Intelligent Design

Atheists/Materialists Are Closet Moral Objectivists

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1. If morality is subjective (by individual or group), as atheists/materialists claim, then what any individual/group ought to do is necessarily relative to that individual/group purpose. IOW, if my purpose is to make a frozen margarita, I ought put ice in the blender. If my purpose is to make fresh peanut butter, I ought not put ice in the blender. The ought-ness of any task can only be discerned by mapping it to the purpose for which the act is committed. Under moral subjectivism, acts in themselves are just brute facts with no objective moral value; they must be mapped to the subjective purpose to determine subjective moral value (oughtness).

2. The question “Is it moral to gratuitously torture children?” implies that whomever does such an act finds it personally gratifying in some way, and we are asking a third party if the act is moral or immoral. The only possible, logically consistent answer a subjective moralist (atheist/materialist) can give is that yes, it is moral, because the moral challenge is tautologically valid in the subjective morality model. If my purpose is to gratify myself, and torturing children gratifies me, there is a 1 to 1 mapping of act to purpose- I ought do so. It is moral by definition for anyone who is gratified by the act to do so for their own gratification.

3. If the moral subjectivist says that the act is immoral “to them”, they are committing a logical error. The acts of others can only be morally evaluated according to that particular person’s subjective purpose, not according to the subjective purposes of anyone else. That is the nature of subjective commodities and relationships. Whether or not it is something a third party “ought” do for their purposes is entirely irrelevant and is treating the third party’s purposes as if they are objectively valid and binding evaluations on the acts of others.

4. Would an atheist/materialist intervene if someone else was gratuitously torturing children? If they had the power to snap their fingers and eliminate this kind of activity from the world, would they do so? I suspect the answer to both would be: yes. Note how self-described moral subjectivists would treat their own personal preferences as if they were objectively valid and binding on others.

5. Only a sociopath can truly act as if morality is subjective. “Moral subjectivism” is a intellectual smokescreen. It is a self-deception or an oughtright lie. Its proponents cannot even act or respond to questions as if moral subjectivism is true. They betray themselves as closet moral objectivists in denial, hiding from the implications of a morality they must live and act as if objective.

80 Replies to “Atheists/Materialists Are Closet Moral Objectivists

  1. 1
    Axel says:

    Nice to see these logical gaffes, which form the backdrop of the beliefs of the ‘rationalist’ poseurs spelt out so clearly, WJM. It surely can’t be done frequently enough.

  2. 2
    JGuy says:

    I don’t see why an atheist couldn’t claim to believe in objective morals? It seems possible to me. In fact, I know of at least one or two.

    Let me give a scenario:

    The atheist sets a definition for basic morality & moral good (right vice wrong) to mean:

    (1) Moral: Things which promote or lead to a greater good.

    (2) Good (in this moral sense): Those things that do the least harm AND promote a healthier society.

    Therefore, any act can be measured against this set standard can then be determined to be moral or not in an objective sense. Also, it could be argued that if the atheists desires a healthier society. He ought to be moral (per that standard at least). If he desires something else, he ought to follow that other standard for the something else.

    But the atheist can not say he believes in absolute morality. Well, at best he can invoke some platonic form of the good, but that doesn’t bode well for his atheism, imo.

  3. 3
    Mark Frank says:

    Premise 1 is false. Morality is relative to a group but it is not relative to a purpose. In fact it often provides a purpose to some course of action.

    Acts are just acts under subjectivism to exactly the same extent they are just act under moral objectivism. Child torture does not come with a label on it saying “wrong” any more for you than it does for me. I decide it is wrong primarily through my emotional reaction. I have no idea how you decide it is wrong. Do you look it up in a book? Calculate it like a sum?

    Much the rest of your argument is fallacious as well – but premise 1 will do for now.

  4. 4
    JGuy says:

    BTW:

    I do think this leads to problems for the atheist. Such set definitions will be difficult for an atheist to label rape as always immoral, if, somehow, it leads to a greater good for the society.

    For example, suppose you have the last man and woman alive on earth. But the woman insists the guy is nobody she would want to have children with. Her decision is not promoting a healthy society, because it leads to the extinction of not just that society, but all human societies. If the man decided to rape her, he would be doing so for the survival of the society. So, it appears the man under that atheist morality would be morally right to rape the woman in this scenario. Is there any other definition of what is moral that an atheist can come up with without this obvious moral problem? I suspect there is, but it will likely have more uncomfortable trade-offs back upstream.

  5. 5

    JGuy said:

    (1) Moral: Things which promote or lead to a greater good.

    (2) Good (in this moral sense): Those things that do the least harm AND promote a healthier society.

    What defines “greater good”, other than any particular group’s subjective idea?

    Mark Frank said:

    Premise 1 is false. Morality is relative to a group but it is not relative to a purpose. In fact it often provides a purpose to some course of action.

    Morality, by definition, is how a human “ought” to behave. There are no “oughts” unless there is a purpose or a goal. Otherwise, there is only what is – behavior that “is”, with no “ought” justifications.

    Atheists/materialists use the term “morality” in vague way that often hides that morality means “how one ought to behave”; how one “ought” to behave is always in relation to a purpose. Note how MF says it is an emotional reaction – meaning, I would suppose, he wants to avoid the negative emotional reaction if he were to perform such an act. What this necessarily means is that if another person enjoys the act, it is “good” under subjective morality.

    People like MF require that morality be subjective above all other considerations, even though it necessarily means – logically – that all rape or toture anyone feels is justified by any reason whatsoever – even their own pleasure – is by that definition moral.

    That MF says it isn’t moral for him personally is a logical non-sequitur. If it is immoral for MF to perform the act because of how he “emotionaly reacts” to it, that same definition means the act is moral for anyone who enjoys it. This results in, if I ask the question of MF, is it moral for Bob over there to rape/torture, and as long as Bob enjoys it, MF must say “yes”.

  6. 6

    We see these monologues quite often and what makes them interesting is the detail of what is their example moral decision which in the OP here is,

    “Is it moral to gratuitously torture children?”

    Sometimes it is rape, sometimes rape and murder and sometimes the more imaginative go all in with torture, rape and murder of children.

    Never “Is it moral to take the last cookie ?” or “Is it moral to give an animal food given there are humans who are hungry too ?”

    It could be the bias of the forum but it seems to be Christians who are playing out this question in their head (and it’s not just any Christians but the real nasty ones like the one-trick pony presuppositionals). It is never made very clear what the point of all of this is but the subtext seems to be some kind of moral fashion parade whereby the Christian dresses in their finest Emperor’s clothing and rides upon their ‘bête noire’.

    Their question tells us more about them then they would probably want to reveal. It tells us about the thoughts that populate their head and the mental gymnastics they go through to not do these things.

    What we’re left with is the feeling that they do not accept that they could have an intrinsic will to not do these things but they rely on extrinsically applied rules to not be a monster. To these people we plead that they never lose their faith if that is all that is between whatever is broken inside and society.

  7. 7
    OldArmy94 says:

    For all your sophistry, LP, you still are not addressing the issue or question. However, you really have no alternative but to deny OR face the reality that moral objectivity for the atheist is an illusion. Many of your materialist colleagues have accepted that fact, and unless you want to continue to be intellectually dishonest, then you must come to grips with it, too.

  8. 8

    LP,

    The reason I use the example I do – gratuitously torturing children – and not something like taking a cookie is because it makes the point obvious.

    There are things that any sane person would not hesitate to attempt to stop and would consider it their right and obligation to do so, regardless of how the other person “emotionally feels” about it, and regardless of what their culture or social beliefs are.

    It means that moral relativists will act on some moral questions as if the morality involved is objectively valid and binding on everyone whether they agree or not.

    Until the atheist/materialist can reconcile this behavior with their intellectual position that morality is subjective, they are either being blatant hypocrites or they are lying to themselves.

    You can’t have it both ways; you don’t get to call yourself a moral subjectivist (to escape the undesirable logical ramifications of an objective morality) and then act and argue as if morality refers to an objective commodity.

    You don’t get to display moral outrage for what religion has done in the past when your own premise dictates that any behavior is justifiable as morally good as long as the individual (or group) is trying to achieve some – any – corresponding purpose in their mind.

  9. 9
    ciphertext says:

    RE: OP
    If morality is subjective (by individual or group), as atheists/materialists claim, then what any individual/group ought to do is necessarily relative to that individual/group purpose.

    Why is what an individual or group of individuals ought to do related to the individual or group of individuals purpose? More specifically, why a purpose?

    I’m operating with the following definition of morality.

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

    I’ve always wondered if it stood to reason that truly absolute moral commandments should be inviolable? Much to the same degree that the speed of light is an absolute limit to the velocity of anything with a non-zero mass can achieve? It seems to me, that a relative moral commandment could be easily violated. Which is why it wouldn’t be illogical to say that either eating the last cookie OR raping another individual could be moral in one culture but not another?

    Supposing my train of thought regarding the inviolability of absolute moral commandments is correct, then that would put a damper on our ability use our free will. More so than the other “real” physical limitations of our environment, as moral commandments by definition deal with a persons behavior. I wonder if that would require that moral commandments must necessarily be relative. Otherwise, we would have a severely limited (by degrees of freedom) will, would we not?

  10. 10
    TSErik says:

    Which is why it wouldn’t be illogical to say that either eating the last cookie OR raping another individual could be moral in one culture but not another?

    But there is no culture that abides rape, just as no culture abides murder. Different cultures may have different interpretations of what constitutes rape, or murder, but this is the subjective interpretation of the objective moral truth inherent in humanity.

  11. 11

    Cipher,

    What does “right” and “wrong” mean, in the context of your definition? What does “good” and “bad” mean? In relation to what?

    Under materialism/atheism, behaviors are facts. Why would you consider any act “right” or “wrong”? How would you go about deciding?

    Is it how you “feel” about the act?

    Ultimately, regardless of the answer, it boils down to a purpose – to not feel bad, to feel good, to protect others from harm, the good of the society, etc. No “right” or “wrong” exists without a purpose the act is supposed to serve.

    We have the free will to do as we can wrt gravity – we can jump off a cliff if we insist we can fly, disregarding all evidence and logic to the contrary. We also have the free will to do that which is self-evidently evil – if we are willing to pay the price that our conscience is telling us we cannot escape.

  12. 12
    Mark Frank says:

    WJM #5

    Morality, by definition, is how a human “ought” to behave. There are no “oughts” unless there is a purpose or a goal. Otherwise, there is only what is – behavior that “is”, with no “ought” justifications.

    Rubbish. I think people ought to be punctual but that isn’t because of any purpose or goal. I just feel that way.

