Intelligent Design

Moral Viewpoints Matter

Spread the love

Those of us who argue that morality is grounded in a transcendent, objective standard often use extreme cases to demonstrate our point. We argue, for example, that in no conceivable universe would torturing an infant for personal pleasure be considered anything other than an unmitigated evil. Since there is at least one self-evidently moral truth that transcends all places, times, circumstances and contexts, the objectivity of morality is demonstrated.

The other day frequent commenter Learned Hand stated that “[Subjectiviests are] very much like [objectivists], in that we have moral beliefs that are as powerful for us as they are for you.”

The objectivist response to LH is two-fold. On the one hand, we say that it is entirely obvious and unsurprising that subjectivists feel powerfully about their moral beliefs. After all, subjectivists’ moral beliefs are grounded in the objective reality of a transcendent moral standard just like everyone else’s (even though subjectivists deny that this is so). Far from asserting that subjectivists are amoral monsters, objectivists absolutely insist that any given subjectivist can be as sensitive (or even perhaps in some instances more sensitive) to the demands of the objective moral law as an objectivists. Subjectivists, like everyone else, know that (and always behave as if) torturing an infant for personal pleasure is objectively wrong. Which, of course, is why the rest of LH’s rant in the linked comment is not only mean spirited, it is also blithering nonsense.

On the other hand, objectivists also argue that the subjectivist argument that they feel their morality just as powerfully as objectivists is patently false given their own premises. One group of people believe that morals are based on an objective, transcendent moral standard binding on all people at all times; another group of people take Will Provine seriously when he says no ultimate foundation for ethics exists. Certainly the responses of individuals within the group will vary. But can there be any doubt that people who believe morality is based on something real will, at the margin, feel more strongly about their moral commitments than people who believe their moral commitments are, ultimately, based on nothing at all? Can you imagine a moral objectivist insisting that we should not “judge” Aztec human sacrifice by our current cultural standards, as I once saw a curator of a museum here in Denver do?

Of course, the key to this analysis is the phrase “at the margin.” All decisions are made at the margin, and that is why when it comes down to the actual practical differences in the behavior of subjectivists and objectivists, examples from the poles are unhelpful, because the behavior of both groups will be practically identical.  But is there really a difference in behavior at the margin? As I argued above, simple logic dictates that we should expect a difference in behavior at the margin. But do we have any concrete examples? I believe we do. It is called American jurisprudence.

As I have written before, it is not an overstatement to say that the modern era of law began with the publication in 1897 of The Path of the Law by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. In this groundbreaking article Holmes almost singlehandedly founded the school of “legal realism,” which gradually came to be the predominate theory of jurisprudence in the United States. “Legal realism” should more properly be called “legal nihilism,” because Holmes denied the existence of any objective “principles of ethics or admitted axioms” to guide judge’s rulings. Why would Holmes deny the objective existence of morality? Because, as Phillip Johnson has explained, Holmes was a “convinced Darwinist who profoundly understood the philosophical implications of Darwinism,” and Holmes’ great contribution to American law was to reconcile the philosophy of law with the philosophy of naturalism. Truly Holmes’ ideas could be called “jurisprudential naturalism.” Thus began the modern era of what has come to be known as “judicial activism.”

What does all of this have to do with “morality at the margin”? The answer lies in the structure and history of the American Constitution. In the Federalist 79 Hamilton argued that judges would be restrained from judicial activism by their fear of impeachment:

The precautions for their responsibility are comprised in the article respecting impeachments. They [federal judges] are liable to be impeached for malconduct by the House of Representatives, and tried by the Senate; and, if convicted, may be dismissed from office, and disqualified for holding any other.

For structural reasons (impeach requires a supermajority in the Senate), political reasons (super majorities necessary for impeachment are impossible if even a significant minority of the Senate agrees with the results of the judicial activism), and historical reasons (Jefferson’s failed use of the impeachment process to check the judiciary weighed very heavily against subsequent attempts), Hamilton turned out to be wrong.

If judges cannot be checked effectively by fear of impeachment when they abuse their office, what does check their power? Just this: Judges take an oath of office to uphold the constitution, and the only practical check on their power is individual judge’s moral commitment to that oath. And it is here that the difference between subjectivist and objectivist commitments to morality have plain effects at the margin.

Every time a judge makes a ruling (especially in the area of constitutional law), there is a temptation. Suppose a judge has a powerfully felt commitment to a particular policy (it does not matter what the policy preference is). Suppose further that the text, structure and history of the constitution provides no warrant for elevating that policy preference to the status of constitutional imperative. If there is no effective political check on his power, what is to stop the judge from nevertheless falsely ruling that the constitution does indeed elevate his policy preference to constitutional imperative? Again, nothing but his moral commitment to his oath. This is especially true for Supreme Court judges whose rulings are not subject to further review.

Which group of judges has the stronger moral commitment?  Based on a host of data, it is certainly the case that political liberals are far more likely to be areligious. Further, areligious people are far more likely than religious people to be moral subjectivists. Therefore, we can conclude that liberal judges are more likely to be moral subjectivists. Is it any wonder then that the vast majority of cases of judicial activism come down on the side most amenable to political liberals? Indeed, while I will be the first to admit that there have been a few rare cases of conservative activism, judicial activism is overwhelming seen as a phenomenon of the left. Conservative judges view their project as essentially a moral project. Liberal judges see their project as, in Justice White’s famous phrase, the raw exercise of power. It cannot be reasonably disputed that liberal judges (whom we can conclude have a largely subjectivist moral viewpoint) do not have as strong a moral commitment to their oath. And that, Learned Hand, is why it matters.

199 Replies to “Moral Viewpoints Matter

  1. 1
    REC says:

    Was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka the result of activist judges, or the sudden realization that the “objective, transcendent moral standard binding on all people at all times” was being misinterpreted by a slight majority of Americans at the time?

    If the Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage, than the 50-60% of Americans your age who oppose gay marriage (not sure how old you are) are more in tune with the “objective, transcendent moral standard binding on all people at all times” than the 80% of Americans my age who support it?

  2. 2
    keith s says:

    Barry,

    Which group of judges has the stronger moral commitment? Based on a host of data, it is certainly the case that political liberals are far more likely to be areligious.

    Religion doesn’t affect morality in the way you imagine. An earlier comment of mine:

    fifthmonarchyman:

    I think the general public’s disdain for Atheists has to so with the idea that it is impossible to behave morally with out an objective standard of morality.

    It’s a shame that more people aren’t acquainted with the facts. A comment from 2009:

    Denyse O’Leary asks:

    Can you be good without God?

    Denyse,

    I think a better question is “Can you be good without believing in God?” After all, God either exists or he doesn’t. It’s a fixed truth for all of us, and not something we have any prospect of changing.

    So, can we be good without believing in God? The answer is obviously yes. To answer “no” would be to claim that every atheist is evil, with no exceptions, which is clearly false.

    As for whether faith improves morality in general, consider the following passage from William Lobdell’s book Losing My Religion:

    It was discouragingly easy — though incredibly surprising — to find out that Christians, as a group, acted no differently than anyone else, including atheists. Sometimes they performed a little better; other times a little worse. But the Body of Christ didn’t stand out as morally superior. Some of my data came from secular institutions such as the Pew Research Center and the Gallup Poll, but the most devastating information was collected by the Barna Group, a respected research company run by an evangelical Christian worried about the health of Christianity in America. For years, George Barna has studied more than 70 moral behaviors of believers and unbelievers. His conclusion: the faith of Christians has grown fat and flabby. He contends that statistically, the difference between behaviors of Christians and others has been erased. According to his data and other studies, Christians divorce at about the same rate or even at a slightly higher rate than atheists. White evangelical Christians are more racist than others. Evangelicals take antidepressants at about the same rate (7 percent) as others. Non-Christians are more likely to give money to a homeless or poor person in any given year (34 percent) than are born-again Christians (24 percent). Born-again Christians are taught to give 10 percent of their money to the church or charity, but 95 percent of them decline to do so. The percentage of Christian youth infected with sexually transmitted diseases is virtually the same as the rate among their non-Christian counterparts. Ronald J. Sider, a professor at Palmer Theological Seminary and an evangelical, covers a lot of these statistics and more in his 2007 book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience.

    “Whether the issue is divorce, materialism, sexual promiscuity, racism, physical abuse in marriage, or neglect of a biblical worldview, the polling data point to widespread, blatant disobedience of clear biblical moral demands on the part of people who are allegedly are evangelical, born-again Christians,” Sider writes. “The statistics are devastating.”

    …And I already knew that the majority of Catholics ignored some of the church’s basic teachings. A recent poll co-sponsored by the National Catholic Reporter found that the majority of America Catholics believed they did not have to obey church doctrine on abortion, birth control, divorce, remarriage or weekly attendance at Mass to be “good Catholics”. Catholic women have about the same rate of abortion as the rest of society, according to a 2002 study by Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. And 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used a modern method of contraception, according to a 2002 national survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    I just couldn’t find any evidence within Protestantism or Catholicism that the actions of Christians, in general, showed that they took their faith seriously or that their religion made them morally or ethically better than even atheists.

    Losing My Religion, pp. 204-207

  3. 3
    Dick says:

    The question, “Can we be good without God?” is not quite the best way to frame the problem, IMO. Anyone can live by whatever values one wishes. The point is that unless there is a transcendent moral authority (i.e. God)then no one has any basis for saying that any values anyone adopts are morally good or bad. The most one can say is that he likes or dislikes the values that others have chosen.
    The atheist can live by the same values as the theist, but if he’s correct that there is no God then had he chosen to live by the opposite values he would not be “wrong” to do so. He’d just be different.

  4. 4
    Mung says:

    poor keiths. still lost

  5. 5
    Learned Hand says:

    I’m traveling for work again this week, and won’t have much time to respond. So I’ll just leave a (relatively) short response to part of the above, and hopefully get back to it when I’m back in front of my desk. In other words, if I don’t respond for a couple of days, it’s probably not that I’ve been banned—although you can never tell. I suppose I’ll report it at ATBC or TSZ if I am.

    I agree that moral viewpoints matter. Needing to use such an anodyne phrase to caption this post is a strong signal that it isn’t saying very much, or doing it very well. Judicial activism is a very slippery subject, and Mr. Arrington does a very poor job engaging with it.

    JA is easy to define, but very, very hard to define well. One problem is, ironically, that objective definitions of JA often turn out to be very impractical. One of the simplest is just measuring how often judges overturn statutes, by which measure Justice Thomas was the most “activist” member of the Rehnquist Court. That’s a fun result, but I don’t really like that definition. Unfortunately it’s about the only one I can think of which is all that objective. Caveat, though: I’m not a con law guy, and defining activism isn’t something I think or read about very much. Maybe there are some great definitions out there with which I’m unfamiliar. They shouldn’t be hard to find, since “activism” is an ideological football. But there aren’t any above.

    In practice, when people complain about JA you get the above: those darn judges who believe the wrong things make the wrong decisions! Harrumph! The assumptions in this particular harrumph are stacked one upon the other. The greatest is the unsourced, unexplained assertion that “vast majority” of JA decisions are by liberal judges. What constitutes an act of judicial activism? How many have there been? Do you count just the writing judges, or all judges in the majority? Is their alignment determined by the appointing president’s party or some other factor? I suspect Barry hasn’t actually considered these factors, just searched his feelings for what he knows to be true. Perhaps it’s self-evident.

    Another unsourced, unsourcable, and probably wrong assertion is that liberal judges don’t see their work as a “moral project.” I know and have clerked for judges on the trial and appellate level; I don’t know any one of them who don’t see their work as both a moral project and an “exercise of power.” Ironically, the typical explanation for judicial activism is that a judge lets their sense of moral outrage override their sense of what the law is, for example when conservatives complain that liberal judges let their desire for marriage equality drive their rulings on SSM cases. Barry needs conservative judges to be the moral ones, though, because liberals are subjectivists and therefore moral perverts; hence, the “moral project” of the right is somehow disconnected from decisionmaking that, in theory, should be about simply saying what the law is.

    Nor do I think any judge believes they violate their oath when they rule on something they strongly believe is right—even if commentators would say they were being activists. (I can’t support that with external facts, it’s just my notion based on my understanding of psychology.) Assuming that’s true, the moral commitment to the oath is no obstacle to making a decision that the judge strongly feels is right, because almost no judge is going to think, “Wow, I just violated my oath.”

    Finally, a few quick observations on another tossed-off, blustery pronouncement: On the other hand, objectivists also argue that the subjectivist argument that they feel their morality just as powerfully as objectivists is patently false given their own premises.

    Logic is hard! I hope you cabined that with the “objectivists also argue” qualification because part of you realized what a silly thing it is to say. You aren’t describing your own position, are you? Because given our own premises, subjectivists think we’re all ultimately subjectivists—objectivists, we think, merely ascribe their subjective opinions to an external source. So the argument as stated is… well, it’s about par for the course. Probably felt good to write, but not so convincing to anyone whose initials aren’t BA.

    Continuing, But can there be any doubt that people who believe morality is based on something real will, at the margin, feel more strongly about their moral commitments than people who believe their moral commitments are, ultimately, based on nothing at all?

    Betteridge’s Law of Headlines applies to argumentative rhetorical questions, too! The answer is yes. Because we are talking about feelings. You may feel like your feelings are special snowflakes that dirty subjectivists couldn’t possibly also experience, but in fact people tend to feel feelings quite strongly. I suspect, and this is just my own feeling, that when we experience strong moral outrage, we almost never stop to consider whether that moral feeling is grounded in an objective or subjective source: we feel the feeling, then think about it later.

    Can you imagine a moral objectivist insisting that we should not “judge” Aztec human sacrifice by our current cultural standards, as I once saw a curator of a museum here in Denver do?

    Betteridge again. Yes, I can imagine it. For example, if the Aztec performing the sacrifice was an objectivist. Mind blown!

  6. 6
    REC says:

    Some thoughts on “objectively atheistic” activism:

    “Shortly after Lincoln’s election, Presbyterian minister Benjamin Morgan Palmer, originally from Charleston, gave a sermon entitled, “The South Her Peril and Her Duty.” He announced that the election had brought to the forefront one issue – slavery – that required him to speak out. Slavery, he explained, was a question of morals and religion, and was now the central question in the crisis of the Union. The South, he went on, had a “providential trust to conserve and to perpetuate the institution of slavery as now existing.” The South was defined by slavery, he observed. “It has fashioned our modes of life, and determined all of our habits of thought and feeling, and molded the very type of our civilization.” Abolition, said Palmer, was “undeniably atheistic.” The South “defended the cause of God and religion,” and nothing “is now left but secession.”

    http://www.civilwar.org/educat.....lding.html

  7. 7
    Barry Arrington says:

    LH @ 5:

    You are nothing if not predictable. You say that judicial activism is undefinable, because there are no standards by which to define it. Precisely what I would expect a liberal moral subjectivist to say and exactly wrong. There is a standard. It is called the constitution. When a judge’s decision cannot be supported by the text, history and structure of the constitution he has engaged in judicial activism and violated his oath to uphold the constitution. (BTW, thanks for admitting your relative ignorance when it comes to con law; I, on the other hand, have been practicing con law for over 20 years.)

    What is the point of having a written constitution if those sworn to uphold it do not feel they are morally bound to adhere to the text? From one end to the other your comment is a shining example of a mindset steeped in modern legal jurisprudence. If I can get five of the nine votes, to hell with the constitution I swore to uphold. Might makes right.

    You are deeply confused as illustrated by this paragraph:

    Ironically, the typical explanation for judicial activism is that a judge lets their sense of moral outrage override their sense of what the law is, for example when conservatives complain that liberal judges let their desire for marriage equality drive their rulings on SSM cases. Barry needs conservative judges to be the moral ones, though, because liberals are subjectivists and therefore moral perverts; hence, the “moral project” of the right is somehow disconnected from decisionmaking that, in theory, should be about simply saying what the law is.

    The issue of morality I am talking about has nothing to do with whether SSM (or any other policy preference) is morally right or not. Not every deeply felt policy preference, even assuming for the sake of argument it furthers a moral cause, arises to the level of constitutional imperative.

    The issue is whether a right to SSM is guaranteed by the constitution. It is not; the constitution is completely silent on the issue of SSM. Therefore, the issue is reserved for the people and their elected representatives. And when a judge makes the plainly false ruling that a right to SSM is guaranteed by the constitution, he has lied and violated his oath, and that is immoral.

    LH, you and people like you frighten me deeply, but at least I am alive, which is more than can be said for the tens of millions of unborn children slaughtered at the behest of those espousing the judicial philosophy you defend so vehemently.

  8. 8
    Mark Frank says:

    We argue, for example, that in no conceivable universe would torturing an infant for personal pleasure be considered anything other than an unmitigated evil.

    Considered by whom? Not I think the perpetrators. If you mean that you and I and the vast majority of our contemporaries would consider it an unmitigated evil in every conceivable universe then I agree – but that is perfectly compatible with subjectivism. Don’t confuse the time and place where the action takes place with the time and place where the judgement takes place.

  9. 9
    Alicia Renard says:

    BA writes:

    …at least I am alive, which is more than can be said for the tens of millions of unborn children slaughtered at the behest of those espousing the judicial philosophy you defend so vehemently.

