a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of fulfillment of one’s sense of what s/he ought to be (“happiness”). This includes the young child, the unborn and more.
(We see here the concept that rights are binding moral expectations of others to provide respect in regards to us because of our inherent status as human beings, members of the community of valuable neighbours. Where also who is my neighbour was forever answered by the parable of the Good Samaritan. Likewise, there can be no right to demand of or compel my neighbour that s/he upholds me and enables me in the wrong — including under false colour of law through lawfare; usurping the sword of justice to impose a ruthless policy agenda in fundamental breach of that civil peace which must ever pivot on manifest justice. To justly claim a right, one must first be in the right.)
8] Eighth, like unto the seventh, such may only be circumscribed or limited for good cause. Such as, reciprocal obligation to cherish and not harm neighbour of equal, equally valuable nature in community and in the wider world of the common brotherhood of humanity.
9] Ninth, this is the context in which it becomes self evidently wrong, wicked and evil to kidnap, sexually torture and murder a young child or the like as concrete cases in point that show that might and/or manipulation do not make ‘right,’ ‘truth,’ ‘worth,’ ‘justice,’ ‘fairness,’ ‘law’ etc. That is, anything that expresses or implies the nihilist’s credo is morally absurd.
10] Tenth, this entails that in civil society with government, justice is a principal task of legitimate government. In short, nihilistic will to power untempered by the primacy of justice is its own refutation in any type of state. Where, justice is the due balance of rights, freedoms and responsibilities.
(In Aristotle’s terms as cited by Hooker: “because we would take no harm, we must therefore do none; That since we would not be in any thing extremely dealt with, we must ourselves avoid all extremity in our dealings; That from all violence and wrong we are utterly to abstain, with such-like .”)
11] Eleventh, that government is and ought to be subject to audit, reformation and if necessary replacement should it fail sufficiently badly and incorrigibly.
(NB: This is a requisite of accountability for justice, and the suggestion or implication of some views across time, that government can reasonably be unaccountable to the governed, is its own refutation, reflecting — again — nihilistic will to power; which is automatically absurd. This truth involves the issue that finite, fallible, morally struggling men acting as civil authorities in the face of changing times and situations as well as in the face of the tendency of power to corrupt, need to be open to remonstrance and reformation — or if they become resistant to reasonable appeal, there must be effective means of replacement. Hence, the principle that the general election is an insitutionalised regular solemn assembly of the people for audit and reform or if needs be replacement of government gone bad. But this is by no means an endorsement of the notion that a manipulated mob bent on a march of folly has a right to do as it pleases.)
12] Twelfth, the attempt to deny or dismiss such a general framework of moral governance invariably lands in shipwreck of incoherence and absurdity. As, has been seen in outline. But that does not mean that the attempt is not going to be made, so there is a mutual obligation of frank and fair correction and restraint of evil.
* F/N: After centuries of debates and assessment of alternatives per comparative difficulties, there is in fact just one serious candidate to be such a grounding IS: the inherently good creator God, a necessary and maximally great being worthy of ultimate loyalty and the reasonable responsible service of doing the good in accord with our manifestly evident nature. (And instantly, such generic ethical theism answers also to the accusation oh this is “religion”; that term being used as a dirty word — no, this is philosophy. If you doubt this, simply put forth a different candidate that meets the required criteria and passes the comparative difficulties test: _________ . Likewise, an inherently good, maximally great being will not be arbitrary or deceitful etc, that is why such is fully worthy of ultimate loyalty and the reasonable, responsible service of doing the good in accord with our manifestly evident nature. As a serious candidate necessary being, such would be eternal and embedded in the frame for a world to exist at all. Thus such a candidate is either impossible as a square circle is impossible due to mutual ruin of core characteristics, or else it is actual. For simple instance no world is possible without two-ness in it, a necessary basis for distinct identity inter alia.>>
Food for thought. Let us ponder our ways and where our civilisation is patently heading:
Is it too late to turn back? END