    Atheists/materialists use the term “morality” in vague way that often hides that morality means “how one ought to behave”; how one “ought” to behave is always in relation to a purpose.

    Repeating it won’t make it true!

    Note how MF says it is an emotional reaction – meaning, I would suppose, he wants to avoid the negative emotional reaction if he were to perform such an act.

    No. I mean that I have a negative emotional reaction now to anyone performing the act. Quite different.

    What this necessarily means is that if another person enjoys the act, it is “good” under subjective morality.

    This would not follow even if you were right about the previous sentence. It certainly doesn’t follow from the actual meaning of the sentence.

    People like MF require that morality be subjective above all other considerations, even though it necessarily means – logically – that all rape or toture anyone feels is justified by any reason whatsoever – even their own pleasure – is by that definition moral.

    This sentence seems to have collapsed into gibberish.  I don’t “require” that morality be anything. I just try to explain what I think we all mean when we use moral language – but maybe don’t realise it.

    That MF says it isn’t moral for him personally is a logical non-sequitur. If it is immoral for MF to perform the act because of how he “emotionaly reacts” to it, that same definition means the act is moral for anyone who enjoys it. This results in, if I ask the question of MF, is it moral for Bob over there to rape/torture, and as long as Bob enjoys it, MF must say “yes”.

    That is no more true than when you said the same thing (I think) a few sentences back.

  13. 13
    TSErik says:

    Rubbish. I think people ought to be punctual but that isn’t because of any purpose or goal. I just feel that way.

    False analogy. And wouldn’t being respectful to others be a purpose or goal?

    This sentence seems to have collapsed into gibberish. I don’t “require” that morality be anything. I just try to explain what I think we all mean when we use moral language – but maybe don’t realise it.

    The sentence made perfect sense. I would say you do require morality to fit into your a priori worldview, because objective morality poses a difficulty for said worldview.

    Further, WJM is simply stating the consequence of absent absolute moral truths, is a world where rape, torture, and murder aren’t wrong.

    So, are those acts wrong, Mark? No equivocation, or double-speak, please. Just render a simple answer.

  14. 14

    Rubbish. I think people ought to be punctual but that isn’t because of any purpose or goal. I just feel that way.

    If “I just feel that way” is your principle by which you validate moral rights and wrongs, you are necessarily validating everyone else’s “I just feel that way” as being as moral as your own. Thus, the torturer’s “I just feel that way” is morally good by the same principle – unless you hold your feelings to be the objective moral arbiter of what other people do.

    No. I mean that I have a negative emotional reaction now to anyone performing the act. Quite different.

    “Because I feel this way” is either applied in the subjective sense, meaning that everyone has there own equally valid moral sense of “because I feel this way”, or it is applied in the objective sense, meaning that everyone’s behavior can be evaluated by how you (personallly, MF) feel.

    Please not that the logical ramification here is that MF is saying that “because he feels that way”, he is justified in intervening in the personal affairs of others – which also, in principle, necessarily justifies anyone else coercing their personal likes and dislikes on others because they feel like it.

    MF is still trying to figure out how to word his argument so that he can have his cake and eat it, too.

  15. 15
    Mark Frank says:

    If “I just feel that way” is your principle by which you validate moral rights and wrongs, you are necessarily validating everyone else’s “I just feel that way” as being as moral as your own. Thus, the torturer’s “I just feel that way” is morally good by the same principle – unless you hold your feelings to be the objective moral arbiter of what other people do.

    I have a feeling we have done this a thousand times already.  Morals are in the end subjective. So if the torturer really thinks it is moral to torture  I can offer lots of arguments to try and persuade him otherwise but I cannot definitively prove him wrong in the sense I can prove to him that there are lions in Africa or the square root of 4 is 2. But I still passionately believe him to be wrong and will do my best to prevent him doing it and so will the vast majority of other people. That is all we can ask of morality. If you want to describe that situation as “validating his moral opinion” go ahead. It is a meaningless phrase. 

    Your morality is also subjective. You just don’t realise it. To test this I will play the role of the torturer.  I saw torture is morally right. Now go ahead and prove me wrong.

  16. 16
    Mark Frank says:

    #13 TSErik

    False analogy. And wouldn’t being respectful to others be a purpose or goal?

    It is not even an analogy – much less a false one – it is a counterexample. Being respectful might be a purpose but as it happens I think punctuality is a good thing in itself – not just a means to an end.

  17. 17
    JGuy says:

    Murray

    What defines “greater good”, other than any particular group’s subjective idea?

    I also defined good. How it came to be is not relevant to it being a standard once it’s established. Call good a banana sandwich if you like. If the sandwich has only tomatoes, I can say objectively per that standard, that it is not good.

    I understand that a person has to come up with the definition, but how is the generic theist in any better position? If we resort to our God given intuition on the matter, then doesn’t the atheist have the same God given intuition. In either case, what is the objective standard? The way it feels to me is that there is an argument for absolute morality and one for objective morality. My feeling is that atheists can hold to objective morality the same as theists. However, atheists can not hold to absolute morality. That is, they can not say it will always be wrong to kill children for fun.

  18. 18

    Your morality is also subjective. You just don’t realise it.

    You are apparently incapable of making the distinction between something that is taken as subjective in nature, and something that is taken as objective in nature but interpreted subjectively by individuals.

    There’s simply no way for either of us to “know” if morality actually refers to an objective or a subjective commodity; we must assume it, one way or another.

    I saw torture is morally right. Now go ahead and prove me wrong.

    Whether or not I can prove you wrong is entirely irrelevant to the point. The point of my post is that regardless of who thinks what, I cannot act as if the morality of gratuitously torturing children is subjective, or just a matter of “how I feel”. That may in fact be all it is, but I cannot act that way.

    I must act as if it is objectively wrong for anyone to commit such an act; I act as if I have a right and an obligation to intervene, regardless of if I can convince you or not.

    That’s the whole point, MF. If you were a sociopath I couldn’t convince or prove anything to you, but even so, I will still act.

    Another example of “how I happen to feel” could be said that I don’t like peach pie. I may hate peach pie so much that it makes me physically ill to watch anyone else eat peach pie. No matter how much I hate it, no matter how much it revulses me, I will not intervene on anyone eating peach pie because I know it’s a matter of subjective, personal preference. Instead of forcing my personal feelings on others, I will turn my eyes away and let them eat their peach pie in peace.

    Once again: I’m not saying I can prove that morality is objective; I’m pointing out that every sane person on the planet acts as if it is an objective commodity – including you. Nobody but sociopaths actually act as if it is a subjective commodity.

    All you’re doing is demonstrating that while you intellectually argue one thing is true, you act as if the opposite is true – regardless of what is actually true, and regardless of what can be proven.

  19. 19
    JGuy says:

    p.s. Murray. In my definition of good being “Those things that do the least harm AND promote a healthier society.” I think that the terms ‘harm’ and ‘healthier’ are not really subjective. Harm means towards destruction or death. Let’s say healthier means something that functions in a way conducive towards life. How are those particularly subjective terms? It is easy to label most actions as either more harmful or healthier by these simple definitions. Other person could come up with another definition for themselves, but then those become measures of objectivity.

    If I make a scale and say red is good and ultraviolet is bad… and I say yellow.. then you can objectively say that it is more good than bad… by that standard. That way, the measure is not arbitrary to the individual in that society under that standard.

    I could be wrong, but this seems like objectivity to me, at least at some level.

  20. 20

    JGuy,

    In my view, “objective” and “absolute” are the same. If a group of people agree upon a definition and accept that they have agreed upon that definition, then the principle by which the moral standard exists is that “a group of people have agreed upon the definition”.

    Which means that if a group of people agree on the definition of morality as being “rounding up and gassing all the Jews”, then by the principle of moral authorship that serves the first group, the Nazis are behaving morally and the first group must – logically – admit this.

    Whether or not morality actually refers to something objective (absolute) or subjective (individual or group), is irrelevant to the fact that no sane person can actually act that as morality is subjective. We must act as if some moral rules apply to everyone, regardless of their personal beliefs and regardless of the culture and society they live in.

    If we had the power to snap our fingers and stop some behaviors worldwide, we would not hesitate. And therein is the logical demonstration that regardless of intellectual self-deceptions, we all hold that some things are universally true, binding and give us the right and obligation to act on them.

    IMO, it is only through a natural law understanding of morality that one can have a moral premise that is reconcilable with their actual behavior.

  21. 21

    I could be wrong, but this seems like objectivity to me, at least at some level.

    It’s just a consensus morality, which is subjective morality on a group scale. Agreeing that red is good is a subjective designation, even if there are objective means by which to determine the “redness” of a thing.

    If the Nazis consider that “killing Jews” is good, there is an objective way to measure how good an act is – by measuring how many Jews are killed. However, we cannot act as if independent societies get to determine what is good and actually judge it that way, or else we’d all agree that killing Nazis was moral because that’s what that group decided was good.

  22. 22
    Barb says:

    TSErik:

    But there is no culture that abides rape, just as no culture abides murder.

    Here, let’s start with Wikipedia and you can look up other sources on your own: “Rape in India has been described by Radha Kumar as one of India’s most common crimes against women[1] and by the UN’s human-rights chief as a “national problem”.[2] Marital rape is not a criminal offence.[3]
    Per-capita reported incidents of rape are quite low compared to other countries, even developed countries.[4][5] According to 2012 statistics, New Delhi has the highest number of rape-reports among Indian cities, while Jabalpur has the per capita incidence of reported rapes.[6][7] Sources show that rape cases in India have doubled between 1990 and 2008.[8] According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 24,206 rape cases were reported in India in 2011, but experts agree that the number of unreported cases of sexual assault brings the total much higher.[9]

    Article on the Steubenville, OH, case where a girl was raped by football players (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01......html?_r=0)

    From the article linked above: “In some places, rape is endemic: in South Africa, a survey found that 37 percent of men reported that they had raped a woman.”

    You were saying…?

  23. 23
    TSErik says:

    Barb @22:

    I think you are misunderstanding what I was saying. Perhaps it was my fault as the word “abide” may not convey properly my thoughts.

    I was stating that there’s no culture in which violent, forcible copulation isn’t seen as wrong. Surely, there are societies where heinous acts are perpetrated, and attempts at justification are made.

  24. 24
    JGuy says:

    Murray,

    However, we cannot act as if independent societies get to determine what is good and actually judge it that way, or else we’d all agree that killing Nazis was moral because that’s what that group decided was good.