    I’m wondering about this. Assuming, for the sake of argument, Barry is right that tens of millions of legal abortions have happened in the US over the last eighty years. What would have happened to all these children? An abortion is not a choice that a woman makes lightly and many make it under the duress of hardship and lack of support, post-rape and forced intercourse. Would these women, having been presumably forced to carry an unwanted foetus to term then be forced to raise that child with the minimal social support that exists even today in the US?

    Explain to me, Barry, how there would not be an explosion of poverty as happens in many third -world countries.

    Explain to me, Barry, how you plan to force women to continue with an unwanted pregnancy. Incarcerate them for nine months? Tie them to their beds?

    Explain to me, Barry, why an effective education system directed at teenagers and young adults on how to avoid unwanted pregnancy together with the necessary availability of contraception is anathema to you.

  10. 10
    Mark Frank says:

    BA

    LH, you and people like you frighten me deeply,

    I assure you the feeling is mutual. I am frightened by people who firmly believe that there is one objective moral code and they know what it is. That leads to justifying the physical suppression of people with different moral views and opens the door to religious wars, Lenin, Mao, and the Islamic State.

  11. 11
    StephenB says:

    Mark Frank

    I assure you the feeling is mutual. I am frightened by people who firmly believe that there is one objective moral code and they know what it is.

    Mark, you have stated that your personal moral code is based, in part, on your belief that is wrong to inflict pain and suffering on others. If you knew that abortion caused unborn children to feel pain, would you change your position and condemn it?

  12. 12
    StephenB says:

    Alicia

    Explain to me, Barry, why an effective education system directed at teenagers and young adults on how to avoid unwanted pregnancy together with the necessary availability of contraception is anathema to you.

    Explain to me, Alicia, why chastity and self control are anathema to you.

  13. 13
    Barry Arrington says:

    “foetus” n. Euphemism people such as Alicia Renard use to describe an unborn baby they may want to kill.

    “How’s the foetus honey”? No expectant father asked his wife, ever.

  14. 14
    Barry Arrington says:

    Explain to me, Barry, how there would not be an explosion of poverty as happens in many third -world countries

    .

    If killing babies is an effective population control mechanism, why don’t you keep killing them when they are born?

  15. 15
    Barry Arrington says:

    MF

    Considered by whom? Not I think the perpetrators.

    Yes, including the perpetrators. What in the world makes you think that just because someone does something evil they don’t understand it to be evil.

    Mark, seriously, when you have to start making an apologetic for those who would torture infants for pleasure, it is time to turn in your system of ethics for an upgrade.

  16. 16
    Barry Arrington says:

    MF

    opens the door to religious wars, Lenin, Mao . . .

    Newsflash Mark. Those two are on your side. And just the two of them (along with Lenin’s successor Stalin), killed more innocent people than all of the wars of religion in history combined. Moral of the story: Murderous religious fanatics are bad. But for really wholesale slaughter on an epic scale it takes an atheist subjectivist.

  17. 17
    Alicia Renard says:

    StephenB

    That is meant to be an answer? Ignore my questions as to what to do with tens of millions of unwanted children and ask “Explain to me, Alicia, why chastity and self control are anathema to you.”?

    When a rapist attacks, when a drunken husband forces himself, when an abusive partner threatens to leave if his sexual demands are not met, how does your question about chastity help?

    When the 19-year-old-niece of a good friend meets a boy at a party who then arranges to lure her away so that, with the help of four accomplices, he can rape her? Hmm? Good Italian Catholic boys too!

  18. 18
    Mark Frank says:

    SB

    If you knew that abortion caused unborn children to feel pain, would you change your position and condemn it?

    It would certainly change my attitude – of course it depends how much pain and it has to be balanced against the pain they and the family would endure if they were born.

  19. 19
    Alicia Renard says:

    If killing babies is an effective population control mechanism, why don’t you keep killing them when they are born?

    It used to happen, Barry. A century ago, infant mortality kept human population in check. I prefer that a pregnancy does not happen. In countries where sex education and contraceptive advice is freely available, unwanted pregnancy, especially teenage pregnancy, is much lower. No need for large numbers of terminations. And no, a three-month old foetus is not a baby.

  20. 20
    Mark Frank says:

    BA

    I am not going to replay “how many people did your side kill”. It is one of the more unthinking debates that takes place every few days on UD.

    I will argue that there was nothing subjective about Lenin and Mao’s moral codes. As far as know, they firmly believed that communism was objectively morally right.

  21. 21
    Mark Frank says:

    BA

    What in the world makes you think that just because someone does something evil they don’t understand it to be evil.

    Because on the whole people do not like to do something which they find morally repulsive. There are plenty of examples of people doing things we find deeply morally wrong whom it would appear thought their actions not only acceptable but morally laudable – the most obvious currently examples coming from Islamic terrorists. To choose another from the top of my head, It seems unlikely that the Inca priest making a child sacrifice thought it was an evil act.

  22. 22
    StephenB says:

    Barry

    Those two are on your side. And just the two of them (along with Lenin’s successor Stalin), killed more innocent people than all of the wars of religion in history combined.

    Yes, Barry, you are correct. For those keeping score, here is the tally:

    Religious Fanatics: 2,000,000 dead in 2000 years

    Moral Subjectvists: 300,000,000 dead in 100 years

    Of course, we also have to keep in mind that the religious wars are external conflicts. In many cases, the killing was done in self defense. The moral subjectivists, on the other hand, will kill anybody–even their own citizens.

    Other than that, have a nice day.

  23. 23
    StephenB says:

    Alicia

    That is meant to be an answer? Ignore my questions as to what to do with tens of millions of unwanted children and ask “Explain to me, Alicia, why chastity and self control are anathema to you.”?

    I will be happy to answer your question. Unwanted children deserve to live just as much as wanted children. You don’t get to kill people because you would prefer not to have them around.

    Now, how about answering my question:

    Why are chastity and self control anathema to you?

    Alicia

    When a rapist attacks, when a drunken husband forces himself, when an abusive partner threatens to leave if his sexual demands are not met, how does your question about chastity help?

    Well, gosh–I don’t know any rapists who practice chastity, nor do I know of any chaste people who rape. It’s a bit difficult to refrain from sexual activity and rape someone at the same time. Does that help? (Can you believe that we are having this conversation?)

    When the 19-year-old-niece of a good friend meets a boy at a party who then arranges to lure her away so that, with the help of four accomplices, he can rape her? Hmm? Good Italian Catholic boys too!

    You bet. That’s chastity in action. (Unbelievable!)

  24. 24
    Alicia Renard says:

    StephenB,

    I’m too angry to exchange comments with one such as you at the moment.

  25. 25
    Barry Arrington says:

    Barry:

    If killing babies is an effective population control mechanism, why don’t you keep killing them when they are born?

    AR:

    It used to happen, Barry. A century ago, infant mortality kept human population in check.

    Palm smacks forehead. If you don’t know (or acknowledge) the difference between killing a baby and the death of a baby by natural causes, you have shown yourself to be unserious.

    You tried to dodge the question and wound up looking stupid. I don’t blame you for trying to dodge the question, though. From your side there is no good answer.

    And no, a three-month old foetus is not a baby.

    Yes, you need to dehumanize those whom you would kill in mass.

  26. 26
    StephenB says:

    Alicia

    I’m too angry to exchange comments with one such as you at the moment.

    Well, then, ponder this: It’s not the baby’s fault that it was conceived in rape. Take your wrath out on the rapist. Still, rape accounts for less than 1% of all births. If I were to abandon my principles and let you kill those few, would you promise not to kill the other 99%. Of course, you wouldn’t.

    Also, I have a fact that might interest you. If you placed every person on the planet in the state of Texas, you would have a population density equal to Chicago, Illinois. So, there is no problem at all with over-population, nor is there any danger that it will ever be a problem. Under the circumstances, can I persuade you to let the babies live that you would have condemned to death under the false impression that they are crowding us out? Of course, I can’t.

    Put all the pretense aside. You and Mark enthusiastically support the barbarous practice of tearing babies apart piece by piece in the name of compassion and sexual freedom.

  27. 27
    Cross says:

    Alicia @ 9

    Hi Alicia, I am not going to argue about abortion with you as it may well be a personal and emotionally charged issue. I just want to point out another choice that women have, that of adopting out an unwanted child.

    My wife and I now have 4 children, the first two adopted as we were unlikely after many years to fall pregnant.

    The adopted sons are much loved and a real treasure to our lives, every bit as much as the natural ones that followed.

    The adoptions happened 26 and 24 years ago, it is much harder if not impossible now here is Aus where 40,000 terminations are performed each year. There are thousands of childless couples that would love to adopt them.

    Why is it not better, to promote adoption rather than termination? Why is it not the more moral position?

    I can see where a mother may not be able to handle a rape or incest and it may surprise you that Jewish tradition would mostly accept abortion in this case.

  28. 28
    Daniel King says:

    Cross:

    Why is it not better, to promote adoption rather than termination? Why is it not the more moral position?

    If you think it’s better, there are lots of children out there who need parenting by good Christians like you. How many have you adopted?

  29. 29
    Upright BiPed says:

    Foot. Mouth.

  30. 30
    Learned Hand says:

    Barry,

    First, feel free to call me Colin. LH is fine too.

    You are nothing if not predictable.

    I’m also wise, compassionate, insightful, articulate, wholesome, funny, strong, handsome, and a fast runner. These are all objective and self-evident characteristics, except for my good looks, which are only evident upon examination of my classical profile (but are still objective).
    You say that judicial activism is undefinable, because there are no standards by which to define it.
    That’s not actually what I said at all. I said that JA is easy to define. It’s hard to define well or objectively, which is evident from the fact that there are so few rigorous definitions of it that aren’t simply elaborate ways of saying, “Harrumph! That damn judge did the wrong thing.” See, e.g., scholarship focusing on rates of overturning statutes—a very objective, but not very satisfying, definition.

    There is a standard. It is called the constitution. When a judge’s decision cannot be supported by the text, history and structure of the constitution he has engaged in judicial activism and violated his oath to uphold the constitution.
    Great—a subjective standard that depends on your interpretation of the “text, history and structure of the constitution.” In other words, “harrumph.” It’s very easy to declare that decisions that violate your understanding of the constitution are activist, but all you’re doing is defining “decisions that I don’t agree with” as activist.
    (BTW, thanks for admitting your relative ignorance when it comes to con law; I, on the other hand, have been practicing con law for over 20 years.)

    Keep practicing, eventually you’re bound to get good at it.

    What is the point of having a written constitution if those sworn to uphold it do not feel they are morally bound to adhere to the text? From one end to the other your comment is a shining example of a mindset steeped in modern legal jurisprudence. If I can get five of the nine votes, to hell with the constitution I swore to uphold. Might makes right.

    This is irrelevant to the discussion about objectivism and subjectivism; objectivists and subjectivists alike can value their oath, and both can also decide that some value is more important than their oath. But of course, it’s also possible in any particular case that the justices legitimately disagree over the application of the constitution to the present facts.

    And once again, no one really believes that “might makes right.” Even the hypothetical justice you caricature here doesn’t believe it. They might believe that “might” enables them to advance their vision of what’s right, but not that might makes that vision right.

    You’re letting your sloganeering do your reasoning for you. Try not to do that in your briefs.

    The issue is whether a right to SSM is guaranteed by the constitution. It is not; the constitution is completely silent on the issue of SSM.

    The Court determined in Loving that the Constitution protects a fundamental right to marry, at least following the collapse of religious conservatives’ social arguments against miscegenation. (Which I rather suspect were articulated as objective moral arguments.) In your twenty years of practice, you have surely read the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses. The authors and ratifiers of these clauses were inconsiderate enough (or foresighted enough) not to give explicit, detailed instructions as to how to apply this text. Many people believe that either the DP or EP clauses protect same-sex marriage. I think both work.

    You obviously disagree, and that’s fine. People do. It’s both silly and toxic to pretend that the good-faith and sincere arguments of people who disagree with us don’t exist, or that those people are power-mad sociopaths who are just itching to tear apart another baby for the greater glory of Satan, Darwin and Dawkins. People disagree about how to interpret the constitution, especially when applying it to social or technological questions that were not ever considered by the founders. You’re perfectly free to complain that those rascally pro-miscegenation judges are just damned activists, but you’re still lacking an objective standard with which to do so. “Disagreeing with me is objectively wrong” doesn’t cut it.

    But back to the OP, your argument just doesn’t hold water. There isn’t a real distinction between subjectivists and objectivists when it comes to “activism.” Both are equally capable of prizing their oath, and equally capable of subordinating it to some (perceived) greater moral project.

  31. 31
    Learned Hand says:

    SB,

    If you placed every person on the planet in the state of Texas, you would have a population density equal to Chicago, Illinois. So, there is no problem at all with over-population, nor is there any danger that it will ever be a problem.

    And then Texas would become a graveyard of billions. The perceived “danger of over-population” is not that the people won’t physically fit, but the availability of resources commensurate with the population. I don’t know how serious a danger it is, but your example doesn’t make a cogent counter-argument.

  32. 32
    Barry Arrington says:

    Colin @ 30: The constitution is a subjective standard? My God, man, it’s a text; surely you believe it has some meaning. Oh wait. Maybe you went to the same law school I went to where for three painful years over and over again they tried to pound into my head “language means nothing; it is all a power game.” I resisted. You were assimilated. That’s OK. Most are.

    Keep practicing, eventually you’re bound to get good at it.

    How many con law cases have you successfully litigated? I’ve won plenty. I understand your snark though; you think that if my writing at UD reflects my practice, I could not possibly win. And that’s true. But I do win. I guess I’m smart enough to know that when you’re down the rabbit hole, you have to play by Wonderland’s rules. Here at UD though I get to shake my fist at the lunacy of it all.

  33. 33
    Learned Hand says:

    Barry

    The constitution is a subjective standard? My God, man, it’s a text.

    The explicit text of the constitution is objective; to apply it to real-world cases, judges must interpret it. That interpretation is inevitably going to entail subjective analyses.

    In other words, if the question is, “How many branches of government are there?”, then the answer is objectively found in the constitution.

    If the question is, “Does the EP clause prohibit separate yet equal public schooling accomodations,” or “Does the Fourth Amendment prohibit warrantless infrared scans of a domicile,” then the analysis is going to involve a lot of questions about what the constitution means that go beyond its text.

  34. 34
    Learned Hand says:

    How many con law cases have you successfully litigated?

    None, I practiced complex commercial lit as a Biglaw associate. Constitutional issues rarely came up, and I can’t think of any that were ever dispositive.

    I understand your snark though; you think that if my writing at UD reflects my practice, I could not possibly win.

    I don’t think that your blogging demonstrates the quality of your briefs; just the quality of your thinking and character.

  35. 35
    Cross says:

    Daniel @ 28

    I just want to point out a common misconception about Christians. I don’t in any way think as a Christian I am good and thus you are not. I don’t think I am always right or do the right thing, just ask my wife and she will confirm this, and you are always wrong and always do the wrong thing. I have a number of friends who are not Christian and yet are very good people.

    My view is that we are all sinners in need of a savior and I chose mine (or He chose me but that’s another argument).

    Further to this, it is entirely possible for a non christian to do the morally right thing.

    I am pointing out that surely it is morally better to adopt out an unwanted child than to terminate.

  36. 36
    rvb8 says:

    Another edifying debate topic for a ‘science’ website.

    Occasionally people are banned here, it is a well known part of ID culture that free descent from the prevailing opinion be quashed. StephenB and his anti-diluvian thought should be banned, but his thought is thought to be complimentary and erudite; it’s not.

    When dealing with people like StephenB you should note that they are far from confident, that is these are people with incredibly shaky moral values. Mocking people who are obviously deeply aware of a particular social problem, and giving the most childish of answers, “don’t do bad things”, is their flippant way to dismiss their opponents and the problem.

    I would never be so crass and patronising as to give advice to the well spoken and completely moral Alicia, but I would like to point out something. Abortion is the law of the land. A woman’s right to have a free, safe, abortion is guaranteed under the constitution. (You know, the piece of paper that BA waves around when it suits his morality.)

    Also, I have a question for all the moral Christians who oppose abortion. How many children have you adopted? I assume you have a decent middle class income. So, why aren’t you out there madly adopting all of these potential abortees? You say it is immoral, well go out there and actively do something. Your call could be, ‘Adopt an Abortee and make Jesus Smile.’ Put your morality where your mouth is; do something, or just shut up!

  37. 37
    StephenB says:

    Learned Hand

    The explicit text of the constitution is objective; to apply it to real-world cases, judges must interpret it. That interpretation is inevitably going to entail subjective analyses.

    Yes, the text is objective. The Constitution represents the “how” and the Declaration of Independence represents the “why.” Both are informed by the principles of natural law, which are also objective. (“The Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.”)

    In other words, if the question is, “How many branches of government are there?”, then the answer is objectively found in the constitution.

    The question is this: “What is the objective standard for determining which laws are just and which ones are not.”

    If the question is, “Does the EP clause prohibit separate yet equal public schooling accomodations,” or “Does the Fourth Amendment prohibit warrantless infrared scans of a domicile,” then the analysis is going to involve a lot of questions about what the constitution means that go beyond its text.”