    But individuals would be morally objective per that societal standard. They could even say that somehow evolution built it into their minds to persuade them to that standard. Of course, I’d argue they are deluded, but they could believe that. And if they had a standard like the nazi’s, then I could still judge their standard as immoral, because I hold to an absolute standard…regardless of their views.

    Am I missing something obvious?

  25. 25

    But individuals would be morally objective per that societal standard. They could even say that somehow evolution built it into their minds to persuade them to that standard. Of course, I’d argue they are deluded, but they could believe that. And if they had a standard like the nazi’s, then I could still judge their standard as immoral, because I hold to an absolute standard…regardless of their views.

    Am I missing something obvious?

    I’m not sure what you’re saying. If they believe their standard is universal and absolute, then their premise is sound and their behavior matches their premise. IOW, that society and the individuals in it and I agree that we can only act as if our morality reflects something absolute. IOW, the Nazis did believe in a kind of absolute morality – might makes right, survival of the fittest, and behaved accordingly – as if it was a universally true and applicable morality.

    If, however, you are saying that they consider their morals absolute AND something that is different from society to society, then they are saying nonsense. Just because people can say a thing – like, “I have compatibalist free will” or “I can imagine a 4-sided triangle” doesn’t change the fact that what they are saying is nonsense.

    You can’t consider your morals absolute AND subjective from society to society. If morals are different from society to society, you have no means by which to judge the other society’s moral behavior except in light of how they feel, and what purpose their actions are supposed to serve.

  26. 26
    ciphertext says:

    Re: Post #10 @TSErik
    But there is no culture that abides rape, just as no culture abides murder. Different cultures may have different interpretations of what constitutes rape, or murder, but this is the subjective interpretation of the objective moral truth inherent in humanity.

    I’m not sure I follow that statement. If the issue is one of behavioral definition (e.g. what constitutes rape, or murder) then in order for no culture to abide rape, all cultures must similarly define rape must they not? Otherwise what constitutes rape in our culture (assuming USA for purposes of argument) might differ from those of other countries. So much so that what happens in China or some Muslim countries is not rape by their definition, but would undoubtedly be classified as rape by our (most states in the USA) standards. As an example, China and “many Muslim countries” don’t have a definition for rape within marriage. (economist article)

    So when you say “…subjective interpretation of the objective moral truth…”, why would there be a subjective definition of an objective moral truth? I’m not sure I understand how an objective moral truth wouldn’t carry with it an objective definition.

    Re: Post #11 @OP
    So, absent a moral absolute as the relative standard of comparison. You are positing that the atheist-materialist worldview substitutes “purpose”?

    The exercise of the free will isn’t constrained by natural “forces” such as gravity or the weak and strong nuclear forces, in as so much as they don’t interfere with your cogitation. Rather my point being that in so much as the weak nuclear force governs the decay of atoms, so too might an absolute moral commandment govern the expression of one’s will. A bit like Asimov’s three laws of robotics. Those would be absolute commandments made of the automaton, in which the automaton would be left to judge the appropriate behavior relative to those laws.

    BTW…thanks for the thread, it makes for some serious thinking.

  27. 27

    So when you say “…subjective interpretation of the objective moral truth…”, why would there be a subjective definition of an objective moral truth? I’m not sure I understand how an objective moral truth wouldn’t carry with it an objective definition.

    Humans exist in “Plato’s Cave”, subjectively interpreting everything they encounter – even brick walls. Several different people can be witnesses to a crime scene and then give entirely different accounts and descriptions. Everything humans experience – subjective or objective in nature – is experienced, processed and interpreted subjectively.

    So, absent a moral absolute as the relative standard of comparison. You are positing that the atheist-materialist worldview substitutes “purpose”?

    All morality – even objective morality – exists in relationship to purpose, whether we know what it is, can articulate it or not. Morality is a description of oughts that seek to fulfill a purpose. Atheists/materialists generally believe in subjective morality – meaning, subjective purposes. Many theists, on the other hand, hold that existence serves an absolute purpose.

    The exercise of the free will isn’t constrained by natural “forces” such as gravity or the weak and strong nuclear forces, in as so much as they don’t interfere with your cogitation.

    Which is why they call it free will and not free action.

    Rather my point being that in so much as the weak nuclear force governs the decay of atoms, so too might an absolute moral commandment govern the expression of one’s will. A bit like Asimov’s three laws of robotics. Those would be absolute commandments made of the automaton, in which the automaton would be left to judge the appropriate behavior relative to those laws.

    That’s not my view. My view is that one can employ their free will to commit evil acts. We are free to go against the will (purpose) of god if we choose to do so.

    Again, the important point isn’t so much the particulars of purpose and the extent of free will, but rather that people must behave as if morality refers to an objective commodity. The idea of group or individual “subjective morality” is either the result of self-deceiving, improper strings of words and concepts, or it’s blatant hypocrisy.

    Free will is another of those things that atheists/materialists try to have their cake and eat it too, but that’s another column, another day.

  28. 28
    Mark Frank says:

    WJM

    As I understand it your thesis depends on a distinction between acting to fulfil an objective “purpose” and acting to fulfil a subjective “purpose”.

    I don’t think the word “purpose” is the right one but it may not matter that much. So lets go with that for the moment.

    Bearing in mind that in the case of morality that subjective “purpose” will typically be:

    a) shared by many, many other people
    b) based on reasons not just plucked out of the air

    How is this action going to differ from acting according to an objective purpose?

    After all there are plenty of fields where a judgement is clearly subjective but widely shared and no one finds it odd to act according to that widely accepted opinion. For example, suppose it is widely accepted that one young musician is more talented than another – a subjective opinion, but one based on reasons – then an arts council will devote more public money to that musician. Is that acting as though it were objectively true that the musician were better or simply acting on a widely held, reasoned, subjective opinion?

  29. 29
    TSErik says:

    Ciphertext @ 26:

    I’m not sure I follow that statement.

    Your “behavioral definition” is simply another way of saying justification.

    Can you find me a culture that has no concept of rape, or murder? Where violent, forcible sexual abuse or killing one’s neighbor for no reason is a virtue? Where the stated acts require no justification for being carried out?

    We may not agree with the justification that rape cannot occur in a marriage in certain cultures, but the fact that a justification must be made shows that rape itself is wrong, even in said cultures.

    This is what I was talking about when I mentioned objective moral truths and subjective interpretations. Humans universally have the understanding that murder is wrong. Therefore, justifications must be made in the minds of humans when taking a life.

    Humanity creates justifications in order to reason going against inherent moral truths.

    why would there be a subjective definition of an objective moral truth?

    It is silly to focus on the cultural incoherency of the subjective justifications.

    To illustrate, imagine a group of people are on a hike. This group comes upon a flower none of them have ever seen before. The group agrees the flower is beautiful, but one person says the flower is a beautiful red color where another claims that it is more orange. One says they are both wrong and that the flower is maroon. One says it is sienna. Another person says all the others are wrong, because they are viewing the flower in a shadow and that the flower is actually a yellow color.

    The flower exists objectively. The color is also there in the wavelengths of reflected light. It is there regardless of the subjective interpretations of the hiking group.

    So here we see a subjective interpretation of an object that exists.

    Your rebuttal speaks to the color of the flower. You are stating that because the group cannot agree on the color, the flower does not exist.

    I argue that morality is inherent in humanity, but ultimately given by an external source. Humanity knows there is a flower. They know there is color to this flower, just as they know certain behaviors are simply wrong. Because humanity has this inherent moral compass, justifications must be made when going against it.

    This doesn’t mean humanity is perfect and adheres to inherent moral truths all the time. Nor does it mean all justifications are created equal.

  30. 30
    Barb says:

    TSErik comments,

    I think you are misunderstanding what I was saying. Perhaps it was my fault as the word “abide” may not convey properly my thoughts.

    I was stating that there’s no culture in which violent, forcible copulation isn’t seen as wrong. Surely, there are societies where heinous acts are perpetrated, and attempts at justification are made.

    Did you read the links I posted? In India, rape is a fact of life. The rapists usually aren’t prosecuted. There are plenty of people living in that culture that do not view rape as being objectively (or subjectively wrong).

    In Steubenville, OH, the rape survivor was harassed by the townspeople because of the fact that her rapists were high school football players and a felony conviction would have ended their chances of being recruited by colleges to play.

    In either case, I’m not seeing where people feel that rape is objectively wrong. They simply do it, and expect that others will somehow understand or condone their actions.

  31. 31

    How is this action going to differ from acting according to an objective purpose?

    I didn’t say the action would be different. In fact, my argument depends on the act being pretty much the same. The difference is that one has a rationally sound basis for acting as if their moral views apply to other; the other has no rationally sound basis for such an act. The subjectivist, logically, should act like the moral behavior of others is like any other subjective behavior and turn their eyes away if they do not like it.

    After all there are plenty of fields where a judgement is clearly subjective but widely shared and no one finds it odd to act according to that widely accepted opinion. For example, suppose it is widely accepted that one young musician is more talented than another – a subjective opinion, but one based on reasons – then an arts council will devote more public money to that musician. Is that acting as though it were objectively true that the musician were better or simply acting on a widely held, reasoned, subjective opinion?

    It’s acting on a widely held, reasoned subjective opinion. Collectively, informally, people also buy one product over another and competing businesses can fail because customers subjectively like one product better than another. This is why some movies become blockbusters and others fail miserably at the box office even if they were critical acclaimed.

    As far as I can tell here, you are pointing out something that is trivially true as if it makes a point against my argument.

    The difference between such admittedly subjective commodities and a moral commodity claimed to be subjective is that in moral cases we are not content to “look the other way”, but rather feel obligated to intervene.

    This is what my “gratuitously torturing children” example points out. Only a madman rushes the stage to stop a musician from playing because he doesn’t want anyone else to hear him play. Only a madman would devise a plan to break into the musician’s house and steal their instruments so they cannot torture the instruments further, no matter how badly the musician played.

    Yet, we would consider it our obligation to find some way to deprive the torturer of their ability to torture, or failing that, at least steal the children away from them.

    That you are willing, in your example, to compare “a less talented musician” to a person who tortures children for fun as if they are indicative only of difference of quantity of public agreement and not different qualitatively demonstrates the depraved condition of your mental faculties and shows how far you are willing to go to deny that all sane people must behave as if at least some moral jujdgements they hold are objectively, absolutely true.

    It wouldn’t matter if everyone except sociopaths considered a person a bad musician, sane people would not attempt to deprive him of his musical instruments just because he was a poor musician. All we would care about is not having to listen to it. If he wanted to torture his instruments in a soundproof basement, we wouldn’t be calling in swat to stop him once we found out what he was doing.