    Natural rights, which are contained in the natural moral law are, by definition, objective. By recognizing them, the government is obliged to refrain from passing any law that would violate those rights. Citizens have a natural right to be treated equally under the law. Obviously, the contradictory “separate but equal” formulation violates that spirit. It is an unjust principle the breeds an unjust law, the very thing that is supposed to be avoided.

    That is the whole point of having a constitution steeped in objective principles: to pass just laws that hold everyone accountable, even the government. Alas, that same government can grow corrupt and ignore its own principles and pass unjust laws. However, without the standard, there is no way to know it if has become corrupt.

    With respect to the Fourth Amendment, you answered your own question. Warrantless and unreasonable mean warrantless and unreasonable. A thing can only be unreasonable according to reason’s objective standards, which are expressed in the natural moral law. Modern jurisprudence, which is corrupt and perverse, defines unreasonable as anything that displeases the tyrannical government or the tyrannical majority, who always impose their own subjective morality on those who are powerless to resist.

  38. 38
    Cross says:

    rvb8 @ 36

    “I would never be so crass and patronising as to give advice to the well spoken and completely moral Alicia”

    then

    “‘Adopt an Abortee and make Jesus Smile.’” crass and patronising, hypocrisy anyone.

    Mate, you should stop getting your view of Christians from the Simpsons, we aren’t all Ned Flanders caricatures. Get out and talk to a few, you will find them a pretty ordinary mix of people (and not all middle class either). I know hundreds of Christian friends and acquaintances and don’t know many that think they are morally superior, usually quite the opposite.

    As a group though, we tend to get upset with abortion as we see it as a modern holocaust. What happened to the moral subjectivist that give us all the right to our own moral feelings and disagree with others?

    I just posed an option that is overlooked, the choice to bring a baby to term and adopt out to a childless couple. Whats wrong with helping a childless couple? Could that unborn child be the next Einstein, Nelson Mandella or even an rvb8?

    I posed the question, “Why is it not better, to promote adoption rather than termination? Why is it not the more moral position?”

    Care to answer?

  39. 39
    StephenB says:

    rvb8

    When dealing with people like StephenB you should note that they are far from confident, that is these are people with incredibly shaky moral values. Mocking people who are obviously deeply aware of a particular social problem, and giving the most childish of answers, “don’t do bad things”, is their flippant way to dismiss their opponents and the problem.

    Somehow, I sense that a rationalization for killing babies is about to appear.

    I would never be so crass and patronising as to give advice to the well spoken and completely moral Alicia, but I would like to point out something.

    Any argument based on the proposition or the insinuation that chastity doesn’t work is manifestly stupid and deserves to be ridiculed.

    Abortion is the law of the land. A woman’s right to have a free, safe, abortion is guaranteed under the constitution. (You know, the piece of paper that BA waves around when it suits his morality.)

    Ah, yes, there it is. For rvb8, The Constitution “protects” the mother’s right to kill her unprotected baby. What took you so long?

    StephenB and his anti-diluvian thought should be banned, but his thought is thought to be complimentary and erudite; it’s not.

    I think the word you are looking for is “expelled.”

  40. 40
    Mark Frank says:

    #38 Cross

    What happened to the moral subjectivist that give us all the right to our own moral feelings and disagree with others?

    Oh Dear – one more time.

    Subjectivism does not give us all the right to our own moral feelings. Giving a right is a moral decision which is made by an individual based on their moral beliefs. All subjectivism says is that as a matter of fact people differ in their moral beliefs and there is no ultimate way of proving one set of beliefs objectively correct. This a meta-ethics statement about how ethics works – not an ethical statement about rights.

    Having said that it is hard to know what it means to give (or refuse) someone the right to have their own moral feelings. You can’t pass a law dictating what people shall believe to be right or wrong!

    What you can do is disagree very strongly with someone else’s moral feelings, try to persuade them differently (even though there is no ultimate proof they are wrong – you can still muster strong arguments), and if their beliefs are particularly unacceptable to you – try to stop those feelings turning into action.

  41. 41
    StephenB says:

    rvb8

    Also, I have a question for all the moral Christians who oppose abortion. How many children have you adopted? I assume you have a decent middle class income. So, why aren’t you out there madly adopting all of these potential abortees? You say it is immoral, well go out there and actively do something. Your call could be, ‘Adopt an Abortee and make Jesus Smile.’ Put your morality where your mouth is; do something, or just shut up!

    I realize that facts mean nothing to you, but here we go. For every adoption, there are 36 couples lined up with open arms. In raw numbers, that means there are 4.5 million couples available and willing to address the problem of 1.2 million babies that are slaughtered in the womb. Even if every one of them had been adopted, there would still be 3.3 million more couples with no babies to receive. One problem, rvb8, is that your friends at Planned Parenthood would rather kill the baby than inform the mother about other options. Do you have any more uniformed questions?

  42. 42

    MF said:

    Subjectivism does not give us all the right to our own moral feelings.

    Actually, that’s exactly what moral subjectivism does.You’re confusing moral subjectivism with moral relativism.

    What you can do is disagree very strongly with someone else’s moral feelings, try to persuade them differently (even though there is no ultimate proof they are wrong – you can still muster strong arguments),

    With no objective standard, all such arguments are necessarily based on rhetoric and/or emotional pleading. I dont consider any such argument to be “strong”.

    and if their beliefs are particularly unacceptable to you – try to stop those feelings turning into action.

    Acting on feelings without a presumed objective basis is the very definition of irrational behavior.

  43. 43
    Mark Frank says:

    WJM

    You seem to be very confident about subjectivism says. Perhaps you could state clearly what you mean by it or give a reference.

  44. 44
    StephenB says:

    Mark Frank

    Having said that it is hard to know what it means to give (or refuse) someone the right to have their own moral feelings. You can’t pass a law dictating what people shall believe to be right or wrong!

    What you can do is disagree very strongly with someone else’s moral feelings, try to persuade them differently (even though there is no ultimate proof they are wrong – you can still muster strong arguments), and if their beliefs are particularly unacceptable to you – try to stop those feelings turning into action.

    Subjectivists are more clever than that. They try to pass laws that forbid the public expression of those beliefs, which amounts to the same thing. If you can’t express an idea or try to persuade others to accept it, you might as well not believe it.

    Canada’s hate speech laws, for example, forbid anyone from criticizing homosexual behavior on the grounds that doing so is a personal attack and endangers the object of criticism. Thus, the Christian moral perspective, which condemns the sin, but not the sinner, may not be expressed in public.

    While the United States has not yet arrived to that point full scale, its university classrooms, who are dominated by subjectivists, operate by the same principle, especially at the graduate level. I know. I’ve been there.

  45. 45

    Moral relativism means that whether or not a moral statement is true is relative to some individual, group, cultural or even objective model of morality. There is such a thing as an objective relativist.

    Moral subjectivism means that whether or not a moral statement is true depends entirely upon the subjective nature of the individual’s views who is making the statement – it is a true statement of their personal moral view and not held as true beyond that.

    Thus, moral relativism generally does not give any individual a “right” to their own moral views (except for subjective relativism), while moral subjectivism does exactly that.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entr.....ivism.html

    As I argued in the other thread, though, moral relativism necessarily, logically boils down to moral subjectivism in terms of how one adopts moral rules and decides how to behave; a so-called moral relativist will abandon the group or cultural morals, and even views held as objective in their source, if they feel strongly enough about their disagreement. Logically, for the relativist, this makes personal feeling their actual de facto moral authority, making them a moral subjectivist, where they have any moral right they feel they have because, they feel like it, and moral statements are true because they feel like they are.

    Unless, of course, one will commit to some moral code unconditionally – even when that moral code conflicts with very strong feelings otherwise. Then one can be a true (logically consistent) moral relativist.

  46. 46

    In the interests of clarity, MF:

    There is a difference between intellectually or academically describing theories about what morality “is”, and actually being able to live as if one of those theories is true.

    I do not make a case for “what morality is”, but rather I make arguments that address “Can we actually live as if moral theory X is true?” I suggest most people involved in this discussion can only live as if moral objectivism is true; only sociopaths can live as if moral subjectivism is true. I don’t think anyone can live as if moral relativism is true.

  47. 47
    StephenB says:

    Mark Frank

    WJM

    You seem to be very confident about subjectivism says. Perhaps you could state clearly what you mean by it or give a reference.

    What good would that do? The last time I provided a reference for the commonly accepted definition of a term, a dictionary no less, you rejected it and claimed that such references cannot settle disputes over meaning. You have always made it clear that words mean whatever you want them to mean whenever you want them to mean it. That is why I will dialogue with you only on matters of fact. Anytime the subject matter turns to a rational interpretation of facts, I will bow out.

  48. 48
    Mark Frank says:

    WJM #45

    This definition of subjectivism is the standard one (I thought maybe you had something different up your sleeve). My point in #40 still holds. There is a difference between metaethical propositions about the nature of ethics and ethical propositions about rights and duties etc. The failure to make this distinction underlies some of the confusion that is apparent every day on this forum.

    But anyway it is a nonsense to talk of the right to have different moral beliefs. Rights are things that can be given, protected or refused. They apply to things people may or may not do – not what they think or believe.

  49. 49
    Mark Frank says:

    SB

    The last time I provided a reference for the commonly accepted definition of a term, a dictionary no less, you rejected it and claimed that such references cannot settle disputes over meaning. You have always made it clear that words mean whatever you want them to mean whenever you want them to mean it.

    This is not true – but I have to go and run a workshop.

  50. 50

    I also think moral viewpoints matter.

    In the other thread, I make the case that most everyone, even those that describe themselves as moral relativists or subjectivists, live their daily lives as if morality refers to an objective (universal) commodity.

    One might ask, what does it matter, then, if one believes in moral subjectivism/relativism as long as they act like moral objectivists and obey what their conscience tells them?

    The problem is that over time conscience and logic can degrade, especially in a society that increasingly embraces anti-realism and post-modernism, allowing for an increasing corruption of one’s moral capacity. Thus, the way one views morality – subjectivism or objectivism – matters, at least, over time, and certainly over the course of generations, not because it will change the fact that people act as if morality is objective, but rather because it will increasingly damage their capacity to act in a way that is actually moral.

  51. 51
    StephenB says:

    SB,

    If you placed every person on the planet in the state of Texas, you would have a population density equal to Chicago, Illinois. So, there is no problem at all with over-population, nor is there any danger that it will ever be a problem.

    Learned Hand

    And then Texas would become a graveyard of billions. The perceived “danger of over-population” is not that the people won’t physically fit, but the availability of resources commensurate with the population. I don’t know how serious a danger it is, but your example doesn’t make a cogent counter-argument.

    If the population density is the same as Chicago, Illinois, which allows plenty of room to live, then the distribution of goods will be no less problematic with that same density in Texas. With respect to the resources themselves, they, too, are plentiful. As a general rule, destitution is a function of ignorance, persecution, and perverse leadership, not scarce resources or overcrowded space.

  52. 52
    Mark Frank says:

    SB #47

    I have some time now.

    What good would that do? The last time I provided a reference for the commonly accepted definition of a term, a dictionary no less, you rejected it and claimed that such references cannot settle disputes over meaning. You have always made it clear that words mean whatever you want them to mean whenever you want them to mean it. That is why I will dialogue with you only on matters of fact. Anytime the subject matter turns to a rational interpretation of facts, I will bow out.

    That means I failed to make myself clear for which I apologise.  As I recall we were discussing the nature of moral language and you used the example of “morally wrong”. I did not mean to imply that your dictionary definition was wrong – only that it was not useful if you wanted to understand the nature of moral language. To use an analogy – suppose you wanted to understand the nature of mathematical language – does it refer to transcendental entities or is it simply the application of rules to symbols or whatever – it would not be very useful to supply a dictionary definition of an ellipse. It would be true. But that definition would only be from one set of mathematical expressions to another and throw no light on the nature of mathematical language in general. I certainly did not intend to redefine “morally wrong” the way I meant it. I was only offering my description of moral language, as used by all of us. You might well disagree with that description and that is an interesting debate – but I don’t think it merits the description “have always made it clear that words mean whatever you want them to mean”.

  53. 53
    StephenB says:

    Mark Frank

    I certainly did not intend to redefine “morally wrong” the way I meant it.

    The point was that the word “wrong,” as defined, means objectively wrong or wrong according to an objective standard. That was the point of citing the dictionary definition, to show that this is what everyone means when they use that word.

    Thus, when you said that rape “is morally wrong,” you were, perhaps unknowingly, misrepresenting your views, because you do not believe that there is any such thing as a morally wrong act. Your position is that rape is “wrong for you,” which is subjective, not “wrong,” which is objective.

    The difference is important because you would have the rapist punished for doing something that you don’t approve of, not for doing something “wrong.” Yet what you said is that the rapist should be punished for doing something wrong.

  54. 54
    Learned Hand says:

    The point was that the word “wrong,” as defined, means objectively wrong or wrong according to an objective standard. That was the point of citing the dictionary definition, to show that this is what everyone means when they use that word.

    Pettifoggery.

    Thus, when you said that rape “is morally wrong,” you were, perhaps unknowingly, misrepresenting your views, because you do not believe that there is any such thing as a morally wrong act. Your position is that rape is “wrong for you,” which is subjective, not “wrong,” which is objective.

    It continues to surprise me that you cannot come to grips with the opinions of people who are not Stephen. He clearly does believe that things are morally wrong; contorting a dictionary entry to redefine the words he uses in a way that suits you does not change what he is saying.

    The man’s opinions are a living testament that your beliefs are factually inaccurate: people who are not Stephen, and do not think like Stephen, live and breathe. I can almost see the mindset that compels you to tie words in knots to deny the reality of humans outside your own skin, but it’s difficult to respect it.

    There is a wide world out there, Stephen. You are just one part of it.

  55. 55
    StephenB says:

    Learned Hand

    It continues to surprise me that you cannot come to grips with the opinions of people who are not Stephen. He clearly does believe that things are morally wrong; contorting a dictionary entry to redefine the words he uses in a way that suits you does not change what he is saying.

    I am not surprised that you have such difficulty following a rational argument. He clearly does not believe things are morally wrong. He believes that things are morally wrong, “for him,” which is not the same thing. If you don’t understand the difference between an affirmation about the way things are, as opposed to an affirmation about how you perceive things, then that is your loss.

    While you are at it, please provide me with your definition of the word “wrong.” Once you go through the intellectual exercise with me, I am sure that your mind will be illuminated.

  56. 56
    StephenB says:

    LH

    Pettifoggery.

    An exclamation of disapproval does not rise to the level of an argument.

  57. 57
    Barry Arrington says:

    LH @ 54:

    It continues to surprise me that you cannot come to grips with the opinions of people who are not Stephen.

    You say something like this in every other comment. It appears to be your favorite rejoinder. Sadly, it really is second grade level “you poopyhead” sort of stuff. You probably don’t know this, but you are embarrassing yourself. Kindly desist. SB understands your arguments such as they are (i.e., when you occasionally stir yourself to rise above the level of huffs of personal indignation) far better than you, apparently, understand his.

  58. 58
    Andre says:

    It is clear that those who support abortion don’t really know what’s its like… It is murder, it is torture, limbs and parts are torn off….

    Here an ode to those that support genocide…. enjoy what you support

    http://liveactionnews.org/you-.....ooks-like/

  59. 59
    Learned Hand says:

    Stephen,

    An exclamation of disapproval does not rise to the level of an argument.

    Neither does a citation to the dictionary, unless the discussion is about how a word is commonly defined. “Pettifoggery” means that your argument is extremely trivial, not just that I disagree with it.

    Let me check my assumption—I understand you to have been saying that because the dictionary definition of “wrong” does not acknowledge any subjectivity, MF is misrepresenting his own views when he describes something as “wrong” without appending the qualifier, “for me.” If I’m wrong, then let me know, because then this is a pointless digression.

    But if that’s what you mean, then you’ve gone wrong in a couple of ways. First, you’re reading absurdly too much into the dictionary definition. It doesn’t preclude the subjectivity of the term. The definition of “malodorous,” for example, doesn’t cop to subjectivity either—it’s just a bad smell. And yet an aesthetic subjectivist needn’t say “bad for me” to be understood or subjectively correct.

    Second, the “for you/me” formula you and MWJ like to append is sloppy and potentially misleading. Remember that “wrong” here is usually going to be used to describe actions, so you’re leaving an unclear antecedent. I assume that you understand that when MF says something is “wrong,” he can believe (disregarding arguendo your claims that only the mislead or insane believe something other than what you believe) that an action is wrong for anyone to commit, ever, everywhere. Being a subjectivist only means that he acknowledges that someone else may disagree with him, honestly and sincerely.

    So when MF says something is “wrong,” he’s not misrepresenting his views; he truly believes that it’s wrong. He needn’t go on to say, “but only for me,” because (a) he may believe that it’s a wrong for anyone, anywhere to commit, in his opinion, even if they honestly disagree with him, and (b) there’s simply no need to append, “for me,” after every subjective adjective.

    If you don’t understand the difference between an affirmation about the way things are, as opposed to an affirmation about how you perceive things, then that is your loss.