  32. 32
    TSErik says:

    Did you read the links I posted? In India, rape is a fact of life. The rapists usually aren’t prosecuted. There are plenty of people living in that culture that do not view rape as being objectively (or subjectively wrong).

    I certainly did, and would ask you the same question. It seems as though you are conflating justification with the moral truth. I addressed this point above with my response to “ciphertext”.

    In the article it states:

    “…in one poll, 68 percent of Indian judges said that “provocative attire” amounts to “an invitation to rape.”

    Certainly that is abhorrent. But it also shows in this culture there IS a concept of violent and forcible sexual copulation, or rape. Do you argue this?

    The “provocative attire” comment is the justification. For instance: “Yes, rape is wrong. However, she is dressed provocatively so she secretly wants it or deserves it.” This speaks to the ignorance of a culture. It speaks of a sub-culture that wallows in the suppression of the moral compass in order to justify heinous acts.

    Justifications for immoral acts are not the same thing as morality itself. In fact, the justifications exist BECAUSE humanity has inherent morality. Though it doesn’t mean that everyone chooses to follow it.

  33. 33
    Mark Frank says:

    WJM

    The difference is that one has a rationally sound basis for acting as if their moral views apply to other; the other has no rationally sound basis for such an act.

    What is irrational about acting to prevent people doing things I subjectively disapprove of and encouraging people to do things I subjectively approve of?

  34. 34

    What is irrational about acting to prevent people doing things I subjectively disapprove of and encouraging people to do things I subjectively approve of?

    If the system you have described above is what defines “what is moral”, then:

    (1) If the principle extends to other people, then you are logically compelled to admit that whatever they do to “prevent and encourage” towards their preferences is also moral. By definition, the torturer and the Nazi are as moral as you, and their acts as moral.

    And also, BTW, you are necessarily implying that using other people as a means to advance your personal preferences because you want to and because you can (might makes right) is what “morality” is all about. If you’re comfortable with that, I’m content to let observers evaluate that moral view.

    (2) If the principle is not extended to other people, then you are treating your personal preferences as a de facto objective morality that all other behaviors are judged by, and calling it “subjective” would just be a deceit.

    (3) Since you are ideologically committed against objective morality, the answer must be (1).

    Please re-read the O.P. My claim about irrationality was about the self-deception and/or hypocrisy about this very point, because so-called moral subjectivists refuse to admit that under moral subjectivism, the torturer and the Nazi are behaving morally.

    So, when I ask “is it moral to gratuitously torture children”, given the implicit assumption that it would be enjoyable for the torturer in question, the only logically consistent answer you can offer is “yes”, because that is what they prefer and that is what they are willing to do to to get others to satisfy their personal preferences.

    MF: there’s nothing (IMO) wrong with having irrational beliefs, but you cannot have your cake and eat it too. If you insist that morality is subjective, then you are logically compelled to admit that the torturer is behaving morally, and that morality is nothing more than a self-deceiving system that hides the simple fact that you believe everyone is using other people (and everything else in the world) to gratify personal preferences. That you would call this system “morality” is a disturbing indictment of moral subjectivism.

  35. 35
    Mark Frank says:

    WJM

    The Nazi and the torturer may be behaving morally in their opinion (if their motives are indeed based on their idea of morality) but as a relativist that doesn’t mean I have to accept that their behaviour is moral in my opinion or indeed in the opinion of the vast majority of people. Nothing irrational or hypocritical or inconsistent in that.

    Morality is all about advancing my personal view of what is moral. I am sure yours is as well. Not all my preferences are moral in nature – so it is not just about what I want and what I can do.

  36. 36
    TSErik says:

    Morality is all about advancing my personal view of what is moral.

    A very telling statement.

    What is irrational about acting to prevent people doing things I subjectively disapprove of and encouraging people to do things I subjectively approve of?

    Because you are planting your moral ideas above others, yet in your worldview, their moral positions are just as valid. Why should you alter moral behavior? What places your morality above the torturer’s? Why are you right, and the torturer wrong?

    Are you just simply so much better than others that it is your position to encourage or discourage morality based on your subjective approval? Isn’t that what the torturer did? Why is your position better than his? Again, why are you right, and he wrong?

    If you are better than others, as measured to what? What is “better”?

    And to say that the two positions aren’t better or worse than each other an just are, it is simply passive approval.

  37. 37
    Mark Frank says:

    Because you are planting your moral ideas above others, yet in your worldview, their moral positions are just as valid.

    In my moral view they aren’t just as valid. I am planting my moral ideas above theirs because subjectively I back them. It is not as if they are arbitrary whims. They are based on reasons, knowledge and strong passions. I just recognise that if the torturer sincerely believes human suffering is morally good then I have no way of proving him wrong. Just as you have no way of disproving someone who says I think doing God’s will is evil.

    But I am going to stop this now. I have the debate too many times before and nothing comes of it.

  38. 38

    Mark Frank: You can keep reiterating that you can have your cake and eat it too, and believe it to be true, but that’s why they call such beliefs irrational. You are employing semantic devices and logical fallacies in order to deceive yourself about the necessary ramification of your views.

    No matter what phrases and sentences you employ to convince yourself otherwise, subjective morality logically requires that you accept the Nazi and the torturer as not only being your moral equals, but you must admit that what they do is moral.

    That’s the very nature of subjective preferences, no matter what adjectives you use characterize those preferences.

    Of course, I don’t expect you to have the courage to face the logical ramifications of your beliefs – few do. All I’m doing here is exposing moral subjectivists for what they are.

  39. 39
    TSErik says:

    It is not as if they are arbitrary whims. They are based on reasons, knowledge and strong passions.

    So are the torturer’s.

    But as I asked before, what gives you the authority to encourage or discourage morality based on your subjective approval?

    In my moral view they aren’t just as valid.

    So you are stating that your moral standard is better than the torturer’s? If they are not both just as valid then one must be more valid, or “better” than the other. Why is yours the better standard that you can pass judgement upon the torturer?

    If the only standard you seem to hold is that which you yourself devise, and you are then:

    “acting to prevent people doing things I subjectively disapprove of and encouraging people to do things I subjectively approve of”

    in essence, you believe you are the supreme moral authority. Your argument honestly, has the faults WJM has pointed out. Otherwise your worldview seems to be completely egocentric.

    Just as you have no way of disproving someone who says I think doing God’s will is evil.

    This doesn’t logically make sense. If we are arguing the morality of God’s will, we must argue under the assumption that God exists. If God is the supreme good (as is in Abrahamic religions, the God YWHW), and God exists, God’s will must by definition be good.

    The sentence great attempt to ink the argument as it raises emotional levels, but honestly means nothing.

    But I am going to stop this now. I have the debate too many times before and nothing comes of it.

    It also seems as though that the only way for “something to come of it” is for us to convert to your ideas. This is normally a fantastic exit strategy that allows one to save face. However, it is quite clear to me, WJM, and all observers that you are finding your position indefensible.

  40. 40
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    WJM: It means that moral relativists will act on some moral questions as if the morality involved is objectively valid and binding on everyone whether they agree or not.

    What you seem to be forgetting is that, whether one’s moral views are considered subjective or objective, the practical effect is the same: I will act to enforce what I believe/feel/think is right because I have the impulse to do so. Here’s how it works:

    1. I am a moral subjectivist.

    2. I value consciousness and seek to minimize the pain and sufferering of it.

    3. Why? I don’t know. It it feels right. You could say my brain is wired up with gobs of empathy. (This is the subjective and otherwise inexplicable basis of my morality.)

    4. Therefore I think torturing babies for fun is evil.

    5. I would do all in my power to stop it from happening if I encountered an occurrence of it.

    6. Why? I have the impulse to fight on the behalf of victims. I’m wired that way.

    Any philosophical navel gazing whether or not this is “subjective” or “objective” is entirely irrelevant to how I view baby torture and what I would do to stop it.

    Regular people act everyday on their morality despite any philosophical navel gazing about whether their beliefs and feelings about a given issue is “subjective” or “objective” morality. They simply act on what they were taught and how they feel.

    In other words, the whole OP is waste of time is irrelevant to practical reality… unless you just happen to like to gaze and your navel philosophically. (I do, so I can hardly blame you for writing the OP.)

  41. 41
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    I should amend:

    They simply act on how they are wired what they were taught and thus how they feel.

  42. 42
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    Mark Frank: I just recognise that if the torturer sincerely believes human suffering is morally good then I have no way of proving him wrong.

    Correct. At that point, trying to instruct the torturer that his act is “objectively wrong” is a waste of time. The proper thing to do is to shoot him in the head.

  43. 43
    Mark Frank says:

    #39 TESrik

    OK. One more point.

    If God is the supreme good (as is in Abrahamic religions, the God YWHW), and God exists, God’s will must by definition be good.

    If you are going to define God as the ultimate being that does/approves what is good then of God’s will is good. But that doesn’t get you anywhere with the person who has a different view of what is good.

    Suppose I think that doing good involves torturing children. Using your principle I would conclude God approves of torturing children – by definition. How are you to prove me wrong – objectively?

  44. 44

    CS,

    Unless you are going to claim that how I feel about a thing is not affected by whether I consider that thing a subjective or an objective value, you’ve undermined your own rebuttal. How I feel about a thing, and what I think my response should be, is determined in great measure by whether or not I consider that thing to be subjective (personal preference) or objective (applies to everyone, at all times).

    IOW, how I – or anyone – behaves in a practical way with regards to moral questions cannot help but be affected by our beliefs about “what morality is”. For many, the “navel gazing” belief that morality is subjective, while irrationaly acting as if it is objective, may be to a large degree harmless as long as it is riding along in a culture largely structured around a belief in objective morality.

    However, once you deeply imbed in the psyche of a population and its government that it’s perfectly moral to use others as a means to gratify your own personal preferences, and that there are no necessary consequences, I don’t think you or I would care to live in such a society.

    Far from being “navel gazing” and making no practical difference, whether one believes (actually believes, meaning they also act as if true) in subjective or objective morality can make an enormous difference in behavior.

  45. 45

    How we view “what morality is” wrt objective vs subjective directly affects not only our feelings and conceptualizations about what is appropriate in terms of both behavior and responses to behavior, but also affects our perception of the very mechanics of the system. Our behavior will change depending on if we think we will likely be caught, and if we think there will be unacceptable consequences.

    If one believes in absolute morality with necessary consequences, they believe they cannot help but be caught and pay the price (or get the reward) for whatever they do.

    Thus, far from being “navel gazing”, it is indeed an important and practical consideration that has dramatic implications in terms of how we actually behave.