    Your perceptions, whether sensory or notional, are the only way you can know “the way things are.” At least, for those of us who don’t believe in a divine spark that empowers certain of our notions, particularly those that happen to coincide largely with our cultural and personal backgrounds. Insofar as you claim that we all have a direct, spiritual connection to an objective standard, I see no evidence of it; it seems to be merely a matter of faith on your part. As you said above, such an assertion “does not rise to the level of an argument.” But it seems to underlie most of your points. Perhaps you should start appending after every statement, “for everyone”?

    While you are at it, please provide me with your definition of the word “wrong.” Once you go through the intellectual exercise with me, I am sure that your mind will be illuminated.

    I think I’d call something morally wrong if it transgresses a value I hold. There are other kinds of “wrong,” but I think that’s the one that we’re talking about. Let me know if you meant something else.

  60. 60
    Learned Hand says:

    Stephen,

    I think we’d agree that people all over the world at least seem to disagree about moral issues. Many, perhaps most, disagree with you on at least one point: whether contraception is moral; whether women must obey their husbands in marriage; whether any sort of discrimination is moral, and if so, what sort; whether speeding is wrong, and if so, at what point; whether it’s moral to steal or lie in conditions of dire extremity, and if so, what constitutes such conditions; etc.

    People not only disagree about the answers to those questions, and many, many more, those who are objectivists claim to disagree in practice as to where to draw the line between “objective moral principle” and “emanation of such a principle, about which people can reasonably disagree.”

    I think those are obvious enough points that we can agree on them, but let me know if not. Assuming they are, given the wide scope of moral questions on which people can and do claim to disagree, doesn’t that leave you as potentially the only person on Earth who acknowledges and comprehends the correct, objective moral code? After all, virtually everyone else disagrees with you on one element or another, but you don’t misapprehend any part of the objective code (if I understand you correctly).

    I’m very dubious of a belief system that claims an objective moral standard that only the claimant acknowledges without error. And I doubt you’d agree with that suspicion on my part, but I’m curious where we deviate. Is it that you think you aren’t the only person who acknowledges the moral code just as you do, without any claimed disagreement?

  61. 61
    Mark Frank says:

    SB #55

    If you don’t understand the difference between an affirmation about the way things are, as opposed to an affirmation about how you perceive things, then that is your loss.

    It is a crude and wrong version of subjectivism that says moral statements are statements about my feelings. That is why I wanted to probe deeper into the nature of moral language. But you seem to regard this as an irrational pursuit.

  62. 62
    Learned Hand says:

    Whoops, clarification: I understand your position to be that short of insanity or oppression, people don’t actually disagree about morals. When I write merely “disagree,” above, please read that as “claim to disagree.” Sorry for the confusion.

  63. 63
    StephenB says:

    Learned Hand

    First, you’re reading absurdly too much into the dictionary definition. It doesn’t preclude the subjectivity of the term.

    The term “wrong” does preclude subjectivity. A thing either misses the mark or it does not. It is not simply perceived to have missed the mark, it misses the mark, in fact.

    The definition of “malodorous,” for example, doesn’t cop to subjectivity either—it’s just a bad smell.

    Sorry, that doesn’t work. Malodorous does, indeed, lend itself to subjectivity, as is clear from the fact that a bad scent is not bad for someone who cannot smell–someone who can truthfully say, it is not bad “for me.”

    I assume that you understand that when MF says something is “wrong,” he can believe (disregarding arguendo your claims that only the mislead or insane believe something other than what you believe) that an action is wrong for anyone to commit, ever, everywhere.

    To say that something is wrong means that it applies to “everyone,” not just “anyone.” It is the *everyone* that takes it out of the subjective realm. Objective morality applies to everyone, not just anyone.

    I do, however, appreciate the fact that you are trying to make substantive comments. Let’s try to think this thing through:

    If a statement is expressed in the language of facts, then it is objective; if it is expressed in the language of opinion or perception, then it is subjective.

    To say that something “is wrong,” is to make a factual claim or to affirm something about reality; it is in the objective mode.
    To say that something “seems wrong,” or is wrong “to me,” is to state one’s opinion; it is in the subjective mode.

    If a teacher says that a student’s test answer is “wrong,” she is making a statement about an incontestable fact. She is saying that the student’s answer is inconsistent with the facts. That is what wrong means. It is logically impossible to get a wrong answer unless there is an objectively right answer that makes it wrong.

    Thus, when Mark says that rape “is wrong,” he is making a factual claim about objective morality. Yet Mark doesn’t believe in objective morality. To express his true beliefs, he must say that rape “seems wrong” or that it is wrong, “for him.”

    Your perceptions, whether sensory or notional, are the only way you can know “the way things are.”

    That is incorrect, but it doesn’t matter. We are not discussing processes; we are discussing categories. Knowledge is related to facts. Perception is related to opinion. The former is objective, while the latter is subjective.

  64. 64
    Learned Hand says:

    That is the whole point of having a constitution steeped in objective principles: to pass just laws that hold everyone accountable, even the government. Alas, that same government can grow corrupt and ignore its own principles and pass unjust laws. However, without the standard, there is no way to know it if has become corrupt.

    That’s nice rhetoric, but nothing else. We can just as easily say that the point of a constitution is steeped in subjective principles; it acknowledges by its very existence that people will disagree about fundamental moral questions, and sets forth both a set of consensus rules and a framework for disagreeing about them. If it assumed that everyone shared access to an objective moral universe, presumably it would operationalize it in some way. “Congress shall pass no law that is immoral.” Rather, it used a political process to see what points people could agree to, and presumes they will continue disagreeing in perpetuity. We live in a world in which everyone behaves as if they are a subjectivist, and expects their neighbors to be as well.

    With respect to the Fourth Amendment, you answered your own question. Warrantless and unreasonable mean warrantless and unreasonable. A thing can only be unreasonable according to reason’s objective standards, which are expressed in the natural moral law.

    This is a good example of how subjectivist frameworks are more effective than objectivist ones. Your answer is baffling; “Warrantless and unreasonable mean warrantless and unreasonable” is literally a tautology, not a particularly helpful legal principle. How should the Court decide whether infrared scans are unreasonable? What’s the objective moral answer?

    I’m actually curious how you’d determine that answer. I think the balance between police functions and privacy is a very significant moral question. A subjectivist can always say, “I don’t know enough about the arguments on both sides of this problem to tell what the right answer should be.” Can an objectivist? I can’t tell whether you’d need to, for example, read the briefs of a case, or if you could just perceive the answer as self-evident. If you’d need to read the briefs, that implies that there are inputs underlying your conclusions, and therefore that the conclusions are subject to the persuasiveness and substance of the inputs. If not, then I’m at a loss as to how an objectivist legal system would actually function in practice.

    Modern jurisprudence, which is corrupt and perverse, defines unreasonable as anything that displeases the tyrannical government or the tyrannical majority, who always impose their own subjective morality on those who are powerless to resist.

    This is empirically untrue. “Modern jurisprudence” has a long list of rules for determining what’s unreasonable; which rules depend on the context. The results are often inconvenient to the government, the majority, or both. Constitutional rights exist largely to protect minorities. Consider the Westboro Baptist Church, for example. They’re loathed by everyone but themselves, but retain the right to demonstrate under the Constitution.

  65. 65
    Learned Hand says:

    The term “wrong” does preclude subjectivity. A thing either misses the mark or it does not. It is not simply perceived to have missed the mark, it misses the mark, in fact.

    This is assuming your conclusion; for example, it assumes “the mark” is an objective mark. If someone tells me that the First Amendment is the most important amendment of the Constitution, I might say, “That’s wrong!” The opinions on both sides of that discussion are subjective.

    Sorry, that doesn’t work. Malodorous does, indeed, lend itself to subjectivity, as is clear from the fact that a bad scent is not bad for someone who cannot smell–someone who can truthfully say, it is not bad “for me.”

    Well, I’m glad we agree at least that “malodorous” is a subjective concept. My point, though, was that the dictionary does not distinguish between subjective and objective definitions in either its “malodorous” or “wrong” entries. It’s facile, therefore, to try to make hay out of the latter. It’s pettifogging.

    I do, however, appreciate the fact that you are trying to make substantive comments.

    The sentiment is mutual. Obviously I find your positions frustrating; you may not appreciate why. Your arguments assume that everyone who is not Stephen B is dishonest, insane, or oppressed to the point of being unable to access their basic human nature. (I’m assuming that basically everyone in the world disagrees with you as to at least one moral principle; I can’t prove that, but I think it’s a relatively safe assumption given my experience with human nature.) Your position essentially dehumanizes everyone who disagrees with you. I think it’s ultimately a form of self-aggrandizing solipsism, and extremely corrosive to the kind of back-and-forth discussion I think is a crucial part of moral and ethical human society. It’s not the end of the world, especially because at the end of the day you seem to behave like a subjectivist—you argue rather than simply telling us to search our feelings for our inner Stephen. But you do fall apart from time to time into convenient “just so” assertions.

    Having said that, as you said and I echo, I appreciate that you do try to have a substantive conversation.

    To say that something “is wrong,” is to make a factual claim or to affirm something about reality; it is in the objective mode. To say that something “seems wrong,” or is wrong “to me,” is to state one’s opinion; it is in the subjective mode.

    This is imposing an unnecessary framework. To say that something “is wrong” is always saying that it is wrong according to some standard. Whether the standard is objective or subjective is not necessarily relevant. The work you’re doing to carve out different kinds of “wrong” is only necessary if we assume the truth of your position, which we don’t.

    If a teacher says that a student’s test answer is “wrong,” she is making a statement about an incontestable fact. She is saying that the student’s answer is inconsistent with the facts. That is what wrong means. It is logically impossible to get a wrong answer unless there is an objectively right answer that makes it wrong.

    See? This is assuming that “wrong” is amenable to an objective standard. Your comparison is meaningless if we assume, arguendo, that “wrong” is always assessed according to a personal standard that can vary from actor to actor.

    Thus, when Mark says that rape “is wrong,” he is making a factual claim about objective morality.

    Except that you know that’s not what he means. If your interpretation of his words is inconsistent with what he means, that doesn’t mean that he’s wrong. Your interpretation of his words is flawed. It’s not supported by the dictionary (because like “malodorous,” it doesn’t functionally distinguish between an objective and subjective definition of “wrong”) or by logic (because you’re assuming your conclusion).

    Knowledge is related to facts. Perception is related to opinion.

    You can only gain facts by perception, other than (perhaps) “I exist” or intrinsic feelings. I understand your position to be that morals fall into that category, but that’s the core of our disagreement. Again, you’re assuming your facts.

    We may have cleaved the disagreement to the bone; your assertions as to the nature of “wrong” seem to me to be professions of faith. Is that not right?

    Sorry for the multiple responses; I’m on a long plane flight and quite bored. Thanks for the conversation.

  66. 66
    Cross says:

    LH @ 65

    ” I’m on a long plane flight and quite bored”

    I have found that long boring flights to be the best kind. The ones where the engine bursts into flames, masks drop down, altitude plummets and are not as long as expected are certainly not boring but also not preferred. Perhaps this is something that subjectivists and objectivists can agree on?

    The view that there is no God to provide an objective law that can and will judge you accordingly is also a “faith” issue for you too.

    Cheers

  67. 67
    Mark Frank says:

    SB

    To say that something “is wrong,” is to make a factual claim or to affirm something about reality; it is in the objective mode.

    * Wrong sometimes means something completely factual, and sometimes is does not. It depends on the context. When it is used in a moral context I believe it is not completely factual and that it is the thing we are debating.

    * Your dictionary definition did nothing to resolve this. When you offered a dictionary definition for wrong in a moral context you came up with:

    unjust, dishonest, or immoral.“they were wrong to take the law into their own hands”synonyms: illegal, unlawful, illicit, criminal, dishonest, dishonorable, corrupt; Moreunethical, immoral, bad, wicked, sinful, iniquitous, nefarious, blameworthy, reprehensible;informalcrooked“I’ve done nothing wrong”

    I am not sure how you generated this list ( browsing around some parts seem to crop up in some dictionaries but not all of them).  But anyway the list comprises some words that are reasonable synonyms for ”morally wrong”: unethical, immoral, bad, wicked, sinful, iniquitous, nefarious, blameworthy, reprehensible and others which are not synonyms but examples: illegal, unlawful, illicit, criminal, dishonest, dishonorable, corrupt.  The synonyms are no more obviously factual than morally wrong and I  have exactly the same position on them as I do on “morally wrong”. Examples of things that are morally wrong are not proof that morally wrong is objective. We can come up with a long list of factual things that are malodorous but it doesn’t make malodorous objective.

    * I believe asserting something is morally wrong is more like (but not exactly like) asserting that “jeans are not acceptable” .  Clearly “acceptable” is not a property of jeans. Is it an objective fact? It depends on the context. If I am reporting that in this restaurant jeans are not acceptable then it is. If I am a co-owner of the restaurant debating our policy with another co-owner then it is an expression (not a description) of my opinion. If it is a sign on the restaurant door it is not a description at all but a prescription. Context is all. But in the end there an element of human opinion is an essential part of the meaning of the word “acceptable”.  Likewise in the phrase “morally wrong”.  

    You may well disgree – but it is worth more intelligent debate than dismissing me as making words mean what I want them to mean.

  68. 68
    StephenB says:

    Learned Hand

    We can just as easily say that the point of a constitution is steeped in subjective principles; it acknowledges by its very existence that people will disagree about fundamental moral questions, and sets forth both a set of consensus rules and a framework for disagreeing about them.

    Any speculation about what a hypothetical constitution may or may not do has nothing to do with the historical facts. We are discussing the Constitution of the United States, which is grounded in the Natural Moral Law. Under its framework, we are, as articulated in its founding documents, “endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.” Because God grants these “natural rights,” they may not be taken away by the government. Whatever the government gives, the government can take away. Now it is true that in 1947, the Supreme Court finally abandoned the natural moral law in favor of judicial whim and consensus, but that dreary episode is another story. I am discussing the original purpose and intent behind the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, which can easily be found in all the founding documents.

    If it assumed that everyone shared access to an objective moral universe, presumably it would operationalize it in some way.

    What everyone shared were the objective principles inherent in the natural moral law. (It was expressed as The “Laws of Nature” and “nature’s God.”) The idea was that virtuous people, committed to the natural moral law, were capable of governing themselves and didn’t need a king to do it for them. It was understood that it the people were not capable of self-control, they would not be capable of governing themselves. The Declaration of Independence (why are we doing this) was “operationalized” through the Constitution, (how do we do this).

    Rather, it used a political process to see what points people could agree to, and presumes they will continue disagreeing in perpetuity. We live in a world in which everyone behaves as if they are a subjectivist, and expects their neighbors to be as well.

    This is pure wishful thinking on your part and has no basis in reality. We always have disagreements about the application of principles, but historically, there was no disagreement about the principles themselves.

    The natural law principle and its corollary of natural rights inform all of the processes that you hold so dear. In each case, the process finds its origin in a principle:

    “Due process,” for example derives from the Biblical teaching of the inherent dignity of the human person. “Consent of the governed” derives from the Book of Judges, which reports that God ruled through the judges by the consent of the governed. The notion of “natural rights” comes from the natural law principle of an ordered universe.

    And so it goes. In each case, Christian principles and the Natural Moral Law inform the rules and guides the processes. We can legitimately amend the Constitution, but we cannot legitimately amend natural rights. Of course, the subjectivist can and will deny that they exist, leaving the door open to tyranny. Men have always wanted to be free, usually to no avail. The founding documents explain why they deserve to be free.

    How should the Court decide whether infrared scans are unreasonable? What’s the objective moral answer?

    By weighing the objective facts in evidence at any given time, applying the objective laws of reason, and remembering objective principles that govern the process. The Constitutions was designed to protect life and the natural rights of the individual. Natural Law Principles govern the processes by which rights are protected. If the natural law principles that inform the process are abandoned, as they have been, then the process is corrupted. Tyrants don’t worry about what is reasonable or right or lawful

    Granted, not everyone will agree on the best answer to any given problem, that is where the debate and consensus-decision making process are essential; but everyone should agree on the principles that guide the decision-making process. If they can’t agree on that, all is lost. Yes, there is always a potential for small errors, but the big errors, that is, errors that violate justice, come when the rule of law is abandoned and natural rights are ignored.

    A subjectivist can always say, “I don’t know enough about the arguments on both sides of this problem to tell what the right answer should be.” Can an objectivist?

    Yes. Of course. The Natural Moral Law can never take the place of researching the facts in evidence or substitute for sound judgment. On the other hand, those who are influenced by an objective moral code are less likely to abuse power or make political decisions based solely on self interest.

    I can’t tell whether you’d need to, for example, read the briefs of a case, or if you could just perceive the answer as self-evident.

    No apriori principle or self-evident truth can ever take the place of an empirical investigation. Everything has to be worked out. However, one cannot work anything out without building on the foundation or reason’s rules (law of non-contradiction, principle of sufficient reason) and the natural moral law principle) We have to start somewhere, and that’s where we start. Otherwise, we sink in intellectual quicksand.

    If you’d need to read the briefs, that implies that there are inputs underlying your conclusions, and therefore that the conclusions are subject to the persuasiveness and substance of the inputs.

    Of course. The objectivist is truth and fact oriented. The subjectivist, on the other hand, doesn’t believe in objective truth, so he tends to make up his own truth as he goes along, which is a very dangerous proposition for those in power.

  69. 69
    StephenB says:

    Mark Frank

    You may well disgree – but it is worth more intelligent debate than dismissing me as making words mean what I want them to mean.

    I apologize for framing the issue in exactly that way. However, nothing of substance has changed: Wrong means objectively wrong for everyone. Malodorous does not mean objectively bad for everyone, as I already explained.

  70. 70
    Mark Frank says:

    #69 SB

    “Wrong means objectively wrong for everyone.”

    In the end I guess you are just going to keep on asserting this – period. So it is a waste of time for me to give reasons to doubt it – well I suppose someone else might read them.

  71. 71
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: Let’s go dictionary again:

    wrong
    (r??, r??)

    adj.
    1. not in accordance with what is morally right or good: a wrong deed.
    2. deviating from truth or fact; erroneous: a wrong answer.
    3. not correct in action, judgment, opinion, etc., as a person; in error.
    4. not proper or usual; not in accordance with rules or practice.
    5. out of order; awry; amiss: Something is wrong with the machine.

    6. not suitable or appropriate: the wrong shoes with that dress.
    7. of or designating the side ordinarily kept inward or under: to wear a sweater wrong side out.
    n.
    8. something improper or not in accordance with morality, goodness, or truth; evil.
    9. an injustice.
    10. Law.
    a. an invasion of another’s right, resulting in that person’s suffering or damage.
    b. a tort.

    adv.
    11. in a wrong manner; not rightly; awry; amiss.
    v.t.
    12. to do wrong to; treat unfairly or unjustly; harm.
    13. to impute evil to (someone) unjustly; malign.

    Idioms:
    1. go wrong,
    a. to go amiss; fail.
    b. to pursue an immoral course; become depraved: Bad friends caused him to go wrong.
    2. in the wrong, to blame; in error: to be in the wrong without admitting it.
    [before 1100; Middle English wrong, wrang, late Old English wrang

    –> Notice, on balance, objectively so, not merely subjectively

    –> If you want to mean something else, get your own word, do not cloud this one.

    KF

  72. 72
    StephenB says:

    Learned Hand

    This is assuming your conclusion; for example, it assumes “the mark” is an objective mark.

    Something is wrong because it fails to be right, which, by definition, is objective. The right answer doesn’t just seem right, it is right. If the question is, “What is the capital of California?—then Sacramento is the right answer and Houston is the wrong answer. I am not assuming my conclusion when I say that the mark, which is either hit or missed, is an objective mark. That should be obvious. Your subjective opinion about which city is the capital of California is irrelevant.

    If someone tells me that the First Amendment is the most important amendment of the Constitution, I might say, “That’s wrong!” The opinions on both sides of that discussion are subjective.

    I suppose that you could say that, but I think that, given the context, you would be misuing the word. A more accurate response would be, “I don’t agree.” Again, there can’t be a “wrong and incorrect” unless there is a “right and correct,” which would be possible only with a pre-established priority of amendments made explicit. Without that, there is no right to be wrong about.

    My point, though, was that the dictionary does not distinguish between subjective and objective definitions in either its “malodorous” or “wrong” entries.

    The dictionary does not tell us a lot of things that we should be able to figure out for ourselves. The dictionary does not tell us that wrong is a five letter word. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t.

    It’s facile, therefore, to try to make hay out of the latter. It’s pettifogging.

    It isn’t facile to state the obvious. “Wrong” means “not right.” Right means “on the mark.”

    Your arguments assume that everyone who is not Stephen B is dishonest, insane, or oppressed to the point of being unable to access their basic human nature. (I’m assuming that basically everyone in the world disagrees with you as to at least one moral principle; I can’t prove that, but I think it’s a relatively safe assumption given my experience with human nature.) Your position essentially dehumanizes everyone who disagrees with you.

    Well, I think you could make that case if I didn’t provide good reasons in support of my position. Indeed, you and many others misrepresent my position by saying things like, “Stephen’s morality” or “Stephen’s rules.” But I am speaking of the morality and the rules of reason. I didn’t invent the natural moral law, nor did I design reason’s rules. I just discovered them as Aristotle did over 2000 years ago. So when you associate these things we me, exclusively, you are really using a veiled ad-hominem argument, as in, Stephen is arrogating to himself the right to decide on what it means to be moral or Stephen is presuming to lecture us on reason’s rules. In fact, the very opposite is true. I submit to laws higher than myself while the subjectivists submit to nothing, arrogating unto themselves the right to decide what is right and wrong and which rules of reason they will selectively honor. Ask me about the subjectivists who claim that effects can occur without causes and who call me arrogant and rigid for insisting that it can’t be so.

    I think it’s ultimately a form of self-aggrandizing solipsism, and extremely corrosive to the kind of back-and-forth discussion I think is a crucial part of moral and ethical human society.

    You are simply sustaining the ad-hominem argument. It is common among subjectivists to become outraged when someone expresses confidence in an intellectual position about basic truths. That says more about them than it does about me. If someone has a strong case, he should argue it forcefully, especially when the ideas expressed in that argument have been suppressed by the academy, which is certainly the case with reason rules and the natural moral law. Indeed, my adversaries usually have nothing of any substance to say. They spend most of their time complaining about my intellectual “confidence,” as if it were impossible to know that some things are true and some things are false. It’s all part of a calculated dumbing down process. I have even been lampooned by subjectivists and relativists for saying something as obvious as “a thing cannot be true and false at the same time and under the same formal circumstances.” That doesn’t make me arrogant; it makes them ignorant.

    In my judgment, this kind of It’s not the end of the world, especially because at the end of the day you seem to behave like a subjectivist—you argue rather than simply telling us to search our feelings for our inner Stephen. But you do fall apart from time to time into convenient “just so” assertions.

    Anyone who thinks that I argue like a subjectivist has not been paying attention. I don’t ever recall depending on a “just so” story. I am amazed how often my critics make wild generalized statements about me without providing a shred of evidence or even a hint about what they mean. I don’t usually discuss me; I discuss ideas, facts, and truths. You and many of your colleagues try to make it about me. In spite of the ad-hominems, though, which I can easily brush aside, I think this exchange has been one of your better efforts.

    Having said that, as you said and I echo, I appreciate that you do try to have a substantive conversation.

    And I also appreciate the fact that you confront the issues head on.

    This is assuming that “wrong” is amenable to an objective standard. Your comparison is meaningless if we assume, arguendo, that “wrong” is always assessed according to a personal standard that can vary from actor to actor.

    One of the reasons that I provided a specific example was to illuminate the principle. In order to provide a rational counter argument, you need to address the example. It is objectively true that Sacramento is the Capital of California and that Houston is not. The mark, or the fact, is objective. If you disagree, make your case.
    SB Thus, when Mark says that rape “is wrong,” he is making a factual claim about objective morality.

    Except that you know that’s not what he means.

    You bet I do. That’s what all the fuss is about.

    Thanks for the conversation.

    Me too, thanks. Stay comfortable.

  73. 73
    kairosfocus says:

    F/N: On first principles of right reason as paradigmatic objective truths.

    Consider a bright red ball on yon table, say, A.

    The ball is there, and it is distinct from the rest of things that are there.

    We see a world partition, on that distinction:

    { A | NOT_A }

    Immediately, we have

    LOI, A is A

    LNC, NOT( A AND NOT_A )

    LEM, best put ( A X-OR NOT_A )

    This is there, it is the basis for operating in a world where steak or soup are not strychnine or arsenic, where we must make distinctions to think or communicate and more.

    To recognise and submit to such is not arrogance or sheepish simple-minded docility to Aristotle or whoever, it is willingness to go with core, foundational truth.

    Self-evident truth that must hold on pain of patent absurdity.

    The danger lies in refusing to acknowledge same.

    Famously:

    Isa 5:Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood,
    who draw sin as with cart ropes . . .

    20 Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
    who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
    who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter!
    21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
    and shrewd in their own sight! [ESV]

    And, on morals — on an unfortunately real case — it is self evidently wrong and evil to kidnap, bind, torture, sexually assault and kill a young child.

    This is a case of self-evident moral truth, rejected or undermined on pain of revealing something seriously out of whack.

    But then, sadly, much is out of whack in our time.

    KF

  74. 74
    Mark Frank says:

    SB

    If the question is, “What is the capital of California?—then Sacramento is the right answer and Houston is the wrong answer.

    I thought we were talking about the meaning of morally wrong – then you quote an example which is clearly nothing to do with being morally wrong. What are you up to?

  75. 75
    kairosfocus says:

    MF, is or is it not morally wrong or just plain wrong to kidnap, torture, sexually assault and murder a young child? KF

  76. 76
    Learned Hand says:

    StephenB,

    I think we’ve cleaved the argument to the bone, as I said earlier–you’ve come to the point where you’re just repeating that you know without error that moral standards are objective and what those standards are, while I’m battling the temptation to just repeat myself and call that position a solipsistic just-so story.

    I’ll go back and look for productive points of discussion when I’ve got a chance; in the meantime, please let me know if there’s something in particular you’d like me to respond to. Otherwise we might best just call this an effective conversation that revealed and emphasized our differences without resolving them.

  77. 77
    Learned Hand says:

    MF, is or is it not morally wrong or just plain wrong to kidnap, torture, sexually assault and murder a young child? KF

    Good god KF, you know he’s going to say it is, and you know such things are as noxious to him as they are to you. What’s the point of wallowing in slime like that?

  78. 78
    StephenB says:

    Mark Frank

    I thought we were talking about the meaning of morally wrong – then you quote an example which is clearly nothing to do with being morally wrong. What are you up to?

    The point of the exercise is to show that when the word “wrong” is used, it always means with respect to an objective standard and never means anything else. Thus, the wrong place, wrong time, wrong size, wrong act, wrong answer, or wrong anything always means not right and objectively wrong. If we reverse the order of the words, nothing changes, as in morally wrong, mathematically wrong, strategically wrong etc. It should give you pause that I can present one example after another to support my point and no one can present an appropriate counter example.

  79. 79
    KRock says:

    I’ve tried to wade through many of the comments on this thread and have found some of the responses utterly confusing for a layman like myself. That being said, I was wondering if someone could maybe clear something up for me.

    Is the subjectivist moral standard, even if they claim to know objective right and wrong, still not the same as having one’s own personal language? And if the language (or moral standard for this matter) is personal, then who, outside the individual in question, could possibly claim its validity? I would be inclined to deduce that any subjectivist moral standard would become a game of, “he said she said.”

    Hopefully I haven’t confused anybody with the above questions.

  80. 80
    Petrushka says:

    I’m a bit late to this party, but I think we have governments and laws because morality does not clearly address complex cases of right and wrong.

    I can remember when businessmen took pride in handshake deals, and ordinary people spoke of honor and plain speaking.

    But this only seems to work in small communities where everyone knows everyone else. When transportation allowed people to travel far and wide, community standards failed to restrain people.

    If there were some widely agreed upon absolute morality, it would be rather simple to write laws. The fact that laws are complex and convoluted, and that they are frequently controversial, indicates to me that standards are subjective.

  81. 81
    StephenB says:

    kairosfocus

    MF, is or is it not morally wrong or just plain wrong to kidnap, torture, sexually assault and murder a young child?

    Learned Hand

    Good god KF, you know he’s going to say it is, and you know such things are as noxious to him as they are to you. What’s the point of wallowing in slime like that?

    I don’t think that’s fair. When kairosfocus asks if something is “just plain wrong,” he is making a clear reference to the objective mode. He is not asking if it is noxious “to MF,” which is an evasive subjective formulation. To agree that it is just plain wrong is to also agree about the objective nature of the moral question. That is why KF asked the question–to awaken in the subjectivst an intellectual and moral instinct that has been buried underneath a smothering ideological framework.

  82. 82
    hrun0815 says:

    Is the subjectivist moral standard, even if they claim to know objective right and wrong, still not the same as having one’s own personal language? And if the language (or moral standard for this matter) is personal, then who, outside the individual in question, could possibly claim its validity? I would be inclined to deduce that any subjectivist moral standard would become a game of, “he said she said.”

    I love the comparison to language, actually. It really makes clear what is going on. There is no objectively correct language. Everybody speaks their own language. And if that language works out for the individual and the group that the individual is part of, it then gets perpetuated.

    This means that even with a dictionary that truly defines what is the objectively correct language people happily live together as groups and function without much of a problem.

    And even if there is such a thing as an objective dictionary it just changes over time anyway– and is completely different for people from different cultures.

    Anyway, great analogy, KRock. (Even though it might not have the intended thrust.)

  83. 83
    Mark Frank says:

    SB #78
     

    The point of the exercise is to show that when the word “wrong” is used, it always means with respect to an objective standard and never means anything else. Thus, the wrong place, wrong time, wrong size, wrong act, wrong answer, or wrong anything always means not right and objectively wrong. If we reverse the order of the words, nothing changes, as in morally wrong, mathematically wrong, strategically wrong etc. It should give you pause that I can present one example after another to support my point and no one can present an appropriate counter example.

    The word “wrong” is used very broadly in lots of contexts so it is not all surprising that you can produce lots of examples (none in a moral context) where it means with respect to an objective standard. There are plenty where it doesn’t:

    Aesthetics: That’s the wrong way to interpret Stravinsky

    Satisfaction: I was wrong to give up the course.

    Why are you so reluctant to talk about morally wrong? Or even better, as I proposed, take a word that is pretty much confined to moral statements: evil.

  84. 84
    Mark Frank says:

    KF

    MF, is or is it not morally wrong or just plain wrong to kidnap, torture, sexually assault and murder a young child? KF

    As LH says – I don’t see the point of this. Of course we both agree it is wrong. That doesn’t make it objective. I think maybe you are trying to set a sort of trap. By choosing something which we all find utterly abhorrent, if I deny it is objectively wrong I give the impression I disapprove of it slightly less than you. That just doesn’t follow. We are talking about the logic and meaning of moral statements – not the intensity of feeling.

  85. 85
    velikovskys says:

    Stephen B
    The point of the exercise is to show that when the word “wrong” is used, it always means with respect to an objective standard and never means anything else

    Sorry to intrude but for instance ” it is wrong to drink coke and eat chocolate cake” , seems like a subjective standard.

  86. 86
    faded_Glory says:

    StephenB:

    Anyone who thinks that I argue like a subjectivist has not been paying attention. I don’t ever recall depending on a “just so” story. I am amazed how often my critics make wild generalized statements about me without providing a shred of evidence or even a hint about what they mean. I don’t usually discuss me; I discuss ideas, facts, and truths.

    This may appear to be the case from the point of view that you are arguing from – Objectivism.

    If you would try for a moment to think like a Subjectivist, you might suddenly understand that from our point of view, just about everything you have asserted about Natural Law, Ten Commandments and Sermon of the Mount etc. is all one massive big just-so story with virtually zero empirical evidence, nor a lot of reasoning, to back it up.

    Try to understand this, StephenB: from the Subjectivist’s point of view, you are making up the the bulk of your argument from your personal beliefs…

    …which is, of course, what everybody does, in the Subjectivist’s view. Perhaps that is some consolation.

    This is truly the chasm between Objectivists and Subjectivists: only when you think as the one can you understand that the other has got it so fundamentally wrong.

    fG

  87. 87
    Cross says:

    faded_Glory @ 86

    “Try to understand this, StephenB: from the Subjectivist’s point of view, you are making up the the bulk of your argument from your personal beliefs…”

    and so are you, lets see why

    There is no God –> Chemical Evolution created life –> there is no built in moral truth –> I am a subjectivist because I am my own God, I get to decide what is right and wrong for me, objectivism is wrong.

    There is a God –> I am created in His image –> There is a built in moral truth –> I am an objectivist and I am subject to and answerable to this God and His built in truth, subjectivism is wrong.

    You see, your “faith” that there is no God naturally leads to your subjective view of life. My “faith” that there is one good God leads me to my objective view.

    This is why discussions like this come up on a blog about ID or Evolution, what you first believe or have faith in leads to much of your view about origins.

    Cheers

  88. 88
    KRock says:

    @hrun0815 #82

    I’m not sure you really answered my questions though.

    Group(s)? What group(s)? Your moral standard is based on your own personal preferences. Its like having your own private language that NO one else can understand but yourself. That was the point… Your moral standard is private, not public, thus, NO objectively correct language could ever exist.

  89. 89
    faded_Glory says:

    Cross @86:

    I lack a belief in the Gods of the world’s religions. I don’t know if there is anything out there that would qualify as a God. There may be, there may be not. From what I know and what I have seen I find it utterly impossible to arrive at a coherent story about such an entity, if it exists. I can’t therefore assign it much of a role in my beliefs about reality.

    The fundamental belief I have is that there is an objective reality, and we can learn about it through our senses and our reasoning. Why that is so, I don’t know.

    I am a subjectivist not because I say ‘there is no God’ (which I don’t), but simply because that position seems much more consistent with what we observe in the world regarding people’s behaviours and how they justify them. The fact that there are so many objectivists who differ deeply on what their professed objective morality tells them to do is easily explained in the subjectivist’s framework but undermines the objectist’s position. This is akin to the many-faiths problem when it comes to the truth of religion.

    I believe that the road to understanding the natural world is through empirical science and not through extrapolating from religious beliefs or texts. Evolution is a theory about the natural world, not about metaphysics or religion, and it needs to be developed using the tools of empirical science.