  46. 46

    CS seems to think that if I feel homosexuality is wrong, it is perfectly valid, and if I feel strongly enough about it I can to try and stop any and all homosexual activity by any means I am comfortable with, including executing homosexuals.

    CS further thinks that it is “navel gazing” for me (the hypothetical me) to consider the distinction between “subjective” morality, “natural law” morality, and “command authority” morality, because regardless of my conclusion, I will still go around “doing what I feel” – executing homosexuals.

    However, I can attest that when my beliefs about a thing change, my feelings about that thing change as well. How I feel about various acts, wrt morality, has dramatically changed several times in my life, depending on the beliefs that I adopt about morality itself.

    Even if we reduce all morality to “doing what you feel”, changing what one believes morality to be changes the feelings one has about moral behavior and obligations; so instead of feeling compelled to run around executing homosexuals, perhaps I’m fine (the hypothetical I) with the nature of an existence with an absolute morality doling out whatever necessary consequences may be coming their way – if any.

  47. 47
    TSErik says:

    If you are going to define God as the ultimate being that does/approves what is good then of God’s will is good. But that doesn’t get you anywhere with the person who has a different view of what is good.

    Suppose I think that doing good involves torturing children. Using your principle I would conclude God approves of torturing children – by definition. How are you to prove me wrong – objectively?

    No, not quite. Within this argument, as we assume the existence of God, you “conclude God approves of torturing children” because the torturer finds it good.

    At this point it has become a metaphysical discussion of theology. Because both parties are now asserting that there is a supreme “good” that comes from a source, God, however the debate has become about properties of God.

    In this context, if we are both arguing that the Abrahamic God exists, and our moral inclinations come from the Abrahamic God, therefore the morality outlined by said God would be objective, whether one followed it or not, correct?

    As since the Abrahamic God exists, we must assume the texts authored by Him (or his will) exist as well. And so does his morality.

    To this point, though the torturer says his inclinations are good, and come from God, we can only conclude, as God exists, that the torturer is wrong. Whether he believes it or not, whether he is insane, sick, or plain evil and has found ways to ignore his innate morality, it doesn’t matter – he is wrong.

    You can see why, in the context of our discussion where the Abrahamic God exists, the original statement falls apart.

  48. 48
    TSErik says:

    While the original argument assumed the existence of the Abrahamic God, the result can change. If the terms of the argument are changed, to state that the torturer believes in a different God, then you would be correct in stating I cannot prove anything. The discussion has become one of theology.

  49. 49
    Mark Frank says:

    #47 TSErik

    To this point, though the torturer says his inclinations are good, and come from God, we can only conclude, as God exists, that the torturer is wrong.

    Why?  You are human and therefore fallible. Maybe you just misinterpreted God’s will. It is possible. Maybe God actually approves of child torture. After all some bits of the Bible are open to interpretation.

    Suppose one day you realise that you got it wrong – God actually approves of child torture. In which case, if you really believe that God’s will is good by definition, you would have no option but to accept that child torture was actually good. (That’s the downside of objective morals. The truth might not coincide with your strongly held beliefs). But actually I think your subjective moral rejection of the idea is so strong you could never accept that conclusion however strong the evidence – and quite right too.

    It is not me that is in a logical tangle.

  50. 50

    But that doesn’t get you anywhere with the person who has a different view of what is good.

    Regardless of what god approves of, and regardlessof whether you “get anywhere” with anyone that has a different point of view has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not any person’s premise of morality is logically consistent with their behavior.

    If you claim morality is subjective, but act as if it is objective, you are either deceiving yourself or being a hypocrite.

  51. 51
    Mark Frank says:

    WJM

    If you claim morality is subjective, but act as if it is objective, you are either deceiving yourself or being a hypocrite

    What I am trying to do is pin down the difference between rationally behaving as though morality is objective and rationally behaving as though it is subjective (but reasoned and widely held). The differences are pretty subtle. In both cases you would

    * present arguments for your point of view
    * if the motivation were strong enough, intervene

    the only real difference I can see is what recourse you have available with someone who disagrees. In the objective case there is always the possibility of proving the other person wrong by empirical or logical means, in the subjective case there comes a point when you have to accept it is a matter of opinion – which doesn’t stop you intervening if you hold your opinion strongly enough.

  52. 52

    Mark:

    If you are the one who disagrees with the “widely held, reasoned” view and cannot be argued out of your personal views, what do you do? Do you attempt to reason other people out of that view? If you disagree strongly enough, do you act against it, or ignore the social consensus at least wrt your own behavior?

    If your answer to the above question is “no”, then you are treating what you call a “social consensus” morality as if it were an objective morality by which you must conform your behavior in accordance with, whether you like it or not. This means that if social consensus is to gas the jews or gratuitously torture children, you should go along with it no matter your personal feelings, because as you have defined it above, it is not your personal feelings that define the moral good, but rather the social consensus.

    If your answer to those questions “yes”, then you are not acting in accordance with what you have defined as “what morality is” – the subjective consensus. If morality is the social consensus, and morality is a description of how people ought behave, then your moral duty is not to talk other people out of what is moral by definition (social consensus), but rather change your behavior to be in line with what you have just claimed is the definition of morality – how you ought behave.

    This means that anyone who attempts to change the social consensus, or acts in defiance of the social consensus, is by definition acting immorally under your system.

    You cannot have your cake and eat it, too, MF. All sane people act as if morality is a qualitatively different commodity than “personal preferences” or “social consensus”.

    It doesn’t matter what society says, if you and I believe X to be wrong, we not only will not do it, we will in some cases attempt to thwart that social consensus or change the public view about it.

    Under your paradigm that social consensus = morality, you are behaving immorally because you are acting against what you have defined as what determines what is moral; under my paradigm, I am acting morally because my definition (premise) of morality transcends social consensus.

  53. 53

    Here’s the problem, Mark:

    1. If morality = your particular personal preference, and if you inflict that preference on others, you are behaving as if your personal preference is the de facto objective morality. You can call it subjective, but you act as if it is objective.

    2. If morality = any individual’s personal preference, then you are logically compelled to agree that the torturer and the Nazi are behaving morally, because the morality of their acts is determined by the nature of their feelings or purpose – not yours.

    3. If morality = social consensus, then regardless of how you feel about any particular social consensus, you should set aside your personal feelings and do what the social consensus says, even if it embraces the torturer or the Nazi.

    3A. If you do set aside your personal feelings and toe the social consensus line, then you are treating the social consensus as a de facto objective morality.

    3B. If you do not set aside your personal feelings but act in defiance of social consensus, then you are applying your personal feelings as if they are the de facto objective morality and overrule the social consensus.

    The problem, MF, is that you begin with an ideological commitment that morality doesn’t refer to an objective commodity, but there’s simply no way you can act otherwise. Sane humans must act as if their moral sense (conscience) is accessing something that transcends personal feelings and social consensus.

  54. 54
    Mark Frank says:

    If morality = your particular personal preference, and if you inflict that preference on others, you are behaving as if your personal preference is the de facto objective morality. You can call it subjective, but you act as if it is objective.

    This is going round in ever deceasing circles – why is “inflicting” my personal view of what is right on others behaving as if it is objective? If a mother sacrifices herself for her child is that her behaving as though her desire to sacrifice herself was objective? Is it irrational? Absolutely not – it is reasonable, rational moral act base on her very strong subjective view of what is the right thing to do.

  55. 55
    TSErik says:

    This is going round in ever deceasing circles – why is “inflicting” my personal view of what is right on others behaving as if it is objective?

    It is simple, and I had asked this question above but you declined to answer it. What gives you the authority to put your moral standard above others?

    You are behaving as if your moral positions are objective because you believe it is YOU who are in the right. YOUR moral position is what is right, no matter what others think, and should be followed, and you admittedly encourage or discourage acts according to your position. How are those actions different from one who accepts objective morality?

    The only way you could pass judgement on the torturer, is if you deem his actions immoral. To deem his actions immoral there must be a concrete standard against which you judge his actions.

    If there is no standard, his actions cannot be any more or less moral than what his desires suggest. To this, you have no authority to judge the torturer’s actions, and must accept them as moral.

    Your example of the mother is confusing, to be honest, but perhaps I’m just not seeing how it fits into your argument.

  56. 56

    This is going round in ever deceasing circles – why is “inflicting” my personal view of what is right on others behaving as if it is objective?

    Because you are judging all behavior according to a single moral standard – your personal preferences – and are willing to enforce it on others. That is the very nature of the difference between a standard assumed to be subjective, and a standard assumed to be objective. This is the precise point where you wish to have your cake and eat it too.

    If a mother sacrifices herself for her child is that her behaving as though her desire to sacrifice herself was objective? Is it irrational? Absolutely not – it is reasonable, rational moral act base on her very strong subjective view of what is the right thing to do.

    Now you’re just throwing mud on the conversation in hopes of obfuscating and diverting from the salient points. This is you flailing around trying to find some sequences of words or conceptual imagery that saves you from your own self-contrdictions, yet spouting even more self-contradiction.

    First, look at what you are claiming here: that the mother’s act is moral because she, in particular, subjectively believes it to be moral.

    Note how this directly conflicts with your earlier assertion that it is social consensus that determines “what is moral”, not the personal feelings of any individual even if they are saving their child.

    If the mother is living in ancient Sparta and saving her child from being tossed over the cliff to die because it is imperfect, sacrificing herself, by your prior reference to “social consensus” she is behaving immorally.

    You don’t even recognize that you are contradicting yourself as you flail around to find a lifeline to save you from your ill-considered, muddled statements.

    Second, look who is applying their personal view of morality in judgement of the mother’s behavior – you. You are asserting that her behavior “is” moral, and justified, without even considering any hypothetical or actual circumstances surrounding the mother’s act including social consensus; you are imposing your own personal view of morality in judgement of the mother’s act as a de facto objectively valid moral evaluation.

    How can you determine if her act is rationally justifiable as moral in lieu of knowledge of any of the circumstances of the act? You seem to be claiming that it is rational to sacrifice yourself for your child regardless of the circumstances. The rationality of the act can only be assessed in light of the circumstances and cannot be determined by the brute fact of “a mother sacrificing herself for her child”.

    Is it an act of love? Probably. Instinct? Probably. Reason? Probably not, but it depends on the circumstances.

  57. 57
    Mark Frank says:

    TSErik

    It is simple, and I had asked this question above but you declined to answer it. What gives you the authority to put your moral standard above others?

    I am sorry – rather more questions being asked than I have time to answer. Why do I need an authority (see my example of the mother and child below – does she need authority to override the advice of others)? 