    ID as currently discussed on this board is a metaphysical belief, not a scientific theory. The claimed scientific elements of ID have not stood up to scrutiny by the academic world, have not gained traction, and appear to be a scientific dead-end. The rest of ID leads to never ending metaphysical discussions no different than what people have been debating for millenia without ever reaching firm conclusions.

    Discussions about morality can certainly have a place in discussions about evolution – like when we are trying to understand scientifically if there is an evolutionary basis for morality. Linking the two subjects because of personal beliefs or religious tenets won’t lead to anywhere, witness these never ending debates here and elsewhere. We all know that there will never be a consensus. It is all just for fun.

    fG

  90. 90
    StephenB says:

    Mark Frank

    Aesthetics: That’s the wrong way to interpret Stravinsky

    When the word “wrong” is injected into any sentence like that, it means that there is an objective standard to be met. It is saying that there is a correct way to interpret Stravinsky and an incorrect way to interpret Stravinsky. If that is not what is meant, then that is not the word that should be used.

    Satisfaction: I was wrong to give up the course.

    Again, using the word wrong in that context means that it was a mistake to give up the course and would not have been a mistake to continue. If you don’t want to give a cut and dry impression, don’t use the word wrong, which is a cut and dry word. Find another one.

    Why are you so reluctant to talk about morally wrong? Or even better, as I proposed, take a word that is pretty much confined to moral statements: evil.

    Reluctant??? I have been saying for days that morally wrong means objectively wrong. The other examples were attempts to show you that the word wrong is universally associated with being off the mark or not right. It is always in the objective mode unless attached to a qualifier, as in, wrong for me, or seems wrong, or wrong to me. So to say, for example, that murder “is” morally wrong, is to say that it is objectively wrong–for everyone, at all times.

  91. 91
    Mark Frank says:

    SB

    When the word “wrong” is injected into any sentence like that, it means that there is an objective standard to be met. It is saying that there is a correct way to interpret Stravinsky and an incorrect way to interpret Stravinsky. If that is not what is meant, then that is not the word that should be used.
    …..
    Again, using the word wrong in that context means that it was a mistake to give up the course and would not have been a mistake to continue. If you don’t want to give a cut and dry impression, don’t use the word wrong, which is a cut and dry word. Find another one.

    Now I feel it is you who are using the word to mean what you want it to mean. To me it seems clear that if I say that’s the wrong way to play a tune or approach a part I am making a subjective judgement. There is no proof or observation that shows that it is the wrong way. It may be that in doing that I am comparing it to a “right” way I have in mind – but that choice of the right way is subjective.

    But it is silly to spend time arguing about the meaning of a single word. An easy way round it is to substitute another phrase instead of the word that we can agree on and then look at the implications of that phrase. So how about one of the synonyms you offered for morally wrong?

    immoral, bad, wicked, sinful, iniquitous, nefarious, blameworthy, reprehensible;

    I am happy to work with any of those except “bad” which is, like “wrong”, too broad in application. The point being to determine whether in normal use these words refer to some objective fact or express an opinion (or both). Which would you like to choose? 

    Reluctant??? I have been saying for days that morally wrong means objectively wrong.

    Yes. But you haven’t responded to any attempt to analyse the specific context of morally wrong. You have only argued for it by producing instances of “wrong” in other contexts. But as I say – that particular sterile debate can be avoided by choosing a synonym for “morally wrong”

  92. 92
    hrun0815 says:

    Group(s)? What group(s)? Your moral standard is based on your own personal preferences. Its like having your own private language that NO one else can understand but yourself. That was the point… Your moral standard is private, not public, thus, NO objectively correct language could ever exist.

    The groups of people that surround you, of course. Your family, friends, co workers, and fellow citizens of your surrounding.

    Just like everyone has their own unique language everyone also has their own unique morality. But just because either is unique to you and only you doesn not mean there isn’t a huge overlap that makes communication possible even without an objective language.

    In analogy, your morality is generally similar to your parents, your friends, and to the folks living around you. And if you translate yourself to a completely different part of the earth you will find that both language and morality will be different from what you are used to. But again, this does not mean that everything has to be different: the ‘ma’ sound refers to your mother in countless languages, just like torture is immoral for countless moralities (but not for all, of course).

    So neither a subjective language not a subjective morality make it impossible to live together. In fact they represent what we are confronted with daily.

  93. 93
    StephenB says:

    Mark Frank

    But as I say – that particular sterile debate can be avoided by choosing a synonym for “morally wrong”

    immoral, bad, wicked, sinful, iniquitous, nefarious, blameworthy, reprehensible;

    I don’t know how that will help. If you say, for example, that rape “is” [insert your synonym], I will have to assume that you mean for everyone, at all times, and under all circumstances. If you say that rape “seems” [insert your synonym] or that it is the case “for you,” then I will know that you mean just that and nothing more.

    What it all boils down to is that the word “is” really rises to the level of a metaphysical claim about objective reality (what is as opposed to what is not). It is another way of saying, “this is the case without exception.” It is in the objective mode. If I say, for example, “Jupiter is a planet,” I don’t mean Jupiter seems to be a planet or that, for me, Jupiter is a planet. I mean that Jupiter really is a planet—for everyone–regardless of their opinions or perceptions.

    On the the other hand, the word “seems” or the phrase “is to me” refers to one’s opinion or perception about what “is,” meaning that it may well not be the case, or may not be the case for everyone. It is in the subjective mode. If I say Jupiter seems to be a planet, or, “to me, Jupiter is a planet, I am allowing for the possibility that it may be a star, a moon, or something else–maybe even a illusion.

    So it doesn’t matter which synonym you use. The problem will persist. If you don’t acknowledge that “is” means objective and “seems” or “is to me” means subjective, there is no possibility of having a rational discussion.

    Now there is one exception to the above rule. If you use the word “is” with a definitively subjective adjective, then the statement becomes subjective. If, for example, I say “this is tasty,” or “this smells bad,” or “this is soothing,” then I am in the subjective mode because I refer specifically to the subject’s sense of taste, smell or touch.

    So it is if I say, “this is depressing” or “this is demoralizing” since I am alluding to the subject’s emotional or psychological sensibilities.

    In the above examples, I am saying, “this is the way it is ‘for the subject'” I don’t say “it seems depressing” or it “seems soothing” because it is already clear that I am talking about the subject, as opposed to metaphysical reality.

    Otherwise, I am making a metaphysical statement when I use the word is. Thus, if something “is” morally wrong, sinful, wicked, iniquitous, or blameworthy, it is that way for everyone; it is an expression about about objective reality–unless further qualifiers are added, such as “seems” or “for me.”

    So, when you say “rape is wrong,” as it clearly is, then you are saying that rape violates an objective standard of morality, which it clearly does. In making that statement, though, you are contradicting and misrepresenting your true beliefs, which are subjective. Rape is wrong, for you. That is your true philosophy as a subjectivist. You should own up to it by using the right words.

  94. 94
    Mark Frank says:

    SB

    Well that moves it on.

    As I understand it you are claiming that all statements of the form

    X is Y

    are references to objective states of affairs unless Y is a “definitively subjective adjective”. I think that is wrong – but of course it depends what falls into the category “definitely subjective”. Are these definitely subjective:

    Attractive
    Funny
    Awesome
    Promising
    Unreasonable
    Unacceptable
    Reprehensible

    I think language is a whole lot more complicated and subtle than you give it credit for. We get obsessed with the reference model of meaning so we think each word is a label for something in the external world – “red” is a label for a certain colour – but what is “funny” a label for? If followed to an extreme we end up pondering what “it” refers to in “it is raining”. (This is relevant to this debate because I think the key to understanding subjectivism is understanding the acts we typically perform when using moral language.)

  95. 95
    StephenB says:

    Mark Frank

    are references to objective states of affairs unless Y is a “definitively subjective adjective”. I think that is wrong – but of course it depends what falls into the category “definitely subjective”. Are these definitely subjective:

    Attractive
    Funny
    Awesome
    Promising
    Unreasonable
    Unacceptable
    Reprehensible

    A tough list to analyze. I think that every adjective gets to speak for itself whenever a clear reference to the objective mode is absent. I will give you my take on each one of your examples: (The assumption is that the each word is preceded by the word “is.”

    1 Attractive (I am assuming that you mean physically attractive) –mostly objective; somewhat subjective. It’s like beauty. There is a strong objective component (physical proportions) and a mild subjective component (small variations in perception)

    2 Funny–objective and subjective (I think a professional comedian’s capacity to make people laugh is objective, but subjectively, there are significant variations in individual perceptions about who is the funniest, or, in some rare cases, who is funny at all.

    3 Awesome–mostly subjective (tied to a subject’s feelings of inspiration etc.)

    4 Promising–not enough information, needs more clarification

    5 Unreasonable–totally objective (Reason’s rules are objective)

    6 Unacceptable–objective and subjective (could represent a violation of an objective contractual agreement or it could be a subjective feeling based on one’s reaction to a prospect, event, or proposition.

    6 Reprehensible–mostly objective (If something deserves to be condemned, that implies more than just a negative feeling or opinion)

  96. 96
    Mark Frank says:

    So we have agreed that attributes can be a mixture of objective and subjective. I also like the way you point out that context is part of determining the meaning. So the next step is to establish whether judging something morally right or wrong or good or evil or whatever is one or the other or a mixture.

    Now I am going to suggest that actually there is at least on other category here. We can ask if the attribute depends only on characteristics of the object or we need to know something about its relationship to (a ) the speaker (b ) other people in order to assign it in the given context. For example, if you use “funny” totally subjectively that is true in virtue of the speaker’s reaction (laughing) to the object. On the other hand the comedian is funny because of his propensity to make people laugh. If no one ever laughed at a comedian even though they got to see and hear what he did – then you could not truthfully say he was funny. So I will divide attributes into three classes:

    Totally subjective – true in virtue of the speaker’s reaction

    Cultural – true in virtue of human reaction in general

    Totally objective – always true independent of any human reaction

    Now suppose we used the word “xevil” to describe a range of phenomena that had the same attributes as things we find evil (e.g. causes suffering, contravenes the NML or whatever) but no one thought that at all important or any kind of reason for action or interest – it was just a passing mention of no more cultural significance than being red or heavy. Could you honestly say that we were using the word “xevil” with the same meaning as evil? Surely evil includes the idea that this is something to be avoided or limited?

  97. 97
    Cross says:

    faded_Glory @ 89

    Thanks for your reply, my comments were a generalization, you seem to be another case.

    If I read right, you are agnostic, believe in chemical evolution for creating life, there is an underlying moral objective reality, this evolved, we can perceive it subjectively.

    I have difficulty believing that evolution via Rv + NS has the power to evolve moral truth, things like “love” for instance have a large metaphysical or spiritual dimension, I see no sensible way this can evolve. Explanations like “kin selection” seem to me to really stretch as an explanation.

    One thing I do agree is that most will not change their view, as I said, it is steeped in their “faith” issues.

    Cheers

  98. 98
    KRock says:

    @hrun0815 #92

    “The groups of people that surround you, of course. Your family, friends, co workers, and fellow citizens of your surrounding.
    Just like everyone has their own unique language everyone also has their own unique morality. But just because either is unique to you and only you doesn’t not mean there isn’t a huge overlap that makes communication possible even without an objective language.”

    This reeks of subjective morality, not objective morality. You’re basically admitting that if everyone subscribes to their own personal language, even if it appears to overlap others within their society or culture, morals are still the subjective product of the individual. Sure, we can communicate morality, but If my morality is unique to me, who cares? Remove our Western civil laws and lets see how this system of morality works than. But lets, for argument sake, say that this is the case, that morality is simply the product of our surroundings, yet still unique to the individual, but with the ability to overlap with others. We would have to conclude that the members of ISIS are simply acting on this system of morality you speak of, and are thus, not doing anything objectively wrong, even though thousands of innocent people are dying at their hands. Which group has the correct system of morality? Us? Them? Nobody? If you answer nobody, then you’re forced back into the notion that morality is a private individual system, thus, ultimately subjective. If you answer group, you’re saying that might makes right, but I’m pretty sure that won’t hold up.

    “In analogy, your morality is generally similar to your parents, your friends, and to the folks living around you. And if you translate yourself to a completely different part of the earth you will find that both language and morality will be different from what you are used to. But again, this does not mean that everything has to be different: the ‘ma’ sound refers to your mother in countless languages, just like torture is immoral for countless moralities (but not for all, of course).”

    I disagree. Butchering an innocent baby for sheer fun is still objectively wrong regardless of where one finds them self living on this earth. Just like Hitler’s actions of slaughtering millions of Jews would still be wrong whether he won the war or not. Which leads me to my point on having your own personal and private system of morality; you’re left without the ability to objectively condemn any action as wrong, outside of yourself that is. It’s ultimately a private and individual system of morality you’d be subscribing too. You’d be better off holding to a view of subjective morality… but who in their right mind would ever want to admit to that?

  99. 99
    hrun0815 says:

    This reeks of subjective morality, not objective morality.

    Hey, it is your analogy, not mine. 🙂 And if you are surprised that I picked up your analogy to see where it leads you probably have not read my posts in the ‘morality threads’ of the last week.

    You’re basically admitting that if everyone subscribes to their own personal language, even if it appears to overlap others within their society or culture, morals are still the subjective product of the individual. Sure, we can communicate morality, but If my morality is unique to me, who cares? Remove our Western civil laws and lets see how this system of morality works than.

    You mean like checking out countless other civilizations that functioned and thrived, yet had a morality different than yours or mine?

    But lets, for argument sake, say that this is the case, that morality is simply the product of our surroundings, yet still unique to the individual, but with the ability to overlap with others. We would have to conclude that the members of ISIS are simply acting on this system of morality you speak of, and are thus, not doing anything objectively wrong, even though thousands of innocent people are dying at their hands.

    You, and I, and every single person I know agree that they are doing something wrong. This does not mean that they aren’t acting according to their own system of morality, right? Or do you think they ISIS fighters would agree with you that they are morally wrong? For all I know they believe in an objective morality where their god told them to kill infidels and enslave their women.

    Again, to stress this, I think they are morally wrong to do so. You believe they are morally wrong to do so. We can both justify why we believe their actions to be morally wrong.

    Which group has the correct system of morality? Us? Them? Nobody?

    I do not believe there is a ‘correct system of morality’. So I guess the answer is nobody.

    If you answer nobody, then you’re forced back into the notion that morality is a private individual system, thus, ultimately subjective.

    Yup. You got it.

    I disagree. Butchering an innocent baby for sheer fun is still objectively wrong regardless of where one finds them self living on this earth.

    You write ‘you disagree’, yet you don’t actually write something that disagrees with my post. I wrote that “torture is immoral for countless moralities (but not for all, of course)”. If you have been following the debate in the US you will find that more than 50% of the people in this country believe that torture is not morally wrong. They feel that torture is actually morally justified. I can certainly not agree with this, and maybe you can’t either, but that certainly does not mean that everybody agrees with us.

    Just like Hitler’s actions of slaughtering millions of Jews would still be wrong whether he won the war or not.

    Certainly. That’s why I never suggested that Hitler’s actions would have become right had he won the war.

    Which leads me to my point on having your own personal and private system of morality; you’re left without the ability to objectively condemn any action as wrong, outside of yourself that is.

    Even though I can’t ‘objectively’ condemn any action, I can still condemn it. And I can condemn it equally as much and as forceful as you can.

    Let’s take your previous example of an ISIS fighter. Let’s suppose we happen to run into one. You and I will tell him: “Hey, what you are doing is morally wrong. You should not kill innocent people and cause needless suffering.”
    He answers: “Yeah, says who?”
    You say: “Objective morality says so. [Feel free to call on a deity or natural law or something else.]
    I say: “I say so.”
    He answers: “Oh no, guys. You got it all wrong. You see, it is objectively morally correct to slaughter infidels. Allah commanded all of us to do so. In fact, why are you not killing infidels? Are you possibly infidels yourself?”
    You and I say: …
    And at this stage we both find ourselves in the same boat, objectivist or subjectivist. We can continue talking, but at this stage that probably seems pretty pointless. Or we can decide that we know better what is morally correct. And, in fact, it might be that our morality demands from us that we now commit some acts that we’d find morally reprehensible in other situations. So maybe we would both quietly crane our necks to see if we can’t find a lead pipe or a board with a nail in it.

    You’d be better off holding to a view of subjective morality… but who in their right mind would ever want to admit to that?

    Hah. No idea who’d ever admit to that. 🙂

  100. 100
    KRock says:

    @hrun0815

    “Hey, it is your analogy, not mine. And if you are surprised that I picked up your analogy to see where it leads you probably have not read my posts in the ‘morality threads’ of the last week.”

    It is my analogy but it doesn’t mean I subscribe to it. I guess it’s refreshing to see someone actually subscribe to a subjective view of morality instead of trying to prop up the illusion of an objective moral framework when there’s no such thing.

    “You mean like checking out countless other civilizations that functioned and thrived, yet had a morality different than yours or mine?”

    So you agree, morality is subjective than?

    “You, and I, and every single person I know agree that they are doing something wrong. This does not mean that they aren’t acting according to their own system of morality, right? Or do you think they ISIS fighters would agree with you that they are morally wrong? For all I know they believe in an objective morality where their god told them to kill infidels and enslave their women.”