    You are behaving as if your moral positions are objective because you believe it is YOU who are in the right. YOUR moral position is what is right, no matter what others think, and should be followed, and you admittedly encourage or discourage acts according to your position. How are those actions different from one who accepts objective morality?

    I am behaving as though I believe I am right – of course I am – should I behave as though I think I am wrong?  Yes my moral position is that those who disagree are wrong (although of course I am willing to listen to their reasons and if there are lots of them I will listen especially hard and that will itself be one of the reasons for modifying my opinion). If I thought they were right I would change my position. That is not different from one who accepts moral objectivity. But it isn’t different from one who accepts subjective morality either. My whole point is that there is no effective difference in the position!  It only really comes to the crunch when asked how you know/prove you are right.

    The only way you could pass judgement on the torturer, is if you deem his actions immoral. To deem his actions immoral there must be a concrete standard against which you judge his actions.

    Not so. I can just react to what he has done. In fact any concrete standard suffers from the problem that we have to have some way of deciding if the standard is right.
     

    Your example of the mother is confusing, to be honest, but perhaps I’m just not seeing how it fits into your argument.

    It is important. I will flesh it out. Suppose a  mother has a teenage child with two defective kidneys. She has only one working kidney. She makes the decision to sacrifice her kidney (and thus go on dialysis fro the rest of her life). This is clearly a moral decision. She is sacrificing herself for her child. She also an atheist and is not highly educated – so she is not basing this decision on any principles she has been told about, read about or even devised for herself. It is highly subjective. She wouldn’t do it for any child. It arises from her strong love and desire to help that child, her feelings of shame if she didn’t – subjective, passionately held feelings.  She does listen to contrary arguments from friends – “the operation might not help the child”, “she should consider her husband”, “she has as much right to a full life as her child” – the child itself thinks she is wrong to do it – but she considers these arguments and decides she still feels that going ahead is the right thing to do. Is she behaving as though there were an objective moral standard? Is she reacting irrationally or hypocritically? 

  58. 58
    Mark Frank says:

    PS. If I fail to respond it is not because I really think I am wrong. It is because I have a job to do and a life to lead outside of this.

  59. 59
    Mark Frank says:

    WJM – looks like I have time for another response.

    Because you are judging all behavior according to a single moral standard – your personal preferences – and are willing to enforce it on others. That is the very nature of the difference between a standard assumed to be subjective, and a standard assumed to be objective. This is the precise point where you wish to have your cake and eat it too.

    You assert this but you don’t prove it. If I have a subjective view of what is right and believe it strongly enough why on earth would I not try to enforce it  on others? (enforce does not necessarily mean using brute force – that is just graphical imagery on your part – it just means try to make it happen). It is what I believe to be the right thing to do.

    First, look at what you are claiming here: that the mother’s act is moral becauseshe, in particular, subjectively believes it to be moral.

    I never wrote that.

    Note how this directly conflicts with your earlier assertion that it is social consensus that determines “what is moral”, not the personal feelings of any individual even if they are saving their child.

    I never wrote that it is social consensus that determines “what is moral”

    If the mother is living in ancient Sparta and saving her child from being tossed over the cliff to die because it is imperfect, sacrificing herself, by your prior reference to “social consensus” she is behaving immorally.

    So this is irrelevant.

    You don’t even recognize that you are contradicting yourself as you flail around to find a lifeline to save you from your ill-considered, muddled statements.

    You are not reading what I actually wrote – just what you would like me to have written.

    Second, look who is applying their personal view of morality in judgement of the mother’s behavior – you. You are asserting that her behavior “is” moral, and justified, without even considering any hypothetical or actual circumstances surrounding the mother’s act including social consensus; you are imposing your own personal view of morality in judgement of the mother’s act as a de facto objectively valid moral evaluation.

    Sure. Who else’s moral judgement should I to use? When you make moral judgements do you get someone else to do it for you?

    How can you determine if her act is rationally justifiable as moral in lieu of knowledge of any of the circumstances of the act? You seem to be claiming that it is rational to sacrifice yourself for your child regardless of the circumstances. The
    rationality of the act can only be assessed in light of the circumstances and cannot be determined by the brute fact of “a mother sacrificing herself for her child”.

    I never wrote that,

    Is it an act of love? Probably. Instinct? Probably. Reason? Probably not, but it depends on the circumstances.

    Sure – I expanded on the example in my later post.

  60. 60
    ciphertext says:

    RE: Post 27 @WJM
    Regarding “Plato’s Cave”…

    This sounds quite similar to the concept of a “frame of reference” when discussing physical laws (arguably objective), found in the Theory of Relativity. In so much as the last comment of that particular paragraph “Everything humans experience – subjective or objective in nature – is experienced, processed and interpreted subjectively”, I believe you are saying the same thing.

    Regarding “purpose”…

    I am still having difficulty linking morality (regardless of its subjectivity or objectivity) to purpose. Can you point me to some authors of whose work could shed some light on this topic?

    I don’t understand why you couldn’t simply have said that morality is a description of oughts (which I understand to mean behaviors); rather than “Morality is a description of oughts that seek to fulfill a purpose.” [sic]. Is it that you are saying there is a purpose regardless of intent? Something along the lines of respiration? Your body has an unconscious drive (loosely, a purpose) to survive. Therefore the autonomic nervous system’s purpose in conducting the necessary electrochemical interactions with the lungs, is to enable you to respire and thus survive. Despite there not being a conscious connection to breathing (specifically maintenance of the the respiratory cycle), and thus no direct connection to the “will of the mind”.

    Regarding mine and your view concerning absolute commandments…

    Is your view that absolute moral commandments do not constrain free exercise of the “will”? (In a sense as the weak nuclear force constrains atomic decay.) If so, why do you hold to that belief.

    Again, the important point isn’t so much the particulars of purpose and the extent of free will, but rather that people must behave as if morality refers to an objective commodity. The idea of group or individual “subjective morality” is either the result of self-deceiving, improper strings of words and concepts, or it’s blatant hypocrisy.

    That paragraph, on the whole, seems logical to me, in that I would agree that people “…must behave as if morality refers to an objective commodity.” [sic]

    I believe that what the “moral relativists” and “moral absolutists” are in agreement is in saying that whether something is “moral” or “amoral” can only be determined by making a judgement (or a comparison). Where they differ, is in to what the comparison is made, correct?

    The relativists draw a relation to how comparisons are made in general. As an example, one could use the illustration of measuring a Kilogram. The Bureau of Weights and Measures near Paris France houses the standard Kilogram weight, by which all other measurements are compared in accordance with international treaty. In this sense, through the use of treaty and agreements, the international body of scientists (or more broadly…those who have need to perform comparison) will behave as if this is an absolute. Though, I would say at best, this can only be a pseudo-absolute (or potential absolute, for the mathematically inclined). It seems that the relativist says this is quite fine, the existence of the pseudo-absolute. That there can be discrepancies in culture concerning morality, this would be expected on such a view. For as reference to the standard kilogram, if even one nation disagreed to the use of this “standard kilogram”, there could be problems of coherency in translating measurements. I think there is a parallel in the world of morality and ethics. There is another issue with using pseudo-absolutes. This article on NPR describes the issue quite well. This Kilogram Has A Weight-Loss Problem. I wonder if the a parallel can be drawn to morality and ethics. Perhaps in how human society views morals and ethics “on the whole” as it absorbs some ideas and jettisons others. Maybe the change in status of certain segments of human society in relation to that society as a whole (e.g. slaves, women, mentally ill, etc…).

    My fixation with absolute moral commandments are, that to be an absolute constant (like the speed of light, planck’s constant, and the like…), there has to be a way to define the constant such that you can prove/detect its existence. We’ve done this with the afore mentioned constants, by observing how the constants affect physical phenomena (e.g. propagation of radiation in a vacuum, decay of atoms, etc…). With each frame of reference, we could determine that the constant must be calibrated to “N” value, and that value was the same across all frames of reference. We “backed into” the discovery of the existence of the absolutes, because the constants exerted a control (a constraint) on physical reality. That is why I’m arguing that the existence of a moral constant must necessarily constrain our ability to enact our will (specifically to formulate an intent that would contravene the moral absolute). If it (absolute moral) cannot constrain our will, then can it rightly be called absolute? At best, it could only be called a pseudo-absolute.

  61. 61
    ciphertext says:

    RE: Post 29 @TSErik

    I think there is a distinction between the definition of a behavior, and the justification for a behavior. The two can exist independently of each other. I can be either justified or unjustified in my behavior, without having to change the definition of my behavior. To be justified would simply mean that I have a good or legitimate reason for my behavior. I may scream profanities or exhibit issues of control over my behavior at random intervals of time. If I suffered from Turret’s Syndrome, I would be justified in my behavior. If I didn’t suffer from Turret’s Syndrome or some other neurological disorder, I wouldn’t be justified. Another example from most state penal codes would be “justifiable homicide”. What’s more, to determine a justification for a behavior requires that you compare that behavior to a standard for behavior, does it not? Which gets back to the real question of whether that standard is in fact absolute or relative.

    As you said, I don’t agree that rape cannot occur within the confines of a marriage in either China or many Muslim countries. However, to determine the justification for their behavior requires that we compare their behavior to some standard of behavior. In China, the Chinese courts would compare the behavior to the established penal codes in China (pseudo-absolutes as I call them). The Chinese people may choose to compare the behavior to another standard (e.g. maybe another country’s penal codes). They may even appeal to an absolute standard in making the comparison, however, you would need to be able to articulate the absolute standard such that it could be applied correctly in the process of making the comparison.

    I wouldn’t even know where to start with articulating the absolute standard. In the case of murder is it the taking of any life or only another’s life? Is it murder to save your own life or the lives of others at the expense of the life of someone else or the lives of a group of others?

    I think that definitions of a behavior have changed in order to provide a justification for a behavior, and/or to remove a justification for a given behavior. You can see this in the evolution of the USA’s (doubtless true in other countries) various penal codes (e.g. “dueling” to settle disputes, “blue laws”, sale and use of “controlled substances”). If we define murder as the “taking of another’s life”, then you are guilty of murder when you take the life of an individual who is attempting to take your life. If we define murder as the “taking of another’s life when one’s own life is threatened”, then you would be “justified” in your behavior when you take the life of some who is trying to take your own.

    Regarding the “group on a hike”
    I apologize, but I likely have a poor understanding of what you’re trying to communicate to me in the example.

    In your metaphor, what is the flower? Is it the absolute moral standard for murder (as example)? Are you depicting my various definitions of murder as being the flower’s color property?

  62. 62

    MF,

    It is clear to me that you haven’t thought any of this out – you are just throwing up combinations of words out of emotion and using rhetoric in an attempt to justify a poorly-considered worldview.