    Something wrong? On what grounds is it wrong? I’m okay with you saying you that don’t like what they’re doing, but please, don’t suggest its wrong; it’ll just fall on deaf ears. It doesn’t matter if he agrees with me or not, his actions can still be objectively wrong whether he believe them to be or not.

    “Again, to stress this, I think they are morally wrong to do so. You believe they are morally wrong to do so. We can both justify why we believe their actions to be morally wrong.”

    Please, do justify why their actions are wrong. I’ll justify their actions to be wrong on the basis that human beings have intrinsic worth.

    “I do not believe there is a ‘correct system of morality’. So I guess the answer is nobody.”

    Then why in God’s name would any of the ISIS fighters actions be wrong? If there’s no correct system, there’s certainly no one wrong over another, heck, there’s no such thing.

    “Yup. You got it.”

    Right! Subjective… Got it… Listen, I’m glad you’re freely admitting morality to be subjective, but lets do away with the notion of wrong, right, evil, good, etc, they’re illusions. Of course, I don’t buy, or better yet, can’t buy into subjective morality, as I view human beings as having a real value of intrinsic worth.

    “Even though I can’t ‘objectively’ condemn any action, I can still condemn it. And I can condemn it equally as much and as forceful as you can.”

    On what grounds are you condemning these actions to be wrong? No, no I don’t think you can equally be as forceful in condemning them as wrong, for your worldview, assuming its naturalism, doesn’t offer human beings any intrinsic worth… we’d merely be the product of time + matter, + chance… A sobering thought.

    “Let’s take your previous example of an ISIS fighter. Let’s suppose we happen to run into one. You and I will tell him: “Hey, what you are doing is morally wrong. You should not kill innocent people and cause needless suffering.”?He answers: “Yeah, says who?”?You say: “Objective morality says so. [Feel free to call on a deity or natural law or something else.]?I say: “I say so.”

    The problem with your example is that you’re assuming his actions aren’t still somehow “objectively wrong,” even if he doesn’t agree me, or us, and chooses to behead me (which he likely will) because I belong to a different religion. You say; “I say so.” And on the grounds that no objective morality exists (in your case), who cares what you think, morality is a power grab for those who want it more, Stalin, Mao, Pot, etc… Either way, it’ll be; “off with your head,” and the ISIS fighter will have done nothing wrong. Another sobering thought. I think this private language analogy has a little more thrust in the direction it was intended, then you’re giving it credit for.

    “And at this stage we both find ourselves in the same boat, objectivist or subjectivist. We can continue talking, but at this stage that probably seems pretty pointless. Or we can decide that we know better what is morally correct. And, in fact, it might be that our morality demands from us that we now commit some acts that we’d find morally reprehensible in other situations. So maybe we would both quietly crane our necks to see if we can’t find a lead pipe or a board with a nail in it.”

    Lol…. I know I’d be looking for something if I could get my hands untied. lol… Listen, the fact we might find ourselves in a sort of, “moral dilemma,” says nothing as to whether there’s objective morals. And, If by me, or you, finding a lead pipe, or a board with a nail in it, could result in saving countless more lives, then that option should remain on the table. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has come to mind…. 🙂

    I do truely love the topic of morality, although I’m no expert by any means, its still utterly fascinating… Thank you for your perspective hrun0815, even if we don’t agree, or see eye to eye.

  101. 101
    hrun0815 says:

    I do truely love the topic of morality, although I’m no expert by any means, its still utterly fascinating… Thank you for your perspective hrun0815, even if we don’t agree, or see eye to eye.

    Good. We can agree to that. Just real quick about this:

    The problem with your example is that you’re assuming his actions aren’t still somehow “objectively wrong,” even if he doesn’t agree me, or us, and chooses to behead me (which he likely will) because I belong to a different religion. You say; “I say so.” And on the grounds that no objective morality exists (in your case), who cares what you think, morality is a power grab for those who want it more, Stalin, Mao, Pot, etc… Either way, it’ll be; “off with your head,” and the ISIS fighter will have done nothing wrong. Another sobering thought. I think this private language analogy has a little more thrust in the direction it was intended, then you’re giving it credit for.

    So objective morality or subjective morality, the end effect is all the same: Both our heads roll unless we find that board with a nail in time.

    Of course, unless, you morality says that killing is morally wrong even if you are defending your life or the life of others. Then even the board with a nail will not help, I guess.

  102. 102
    hrun0815 says:

    Either way, it’ll be; “off with your head,” and the ISIS fighter will have done nothing wrong.

    Aeh, forgot this. I thought I had stressed this: You and I both agree that he would have done something wrong. For you because you believe that ‘human beings have intrinsic worth’. For me because I have empathy which means that I do not think anybody should cause other humans needless suffering.

    Now, you can say that you have an objective standard. I have no idea if I have an objective standard and I can think of no authority that would clarify the matter. So, to me it is just a subjective standard.

    Do you really think it matters? What if I just told you ‘my morality dictates that human suffering should be minimized’ without mentioning anything about objectivity or subjectivity? Would that change anything? And if it does matter, why? We already established that it wont matter when trying to convince the ISIS fighter. We might be able to agree that we both personally feel equally strongly about this? So again, where is the difference? Do you think that because I do not believe in an authority that declares this morality to be objective that I am more able than you are to go against my moral belief?

  103. 103
    KRock says:

    @hrun0815

    “So objective morality or subjective morality, the end effect is all the same: Both our heads roll unless we find that board with a nail in time.
    Of course, unless, you morality says that killing is morally wrong even if you are defending your life or the life of others. Then even the board with a nail will not help, I guess.”

    The end effect may be the same, but the fact remains the same, objective morality would still exist, regardless of whether or not our heads roll. Objective morality isn’t dependent on the actions of a human being, but rather on the character and nature of a transcendent being. I’ve already mentioned that a “moral dilemma,” such as defending myself with lead pipe, would not negate an objective moral system.

    “Aeh, forgot this. I thought I had stressed this: You and I both agree that he would have done something wrong. For you because you believe that ‘human beings have intrinsic worth’. For me because I have empathy which means that I do not think anybody should cause other humans needless suffering.”

    I realize you may think he’ll have done something wrong, but outside of your own personal preferences, (your private morality) he won’t have done anything wrong, objectively that is. But I think you already agree with this. I would suspect you would have to agree with this if you’re holding to the notion that our morals are subjective.

    Well, I see the difference being that in my case, its objectively wrong always, where in your case, its just your opinion, which really isn’t grounded in anything buy your own personal preferences. It’s a game of he said, she said. Outside of our civil laws, morality is a train wreck, a dog eat dog. I’m curious, removing all our civil laws, are you going to hold to your empathy, or are your morals going to adapt and change?

    “Now, you can say that you have an objective standard. I have no idea if I have an objective standard and I can think of no authority that would clarify the matter. So, to me it is just a subjective standard.”

    Well, for me, its much more plausible to conclude that we have an objective moral law/standard that transcends humanity, then to conclude that we each have our own personal moral standard where no good, no evil, no right, and no wrong exist outside of our own minds. Its pointless to condemn or judge, pointless to call anything evil, thus, pointless to consider doing something good when I stand to gain more from doing something wrong. Survival of the fittest, I guess. Yikes, lol…

    “Do you really think it matters? What if I just told you ‘my morality dictates that human suffering should be minimized’ without mentioning anything about objectivity or subjectivity? Would that change anything? And if it does matter, why? We already established that it wont matter when trying to convince the ISIS fighter. We might be able to agree that we both personally feel equally strongly about this? So again, where is the difference? Do you think that because I do not believe in an authority that declares this morality to be objective that I am more able than you are to go against my moral belief?”

    No, not at all, I just don’t know why you wouldn’t consider it if it gains you more in life, that’s all. You know, “why should I ought to do something good, when doing something bad stands to gain me more.” I guess I see subjective morality for what it is, a “what ever works best for me,” regardless of the outcome for anyone else involved. Well, you’d have no real reason not to go against your own morality, where as with an objective moral standard, you do. A subjective morality is one that should be free to adapt to whatever situation may arise, at any time… one free from any personal guilt, and certainly one free of any condemnation.

  104. 104
    mrchristo says:

    Subjective morality means you decide on whether your own behaviour is moral or immoral. As soon as the subjective moralist tells others that their behaviour is wrong then they are contradicting their position that people decide for themselves what is right or wrong.

    Telling other people that their behaviour is morally wrong not only pressuposes that there is an objective standard of how one should behave but it contradicts the position of people deciding for themselves whether their own behaviour is moral or immoral.

    For all their bleating, The subjectivist cannot and does not live as if morality is subjective.

  105. 105
    Piotr says:

    #104, mrchristo

    Alas, this thread is no longer fun in the absence of the most articulate proponent of the subjectivist position. He won’t answer your objections for reasons beyond his control. Perhaps you should ask Barry Arrington what has happened to Learned Hand. Is banning the adversary the ultimate argument of the invincible objectivist?

  106. 106
    Seversky says:

    mrchristo @104

    Subjective morality means you decide on whether your own behaviour is moral or immoral.

    As Learned Hand would no doubt argue, if he were here, subjective morality means that each individual works out his or her moral beliefs and compares both their own behavior and that of others to those principles. There is nothing to prevent me judging your behavior by my moral principles and nothing to prevent you judging my behavior by your moral principles. What neither of us can do is demonstrate some absolute authority for those beliefs.

    None of the above prevents us from forming a consensus view of morality, however. If the overwhelming majority in a society agrees that killing other people without good cause is wrong then that is the view that will prevail. It may be “wrong” only in the sense that most people would prefer not to be killed without good cause but what other foundation can there be? Why shouldn’t our preferences be the deciding factor?

    Telling other people that their behaviour is morally wrong not only pressuposes that there is an objective standard of how one should behave but it contradicts the position of people deciding for themselves whether their own behaviour is moral or immoral.

    There is no contradiction if we all agree on a particular principle. Even if there were a contradiction, as between the psychopath who believes he is morally entitled to rape and murder and all the rest of us who reject that view, in practice it will be resolved in favor of the majority, which is, for the most part, how it should be in my view.

    Telling other people that their behavior is morally wrong does not require an objective morality, only a subjective view. If I were to describe a painting like Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire as being beautiful I would not be claiming that beauty is an objective property of the canvas like width or weight. I would actually be saying that in my view it is a beautiful work of art. By the same token, if I were to tell others that rape is morally wrong what I would actually be saying is that in my view rape is wrong. The rapist might disagree but if his victims, their families, friends and the rest of society all agree that it is wrong then, by any reasonable standard, it is wrong.

    I ask again, if not us, who else should decide? Note that I’m not asking who might have the power to impose their morality on the rest of us but who has the right to decide for us and on what grounds.

  107. 107
    RDFish says:

    Subjective morality means you decide on whether your own behaviour is moral or immoral.

    No, that is not what subjective morality means. It means that morality is not objective, but not that people choose what moral precepts to adopt.

    Could you decide that torturing babies for enjoyment is moral? Of course you couldn’t, and neither can moral subjectivists of course. Could you decide to enjoy wallowing in a rotting animal carcass? Could you decide to despise the feeling of sexual intercourse? These are not voluntary decisions – they are innate in us. Subjectivists do not decide to find that some action is immoral any more than you decide to find that some image is disgusting or that some injury is painful.

    Subjectivists do not hold their position because they desire to set their own moral standards. Rather, subjectivists believe that (1) There is no objective way to tell if objective moral standards exists; and/or (2) Even if there were objective moral standards, we have no way of objectively determining what those standards those might be.

    Barry and WJM and StephenB and others here argue that moral propositions have objective truth values, while other folks disagree. It would seem that in order to resolve the matter, we would need to establish how it is we actually determine whether or not some proposition is objectively true or false, or whether it is merely subjectively so.

    Empirical science (a project often maligned on these pages) endeavors to catalogue a set of objectively true propositions about the observable world. It does so by considering only those propositions that refer soley to things that are well-defined in terms of our universal experience (that is, observations that can be reliably replicated by independent researchers). Intersubjective agreement is then taken to indicate that the results are objectively true. Empirical methods are phenomenally successful, but when it comes to morality, they are limited to descriptive rather than normative facts. So we can’t use science to ascertain what – if any – moral imperatives exist objectively (that is, independently of human beliefs, perceptions, or reasoning).

    Now, while intersubjective agreement is taken as an indicator that some belief is objective, the converse does not hold: Intersubjective disagreement does not necessarily indicate that there is no objective truth of the matter. So the fact that different people find conflicting moral precepts to be objectively true does not necessarily indicate that there are no objective moral truths; it just shows that if there are such things, we can’t objectively determine what they might be. It does, however, as Faded Glory pointed out above, suggest a lower a priori probability that any one candidate moral code is objectively true, just as religious plurality reduces the likelihood that any one particular religious dogma is true.

    While objectivism cannot be supported empirically, some argue that at least some moral propositions may be held to be objectively self-evident. Thomas Jefferson held, for example, that “All men are created equal” is a proposition that is self-evidently true. But while he wrote that he and the other founders held this belief, he was well aware that this proposition was held to be false by various other people, religions, and governments at the time. I believe in the truth of this proposition axiomatically, and at least as strongly as Jefferson did, there is no way to demonstrate that it is self-evidently true. Rather, it can only be accepted as such subjectively, while others reject its truth altogether. So, the subjective claim that some moral precept is “self-evidently” true does not help to establish that precept as being objectively true.

    Moral objectivists may also appeal to a transcendent (divine) source of morality, but there are a number of problems with this approach, including that there is no objective method enabling us to discover which, if any, of the different moral codes revealed by different purported gods might be objectively true, and that we have no objective reason for thinking that some god’s idea of morality is objectively true in the first place.

    In summary, there is no firm epistemological ground upon which moral objectivism can stand.
    One cannot establish the existence of objective morality simply by definition, or by act of will. There must be some compelling reason to believe that moral facts exist outside of our own minds.

    We all have the same response to almost all moral questions; on some questions there are disagreements – even among objectivists!. None of us merely decide what we find morally acceptable; we perceive it – and a moment’s reflection should make that clear to even the most committed objectivist.

  108. 108
    mrchristo says:

    Your post is long winded and goes off on a tangent so am just dealing with the relevant points.

    “No, that is not what subjective morality means.”

    Yes it does.

    “It means that morality is not objective”

    Well if it were subjective then of course it would not be objective

    “but not that people choose what moral precepts to adopt”

    If morality is subjective then you are not being consistent when you tell what moral precepts to adopt, either people decide for themselves or they don’t

    If I was a moral subjectivist then I would be inconsistent telling others that their behaviour is wrong, However you are the inconsistent subjectivist so that is a problem for you.

    “Could you decide that torturing babies for enjoyment is moral? Of course you couldn’t, and neither can moral subjectivists of course.”

    I can understand why you could see even people who call themselves moral subjectivists as unable to do it as you yourself recognize it as objectively wrong, Not just a matter of personal preference.

    But if right and wrong is subjective and somebody did what you and I see as wrong then they justify to themselves that what they were doing was not wrong and you as a moral subjectivist would have no grounds to say they are wrong.

    “Subjectivists do not hold their position because they desire to set their own moral standards”

    The reasons why people may hold their position is not the point, the point is that you are not being consistent when you tell others that their behaviour is morally wrong when you as a subjectivist say that morality is subjective, if it is subjective and the person decides for themselves what is right or wrong then you are not being consistent in telling them that they are wrong.

    “Barry and WJM and StephenB and others here argue that moral propositions have objective truth values, while other folks disagree. It would seem that in order to resolve the matter, we would need to establish how it is we actually determine whether or not some proposition is objectively true or false, or whether it is merely subjectively so.”

    What they do is point out that you and others do not live consistently with your position of morality being something the individual chooses for themselves, when you tell others they are wrong then you are accepting that there is a correct standard of how things should be and that they do not decide for themself what is right or wrong.

    “In summary, there is no firm epistemological ground upon which moral objectivism can stand.”

    You don’t live consistently with that position.

    “One cannot establish the existence of objective morality simply by definition, or by act of will.”

    Yet you do not live consistently with that statement.

    “We all have the same response to almost all moral questions; on some questions there are disagreements – even among objectivists!. None of us merely decide what we find morally acceptable;”

    It makes no sense for you to say what is morally acceptable or unacceptable about others behaviours because to do so is to pressupose that there is an objective standard of how one should act.

    “we perceive it – and a moment’s reflection should make that clear to even the most committed objectivist”

    What is clear is that you cannot live consistently with the idea that moral right and wrong is subjective.

  109. 109
    RDFish says:

    Hi mrchristo,

    Your post is long winded and goes off on a tangent

    That is merely your subjective opinion, and yet you state it as objective fact 🙂

    I sense you may have trouble reading longer arguments, so let me start by giving you the bottom line first, since you missed it last time: Your morality is not objective, you just think it is.

    If morality is subjective then you are not being consistent when you tell what moral precepts to adopt, either people decide for themselves or they don’t

    You haven’t understood my post: Moral sentiments are not voluntary for either subjectivists or objectivists. Nobody decides to be appalled at the thought of torturing puppies, just like nobody decides to feel pain when they suffer from gout. Subjectivists do not “decide for themselves” what moral sentiments to hold, and neither do objectivists. What is different is this: Moral subjectivists acknowledge that there is no epistemological foundation for declaring their own moral sentiments to be objectively true statements about the world independent of human perceptions, while objectivists do not acknowledge this.