    Let’s unpack your use of a couple of words in your posts. First, you use the word “for” in order to characterize the mother’s actions in a way that your premise cannot actually, logically, accommodate.

    She wouldn’t do it for any child. It arises from her strong love and desire to help that child, her feelings of shame if she didn’t – subjective, passionately held feelings.

    Is she doing it “for the child”, or is she doing it because she feels strongly that she should and would feel shame if she didn’t?

    If the other person (like in your example) says they do not want you to do X, and you go ahead and do X, in what sense can you say you are doing X “for” the other person?

    (1) If you hold X to be a matter of each person’s subjective personal preference, you do not do X because that is what they prefer. Thus, you are doing something for someone else.

    (2) If, regardless of the other person’s wishes, you do as you prefer wrt X, then you are not doing anything “for” the other person, but only for yourself, to accommodate your own feelings and to avoid feeling shame.

    You are spending a lot of effort and prose to try to word your examples and statements in a way that hides what is ultimately true: the only justification you and the mother have under moral subjectivism is that you do what you feel like doing, and only accomplish it because you can. Without an implied reference to an objective commodity, the mother’s only justification for disobeying the wishes of others in this example is because she wants to do it. That is where the philosophical buck stops with admitted subjective morality: because I say so.

    Only if one premises an objective commodity outside of one’s own wants or even the other person’s wants, and holds it to transcend both, and believes it to be in the best interest of the other person, can one justify the claim that they have done something for the other person regardless of what either person “wants” to happen.

    Now, for the real gem, where you admit that your morality is nothing more than might makes right:

    If I have a subjective view of what is right and believe it strongly enough why on earth would I not try to enforce it on others? (enforce does not necessarily mean using brute force – that is just graphical imagery on your part – it just means try to make it happen). It is what I believe to be the right thing to do.

    What does “believe it strongly enough” mean in the context of subjective morality? How is “belief” a quality of “personal preference”? You either like, or dislike, an activity, with gradients of how much you like or dislike it. It has nothing to do with “belief”, but rather is a experiential, factual statement about the state of your feelings. You know how much you dislike certain flavors or movies, you know how much you dislike certain behaviors. There is no”believe it” involved. You are applying a phrase that only has value if you are talking about a presumed commodity exterior to your own personal, subjective experience where “belief” would be required to beleive your act would match that exterior commodity. You would already know it matches your subjective commodity because you want to do it.

    So, “believe it strongly enough” can only be a disguise, a placeholder for “feel it strongly enough”, just as “for the child” is a diguise attempting to divert attention away from the fact that the subjectivist mother can only (logically speaking) be acting in her own self-interest, not her child’s, because that other person doesn’t want her to do what she is going to do, and there is no presumed objective commodity for the mother to refer to in order to both override her child’s wishes and not be doing just out of self-interest.

    Your phrasings demonstrate that you have not really considered what you are saying.

    Now to reiterate, MF has said:

    If I have a subjective view of what is right and believe feel strongly about it why on earth would I not try to enforce it on others?

    A clear admission that subjective morality boils down to might-makes-right; MF will do what he wants if he feels strongly enough about it, including forcing his preferences on others for no reason other than because he feels like it and can.

  63. 63

    I am still having difficulty linking morality (regardless of its subjectivity or objectivity) to purpose. Can you point me to some authors of whose work could shed some light on this topic?

    No. I’ve never read any philosophy books – other than my own. Well, I read Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and The Little Prince. And some book by Casteneda. But I don’t remember any of the content of any of them – that was a long time ago.

    It’s a simple matter of logic; oughts necessarily relate to goals or purposes. Otherwise, an act is just brute fact. You may like it or dislike it, but there is no “ought” to it unless there is a purpose or goal involved.

    For instance, to say you ought to treat others kindly; the question is, why ought I do that? The answer is always a purpose, even if it is to fulfill my personal preferences. I shouldn’t do X? Why?

    Not all behaviors involve “oughts”, as you described with breathing.

    Is your view that absolute moral commandments do not constrain free exercise of the “will”? (In a sense as the weak nuclear force constrains atomic decay.) If so, why do you hold to that belief.

    I don’t consider what morality refers to – the purpose of creation – to be a “commandment” in any sense of the term, but rather to be architectural. It’s innate in anything god creates. As far as I can tell or reason, I don’t see that there are any limitations put on our will; we can will self-contradictory or absurd things, even if we cannot actually do them. If you think there are things we cannot will, tell me. I’d find that interesting to consider.

    I answer the rest of this at the bottom.

    My fixation with absolute moral commandments are, that to be an absolute constant (like the speed of light, planck’s constant, and the like…), there has to be a way to define the constant such that you can prove/detect its existence.

    That would matter if I cared about proving the actual existence of a thing to anyone. My arguments are never about that, but rather only about the consequences of premises and beliefs and if one’s beliefs are rationally reconcilable with their behavior.

    Whether or not absolute morality is actually true is, IMO, an irrelevant consideration considering (1) our subjective nature, (2) the fact that we must act as if that is the case anyway, and (3) humans have the capacity to deny anything.

    That is why I’m arguing that the existence of a moral constant must necessarily constrain our ability to enact our will (specifically to formulate an intent that would contravene the moral absolute). If it (absolute moral) cannot constrain our will, then can it rightly be called absolute? At best, it could only be called a pseudo-absolute.

    Okay, I see what you mean here. Yes, our capacity to enact our will is constrained; we cannot ultimately derail the purpose of creation. We can intend to (unlimited free will); we cannot enact those intentions (not free action). We can only act in detriment to the good to the degree that it takes to get ourselves destroyed in the attempt.

  64. 64
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    WJM: How I feel about a thing, and what I think my response should be, is determined in great measure by whether or not I consider that thing to be subjective (personal preference) or objective (applies to everyone, at all times).

    Good for you. It isn’t true for me. The question of subjectivity vs objectivity is irrelevant, and doesn’t even come into play in practical situations. I do what I do for the reasons stated in my previous post.

    IOW, how I – or anyone – behaves in a practical way with regards to moral questions cannot help but be affected by our beliefs about “what morality is”.

    I’m convinced that most people act as I have described in my previous post. But this is largely beside the point which is, nobody how you slice it, it all boils down to a subjective exercise. There is no objective morality. If there is, where can I find it? The only you have is was is subjectively between your ears. And that can be changed, altered and affected by chemical and structural changes.

    It might help if we reviewed what the term “subjective” means, the first definition from Dictionary.com:

    1. Proceeding from or taking place in a person’s mind rather than the external world

    The first two definitions for “objective”:

    1. Of or having to do with a material object.

    2. Having actual existence or reality.

    Necessarily, all morality is subjective in nature. It takes place within a person’s mind. There is no actual morality “out there” that you can point to. You are merely reifying your own opinion. Pardon if others disagree with your reified object.

    WMJ: “For many, the “navel gazing” belief that morality is “subjective, while irrationaly acting as if it is objective…”

    All morality is ultimately irrational because the basis of it always boils down to a set of values that is an end in of themselves without any rational justification. Your actions are just as irrational as anyone else’s because the root of the tree is irrational.

    “…may be to a large degree harmless as long as it is riding along in a culture largely structured around a belief in objective morality.”

    Harmless or not, this is, in fact, how human nature operates.

    “However, once you deeply imbed in the psyche of a population and its government that it’s perfectly moral to use others as a means to gratify your own personal preferences, and that there are no necessary consequences, I don’t think you or I would care to live in such a society.”

    I agree. Probably because we largely share core values. This does not make them any less subjective or rational.

    “Far from being “navel gazing” and making no practical difference, whether one believes (actually believes, meaning they also act as if true) in subjective or objective morality can make an enormous difference in behavior.”

    I disagree. I value consciousness, not because there is any objective standard that I can point to, but because my subjective material is wired up that way. I can’t help it. I am a subjectivist and yet I would risk my life to save a child from a torturer as well as I’m sure you would. Your hypothesis is hereby falsified.

    CS seems to think that if I feel homosexuality is wrong, it is perfectly valid, and if I feel strongly enough about it I can to try and stop any and all homosexual activity by any means I am comfortable with, including executing homosexuals.

    How you feel about homosexual is entirely subjective, and what you do about it is your choice based on many factors. I may agree or disagree, and I may join your crusade or fight you tooth and nail. But it’s all still quite subjective. Unless you can point to some objective standard “out there” that we’re all suppose to be following.

    CS further thinks that it is “navel gazing” for me (the hypothetical me) to consider the distinction between “subjective” morality, “natural law” morality, and “command authority” morality, because regardless of my conclusion, I will still go around “doing what I feel” – executing homosexuals.

    What most people do is based on a lot of complex factors in their minds. It’s not usually as simple as you make it out to be, although there are some who have acted along those lines: “homosexuality bad for society therefore I will kill them” and go about killing them. Regardless, it’s all still subjective. Unless you can point to some objective morality “out there.”

    “However, I can attest that when my beliefs about a thing change, my feelings about that thing change as well. How I feel about various acts, wrt morality, has dramatically changed several times in my life, depending on the beliefs that I adopt about morality itself.”

    Good for you. But it doesn’t make it any less subjective. In fact, what you are describing is an entirely subjective process. How you can’t see that is astonishing.

  65. 65
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    Mark Frank: why is “inflicting” my personal view of what is right on others behaving as if it is objective?

    For some reason, the fact that people have subjective values, and act to enforce their will somehow makes the values “objective” in WJM’s mind. He keeps saying “people act as if the morality is objective.” No they don’t. He’s made an unjustified leap here. People merely act as if their WILL is important to themselves. Duh! Even dogs do that. Do they have an objective morality too?

  66. 66

    So, that is 2 moral subjectivists who agree that morality boils down to might makes right (because I feel like it, because I can). When you add Robin from TSZ, that’s 3.

    My argument is set up to either gain this admission, or reveal that those who will not admit it are either deceiving themselves or are hypocrites.

  67. 67

    What I meant to write was:

    —- So, that is 2 moral subjectivists who agree that subjective morality boils down to might makes right —-

    This is where atheism/materialism takes us, and takes society: nihilism and forcing ones will on others because one feels like it and because one can.

  68. 68

    For some reason, the fact that people have subjective values, and act to enforce their will somehow makes the values “objective” in WJM’s mind.

    No. They either are assumed to reflect objective values, or it’s just you forcing your personal preferences on others. Since you admit that’s all your morality boils down to, then your actions do not logically need to refer to an assumed objective value. In your mind, you’re content pushing people around because you feel like it.

    I have no argument against that because that is what the argument is designed to reveal.

  69. 69
    Mark Frank says:

    MJW

    It is clear to me that you haven’t thought any of this out – you are just throwing up combinations of words out of emotion and using rhetoric in an attempt to justify a poorly-considered worldview.

    Later in a comment to CS you write:

    No. I’ve never read any philosophy books – other than my own.

    I have a degree in philosophy and this is a philosophical question. I am not saying that I am right because of my qualifications – philosophy is a game anyone can play and I want you to attend to my arguments not me; but, given your relative ignorance of what world famous figures have said and thought about the subject, I do think you might refrain from dismissing what I write so glibly. These are subtle questions that very intelligent men and women have debated for millennia. If the answer seems straightforward to you then you have probably not understood the all the subtleties of the issue.  So please cool the personal side of things.

      To return to the debate.

    I was going to write a whole lot of stuff backing up my case that for a subjectivist to campaign for what they feel is right is neither hypocritical nor irrational. However, your comment #68 suggests you agree. As I  understand it, you conclude this means that subjective morality amounts to “might makes right”.  As you graphically put it:

    This is where atheism/materialism takes us, and takes society: nihilism and forcing ones will on others because one feels like it and because one can.

    This is  misleading. You make it sound as though subjectivists were acting on selfish whims. We are not talking about any old feeling that we would like it to happen. We are talking about a moral feeling such as a desire for someone else to be happier, or a desire for rewards to be shared more fairly (It is a challenge to neatly define which feelings are moral but I think we recognise them when we come across them). All that subjectivism amounts to is that we try to do what we feel is morally right. Don’t you? In general that doesn’t mean brute force. It means actions like voting, protesting, persuading and making donations. Using brute force to enforce what I feel to be right raises exactly the same issues as it does for you: is the issue important enough to risk the harm that arises from brute force including the risk that I might change my mind over the issue and decide I was wrong after all?

    As far as I can see there is no difference in the kind of actions that a subjectivist or objectivist would take. They would both do what they judge to be right.

    So where does the difference lie?  I agree with CS that there is no practical difference but I can think of a couple of theoretical possibilities:

    1) The subjectivist may be more inclined to recognise that the opponent has sincere but different views and therefore be prepared not to act if the issue is not that important. On the other hand I guess the objectivist should be prepared to recognise that the opponent has come to a sincere but different conclusion about what is objectively right – so I am not sure it amounts to much.

    2) In principle the subjectivist decides what is right in a different way from the objectivist. The subjectivists examines and explores a situation (a particular event) or a principle (such as abortion) and having explored it comes to a subjective opinion. An objectivist needs to somehow assess the objective truth.  This is the bit that I find tricky about objectivism. How does that enquiry take place? There seems to be one school of thought that your conscience is a God given apparatus for telling you the objective truth.  Unfortunately people’s consciences often lead to different conclusions. So it is not a very reliable apparatus and to my mind indistinguishable from coming to a subjective opinion about the what is right. Another school of thought suggests that we can determine what is right from natural moral law or some other set of principles. The problem here is that those principles themselves need to be assessed and what principle do we use for that other than our subjective opinion?  Look at how real ethical debates take place in practice. They are all about trying to get the same subjective emotional reaction from others that feel themselves e.g. describing how gruesome abortion is or how gay marriage will lead to the breakdown of marriage as an institution.

  70. 70

    Mark F:

    I’m perfectly content to let the debate remain as is. I appreciate your contributions.

  71. 71
    Mark Frank says:

    WJM – that’s great – thanks

  72. 72
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    WJM: They either are assumed to reflect objective values, or it’s just you forcing your personal preferences on others.

    You do the same, you just won’t admit it. If it were otherwise, you could point to this mythological “objective morality” that you keep talking about and yet never do. At best, there is consensus amongst subjective individual views. But consensus can and does change over generations. Nothing objective about it, except to say that it’s an objective fact that subjective individuals forms consensuses about what is right and wrong behavior.

  73. 73

    You do the same, you just won’t admit it. If it were otherwise, you could point to this mythological “objective morality” that you keep talking about and yet never do.

    You are assuming a conclusion neither of us can arrive at via evidence. Neither of us know whether or not morality refers to an objective commodity. Neither of us know whether or not our consciences act like another sensory capacity that is gathering sensory information from an objectively existent moral landscape.

    I also cannot point out gravity, time or entropy, either. As far as defining morality as “of the mind” and thus not objective, it is my view – and the view of many throughout history – that what we call “the mind” is actually comprised of both objective and subjective commodities. So your definitional approach is not appropriate because that is part of the crux of the debate.

    Obviously, I don’t “do the same” when it comes to believing that personal feelings are the basis for my moral actions, any more than “personal feelings” are the basis for my behavior with regards to gravity or time. Yes, of course even my touching a brick wall is a “personal feeling”, but the question is whether or not one regards that “feeling” as part of an objective reality or as simply their personal preference.

    So, the only thing left is if I am “doing the same” wrt the reality of what morality actually is. If it is just a subjective commodity, then you are right. If it is an objective commodity, then you are wrong and, unless you are a sociopath, neither of us are acting on what are only subjective, personal feelings – we are both acting in relationship to an objective moral landscape we sense through our conscience and arbit with reason.

    Since neither of us can know if morality is objective or subjective (contrary to your assertions otherwise), but rather can only believe one way or another, then in the only practical sense available – what we assume and believe – I am not doing “the same thing” as you, because I am not acting from the premise that morality is nothing more than my personal preference.

  74. 74
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    WJM,

    “I also cannot point out gravity, time or entropy, either.”

    “Gravity” has an objective existence. Massive bodies exhibit actions on each other in ways we have learned to predict and we have must reason to believe they would do so if all minds became extinct. Or do you believe otherwise?

    Morality occurs solely in the mind. That makes it subjective by definition. In order for something to be objective, like the effects of massive bodies on each other (gravity), it has to exist on it’s own outside of minds, like the sky or a snowflake… or gravity. If all minds ceased to exist they would still be there, if it has objective existence.

    So I ask again, where is this objective morality outside of subjective minds, that has an existence of its own outside of subjective minds?

    I think we’re done here.

  75. 75
    TSErik says:

    “Gravity” has an objective existence. Massive bodies exhibit actions on each other in ways we have learned to predict and we have must reason to believe they would do so if all minds became extinct…

    This isn’t quite apt. Gravity is the force which we see exhibited through the presence of massive bodies, but it is not emergent through them. Or at least that is not the currently held theory. Gravity would still exist without large bodies, but there would be no large bodies to exhibit gravity to observers.

    Morality is exhibited through the existence of sentient minds. If morality is an objective and unseen thing, for the sake of argument, that flows from God, then one must conclude that without minds, morality would still exist even though there is nothing to exhibit it.

  76. 76

    “Gravity” has an objective existence.

    No, it doesn’t. Gravity is a model of the regular, predictable behavior of objects wrt their mass. It has no “objective existence” whatsoever. It’s been expressed both as a force exerted by mass (attraction), and as a condition of curved space-time.

    Gravity and other so-called “fundamental forces” of the natural world (time, entropy, inertia, etc.) are not things in and of themselves with “objective existence”, but are rather only models of patterns of behaviors held entirely in the mind of observers. Those models attempt to characterize such regular behaviors as if such patterns of behavior reflect some objective commodity.

    Thus, you have yourself “reified” the mental model that describes patterns of behavior as an “objectively existent” thing which you call “gravity”, when all you are really referring to is a consistent pattern of behavior of physical objects.

    Morality occurs solely in the mind. That makes it subjective by definition.

    I’ve already explained why this is irrelevant.

    I think we’re done here.

    We were done the minute you admitted that subjective morality = might makes right.

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    kairosfocus says:

    MF, et al, Lincoln is said to have once asked a man, if we say the tail of a sheep is a leg, how many legs will it have? The man answered, five. To which Lincoln said, saying cannot make things so. Your real problem is that your a pripri worldview system — which recall, evidently requires you to imagine that intelligence, design and so forth are all delusions, figments reducible to blind chance and mechanic al necessity (never mind insoluble needle in haystack challenges and self referential incoherence) — is inherently amoral and so morality is reduced to power games so if a sufficiently well backed and funded group pushes hard enough on things you are interested in, it is suddenly “moral.” Sorry, saying cannot make things so. And you still have not processed the implications of how it is patently, and on pain of absurdity, objectively and self evidently wrong to kidnap, torture, rape and murder a young child. I put it to you — as one not bound up in a politically correct age and context [= manipulation backed up by media and political might makes ‘right’] — that with all due respects, the case you just put up on how cleverly inventing and pushing a term and thereby violating the basic and obvious nature of the sexes in a demonstrably disordered way is suddenly “moral,” simply red flags your system as opening the door wide to nihilism. I think you need to get out of your comfort zone and think again about what your system actually implies and where it may therefore very well end up. KF

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    CentralScrutinizer says:

    WJM: No, it doesn’t. Gravity is a model of the regular, predictable behavior of objects wrt their mass. It has no “objective existence” whatsoever.

    “Gravity” is merely the name we give the objective effects of massive bodies in relation. I’ll show you that it’s objective: I’ll drop a ball from the roof and we can all watch it fall at a given predicted rate within a given predicted time. Totally objective results and effects as anyone with normal senses can perceive. And this phenomenon objectively exists independently of any mind.

    Or do you think otherwise?

    You obviously do not understand the different between an objective event and a subjective one.

    Sorry, but you’re off the rails.

    You can have the last word.

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    Or do you think otherwise?

    Yes, I do. So have many other physicists and philosophers that have held the view that the structure of the universe is dependent upon mind/consciousness, – that mind is, in fact, primary and that only potential exists without it. Some of posited that information is the fundamental building block of the universe.

    Which supports my contention that there may be aspects of the mind that are not only objectively existent, but are more fundamentally real than the ball and the roof in your example.

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    Mark Frank says:

    I certainly don’t want to debate the OP again. I was delighted to finish it where we did. But I am intrigued by this:

    Neither of us know whether or not morality refers to an objective commodity. Neither of us know whether or not our consciences act like another sensory capacity that is gathering sensory information from an objectively existent moral landscape.

    This suggests that when we talk about morality we don’t actually know what we are talking about!  When I talk about morality I mean what my conscience (aka known as moral feelings) drive me to do. Even if that pricking were caused by some objectively existent landscape, that it isn’t what I am talking about.  I suppose we might discover one day that our conscience is caused by some other thing – just as we have discovered the sensation of seeing red is caused by certain wavelengths of light. But “red” means what I see. It doesn’t mean those wavelengths (The colour blind don’t see red when they receive those wavelengths).

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