    I can understand why you could see even people who call themselves moral subjectivists as unable to do it as you yourself recognize it as objectively wrong, Not just a matter of personal preference.

    The statement “torturing puppies is morally reprehensible” is neither a personal preference nor an objective fact. Again: It is neither one.

    But if right and wrong is subjective and somebody did what you and I see as wrong then they justify to themselves that what they were doing was not wrong and you as a moral subjectivist would have no grounds to say they are wrong.

    I would have the exact same grounds as you would, because neither of our moral arguments are objective. All you do is just say that your morals are objective, but that doesn’t make any difference, because nobody has any reason to believe you.

    Just try to answer the question: What is it that you believe makes your moral beliefs objectively true?

    RDF: “Barry and WJM and StephenB and others here argue that moral propositions have objective truth values, while other folks disagree. It would seem that in order to resolve the matter, we would need to establish how it is we actually determine whether or not some proposition is objectively true or false, or whether it is merely subjectively so.”
    MC: What they do is point out that you and others do not live consistently…

    What they do is exactly what I said they do: They argue that morality is objective. I have argued that morality is not objective.

    You haven’t addressed any of the points I made. Instead, you have focussed on claiming that it is inconsistent for a subjectivist to tell other people they are morally wrong. Your confusion there is merely a semantic one: You interpret “wrong” to mean “objectively wrong”, then complain that the subjectivist are inconsistent if they tell people that their morals are objectively wrong. Since the subjectivist denies that moral facts are objective, that obviously isn’t what the subjectivist means.

    What the subjectivist means when they say “Puppy torturing is wrong” is analogous to what we mean when we say “Gout is painful”. Both of these statements are inherently subjective, but there is no inconsistency in making these statements without qualification. There are people (thankfully very few) who do not see puppy-torturing as being wrong, and there are people (also very few) who do not feel pain although they suffer from gout, but this doesn’t make these statements inconsistent or meaningless.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  110. 110
    Mung says:

    mrchristo: Your post is long winded and goes off on a tangent so am just dealing with the relevant points.

    RDFish: That is merely your subjective opinion, and yet you state it as objective fact.

    Mung:

    It’s your subjective opinion, therefore it cannot be true. QED.

    The opinion that it’s merely your subjective opinion though, now that is fact, Fact, FACT! It’s OBJECTIVE!

    /absurd

  111. 111
    mike1962 says:

    RDFish: Moral subjectivists acknowledge that there is no epistemological foundation for declaring their own moral sentiments to be objectively true statements about the world independent of human perceptions, while objectivists do not acknowledge this.

    It’s a bit more complicated that than. Objectivists (small O) point the fact that we have a moral sense at all and have the luxury of debating the particulars. That we have a moral sense at all, and the ability to contemplate an absolute morality, is a clue to meaning in the universe. Will a machine ever be able to do that?

  112. 112
    RDFish says:

    Hi mike1962,

    Objectivists (small O) point the fact that we have a moral sense at all and have the luxury of debating the particulars.

    Subjectivists (case insensitive) point out the exact same fact.

    Will a machine ever be able to do that?

    Depends on what you mean by “machine”.

    Anyway, the fact that we can contemplate objective morality doesn’t mean that such a thing exists of course (I can contemplate talking onions). But the more important question: What reason can you give to believe that some particular moral fact is objective?

    Anyone?

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  113. 113
    faded_Glory says:

    mrchristo:

    If I was a moral subjectivist then I would be inconsistent telling others that their behaviour is wrong, However you are the inconsistent subjectivist so that is a problem for you.

    Why would that be?

    Subjectivists claim that there exists no standard of morality outside of individual people’s minds. When they say ‘this action is wrong’, they indicate that the action violates their standard of right and wrong and that they want it to stop.

    Where is the inconsistency in this?

    fG

  114. 114
    Silver Asiatic says:

    mrchristo:

    If I was a moral subjectivist then I would be inconsistent telling others that their behaviour is wrong,

    faded_Glory

    Subjectivists claim that there exists no standard of morality outside of individual people’s minds. When they say ‘this action is wrong’, they indicate that the action violates their standard of right and wrong and that they want it to stop.

    Where is the inconsistency in this?

    The subjectivist cannot tell others their behavior is simply ‘wrong’ since it may be morally right for another subjectivist.

    They can only say ‘it is wrong according to my standard which ‘exists only in my individual mind’.

    Applying a personal, subjective standard – known only to the individual, to anyone else is inconsistent.

    The subjectivist cannot say ‘this action is wrong for me and must be wrong for everyone else’.

    The subjectivst can say ‘I want to stop everyone from doing this thing which they may consider to be morally good’.

    This is an inconsistent standard of morality:

    I allow and promote things which are morally good for me.
    I deny and try to stop things which are morally good for others.

  115. 115
    RDFish says:

    Hi Silver Asiatic,

    The subjectivist cannot tell others their behavior is simply ‘wrong’ since it may be morally right for another subjectivist.

    In that case, one could not say “gout is painful”, because some people experience no pain when they have gout. We also could not say “the sky is blue”, because some people do not see the sky as being blue.

    Yet of course we do say this, because the vast majority of people do experience gout as painful and the sky as blue. (We tend to say that normally people perceive these things this way).

    Likewise with morality: Torturing puppies is wrong because the vast majority of people experience moral repugnance at such an act (even though a small minority of abnormal people experience it differently).

    All of these perceptions are subjective, but there is no inconsistency talking about them without constantly mentioning that.

    Now that we’ve cleared that up, the question remains: What is it that you think can make your (or any) morality objective? As I’ve argued @107, there is no method with which to establish some particular moral code as being objectively true.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  116. 116
    faded_Glory says:

    Silver Asiatic:

    This is an inconsistent standard of morality:

    I allow and promote things which are morally good for me.
    I deny and try to stop things which are morally good for others.


    Try this:

    I allow and promote things which are morally good for me.
    I deny and try to stop things which are morally bad for me.

    Consistent.

    fG

  117. 117
    mike1962 says:

    RDFish: Anyway, the fact that we can contemplate objective morality doesn’t mean that such a thing exists.

    However, the fact that we can contemplate it means the idea of an objective morality exists in human minds.

    How do you explain that?

    And is it possible for a machine to ever have such an idea?

  118. 118
    Silver Asiatic says:

    SA: The subjectivist cannot tell others their behavior is simply ‘wrong’ since it may be morally right for another subjectivist.

    RDF: In that case, one could not say “gout is painful”,

    Notice how you switched that.
    It should be the case that one could not say “everyone feels pain in gout”. Or better, “if you don’t feel pain with gout you’re wrong.”

    Torturing puppies is wrong because the vast majority of people experience moral repugnance at such an act (even though a small minority of abnormal people experience it differently).

    This is not subjective morality since it references an external, objective value. Subjective morality means that the reason for an act comes from the individual, not from the group or the majority. The subjectivist may say “I choose the morality of the popular vote” but only for a personal reason and there is no reason why that must be recognized as a standard or a better or worse value than the supposed ‘abnormal’ person.

    There is no ‘normal’ in subjective morality – only what the individual decides. Something may happen to correspond to the popular idea, but that is irrelevant to the value of the moral decision. Torturning puppies can be a perfectly morally good action under subjectivism.

  119. 119
    RDFish says:

    Hi mike1962,

    Yes we can imagine all sorts of things. I can’t explain our ability to imagine anything, and nobody else can either (we do not understand how our brains work). I don’t think this has anything to do with moral objectivism.

    Regarding machines, there is another thread where I talk about thinking machines – “What Jerry Coyne Doesn’t Get About Goodness”. That doesn’t have anything obvious to do with moral objectivism either.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  120. 120
    Silver Asiatic says:

    FG

    I allow and promote things which are morally good for me.
    I deny and try to stop things which are morally bad for me.

    Consistent.

    Then you would have: It is morally bad for me to allow others to do things which are morally good for them.

    So it follows …
    I have a moral obligation to stop people from doing things that are morally good for them.

  121. 121
    RDFish says:

    Hi Silver Asiatic,

    Notice how you switched that.
    It should be the case that one could not say “everyone feels pain in gout”. Or better, “if you don’t feel pain with gout you’re wrong.”

    There are lots of differences between our sense of pain and our moral sense – I didn’t mean that they were the same thing. My point is that we can talk to each about our subjective perceptions without qualification as though they were universal truths, and we do this all the time.

    RDF: Torturing puppies is wrong because the vast majority of people experience moral repugnance at such an act (even though a small minority of abnormal people experience it differently).
    SA: This is not subjective morality since it references an external, objective value.

    Yes, sorry – I wasn’t clear. The previous sentence spoke about how we speak about morality, not the grounding of normative ethics. In subjectivism torturing puppies is wrong when someone feels that is wrong, not because others do. We speak as though everyone feels the same about this, even though that is not always the case.

    Subjective morality means that the reason for an act comes from the individual, not from the group or the majority.

    Yes, that is correct.

    The subjectivist may say “I choose the morality of the popular vote” but only for a personal reason and there is no reason why that must be recognized as a standard or a better or worse value than the supposed ‘abnormal’ person.

    What I’ve been pointing out is that subjective morality does not actually work that way – it is not a voluntary choice at all, so while the subjectivist may say “I choose…”, in reality none of us actually choose our moral sentiments any more than we choose to feel pain upon injury, or choose to perceive the sky is blue.

    There is no ‘normal’ in subjective morality…

    There is no “normal” in anything, really 🙂

    – only what the individual decides.

    Again, we don’t decide to be repulsed by puppy-torture. Could you decide otherwise?

    Torturning puppies can be a perfectly morally good action under subjectivism.

    Only in a tiny fraction of humans is this the case, just as in a tiny fraction of humans the sky is not blue and gout is not painful.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  122. 122
    mike1962 says:

    RDFish: Anyway, the fact that we can contemplate objective morality doesn’t mean that such a thing exists of course (I can contemplate talking onions).

    You can contemplate talking onions because talking is a real action and onions are real things. You can contemplate absolute morality because morality is a real thing and absoluteness is a real property. Neither combinations may be real, but how is it that you can contemplate an absolute anything?

    We know, we know, you don’t know the answer.

    Just food for thought.

  123. 123
    RDFish says:

    Hi mike1962,

    You can contemplate absolute morality because morality is a real thing and absoluteness is a real property.

    If you’d like to argue that any concept we can imagine (and articulate!) is real, go ahead (I think you’re mistaken but it’s a long debate). However, even if I grant you that “absolute” is a “real property” and “morality” is a “real thing”, that doesn’t mean that morality is absolute (or objective, which is the question at hand).

    * * *

    So far I haven’t received any good counter-arguments here. SA and mrchristo don’t seem to understand that subjectivism is not voluntaristic, nor that subjectivistic language is consistent with its meaning. Mike1962 argued that anything we can imagine must be real, which is clearly not the case.

    Can anyone actually explain how any moral code can be shown to be objectively true?

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  124. 124
    faded_Glory says:

    Silver Asiatic:

    Then you would have: It is morally bad for me to allow others to do things which are morally good for them.

    Not necessarily.

    Look, I understand where you are coming from: you think it would only be fair that if I allow myself to be ruled by my subjective morals, I should allow others to do the same.

    The thing is, there is no objective reason for this. That you think it would be fair is no reason that I should think that too.

    In actual fact, I do allow people to live according to their own morals unless their actions go contrary to mine, in which case I disapprove of them and want them to stop. This is no different from what anybody else does.

    fG

  125. 125
    Silver Asiatic says:

    RDFish

    What I’ve been pointing out is that subjective morality does not actually work that way – it is not a voluntary choice at all, so while the subjectivist may say “I choose…”, in reality none of us actually choose our moral sentiments any more than we choose to feel pain upon injury, or choose to perceive the sky is blue.

    Ok, I don’t see any evidence that what you describe is true. On the contrary, I’ve changed my moral views several times in my life — and these changes were deliberate choices, in some cases, going against my intuitive or instinctual attitude. I conformed myself to an objective standard that I believe has the authority to determine mortal teachings. So, for myself, a moral code was a choice and individual acts were also choices.

    Again, we don’t decide to be repulsed by puppy-torture. Could you decide otherwise?

    If I was an atheist, it wouldn’t matter. I could convince myself that repulsion was necessary. I could convince myself that torture was good. There might even be good consequences to that kind of thing. A person with hatred against dogs, for example, might feel it’s morally good to torture puppies.

    Only in a tiny fraction of humans is this the case, just as in a tiny fraction of humans the sky is not blue and gout is not painful.

    The number of people who believe such a thing is totally irrelevant within subjectivism, as we agreed. When you appeal to the majority, you’re looking at another moral standard. When you appeal to something like torturing puppies, you’re pointing to a moral norm that goes beyond what subjectivism can offer.

    Without further clarification, you seem to be using a norm based on what the majority of the population thinks.

  126. 126
    Silver Asiatic says:

    faded glory

    Look, I understand where you are coming from: you think it would only be fair that if I allow myself to be ruled by my subjective morals, I should allow others to do the same.

    The thing is, there is no objective reason for this. That you think it would be fair is no reason that I should think that too.

    Notice, I said nothing about being fair. It’s simply a case of how you determine what is morally good or bad. When you seek to repress behavior in others, you’re claiming that the behavior is morally bad. But the behavior is not morally bad for them – it’s good.
    So, we have just what I said. You would try to stop behavior that is morally good for people.

    In actual fact, I do allow people to live according to their own morals unless their actions go contrary to mine, in which case I disapprove of them and want them to stop. This is no different from what anybody else does.

    No, it’s not because you’re stopping behavior that is morally good by your own standard.

    By subjectivism, you cannot say that behaviors others are doing are morally bad. They’re bad for you, but you’re not doing them. Those behaviors are morally good for the people who are doing them – based on your own standard, subjectivism.

    So, you would repress morally good behaviors in others, but not for yourself. You would put someone in jail for a behavior that your moral code says is morally good.

    That’s inconsisent.

  127. 127
    mike1962 says:

    Everyone has a moral standard, either one’s self or something else outside of one’s self. Subjectivists stop being subjectivists the moment they attempt to impose their morality on others, because regardless of what they say, when they do so they implicitly (or explicitly) declare their own morality to be objectively superior to the person they attempt to correct.

    A thorough-going subjectivist would never attempt to correct the behavior of others.

  128. 128
    Silver Asiatic says:

    mike1962

    Subjectivists stop being subjectivists the moment they attempt to impose their morality on others, because regardless of what they say, when they do so they implicitly (or explicitly) declare their own morality to be objectively superior to the person they attempt to correct.

    A thorough-going subjectivist would never attempt to correct the behavior of others.

    True. A subjectivist cannot say that subjective moral choices that others make are morally wrong. No human action is good or evil in itself, in the subjectivist view.
    Terrorism, rape, torture, genocide – these are all potentially morally good acts in subjectivism.

    Dictators committing genocide are acting in a morally good way according to their own subjective morality. A subjectivist has to recognize those acts as morally good within subjectivism.

  129. 129
    RDFish says:

    Hi Silver Asiatic,

    RDF: Again, we don’t decide to be repulsed by puppy-torture. Could you decide otherwise?
    SA: If I was an atheist, it wouldn’t matter. I could convince myself that repulsion was necessary. I could convince myself that torture was good. There might even be good consequences to that kind of thing. A person with hatred against dogs, for example, might feel it’s morally good to torture puppies.

    Well, this is pretty terrifying actually. I will tell you straight out: There is nothing that could convince me that torturing puppies was not morally reprehensible, and I most certainly would be utterly unable to convince myself of that. You seem to be saying that the only reason you refrain from such activities is because you think there is a god who would disapprove of you for doing so. This certainly explains our differing views on the subject of morality. I wonder how many other people here would torture puppies if they thought they there was no divine prohibition against it. (And by the way, where exactly is the prohibition against torturing puppies laid out in religious scripture?)

    Without further clarification, you seem to be using a norm based on what the majority of the population thinks.

    I’ve already clarified this. The majority/norm has nothing to do with subjective moral sense; it is descriptive rather than prescriptive. I mentioned it because it people mistakenly take our moral consensus as evidence that morality is objective. It is obviously important for society that individuals’ moral sentiments align, which by and large they do.

    A subjectivist cannot say that subjective moral choices that others make are morally wrong.

    Nonsense. I think it is morally wrong for you to torture puppies, just as clearly as I think the sky is blue (another subjective perception). Do you not think the sky is blue? If you say the sky is orange and I tell you that you’re wrong, do you accuse me of inconsistency?

    No human action is good or evil in itself, in the subjectivist view.
    Terrorism, rape, torture, genocide – these are all potentially morally good acts in subjectivism.

    No, they aren’t. They apparently are potentially morally good acts for you, but not for me, and not for anyone else I know.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  130. 130
    mike1962 says:

    RDFish: Well, this is pretty terrifying actually. I will tell you straight out: There is nothing that could convince me that torturing puppies was not morally reprehensible, and I most certainly would be utterly unable to convince myself of that.

    We understand. And I’m quite sure Silver Asiatic does. And you can even stomp your feet while you proclaim it. But it doesn’t change the reality of the situation: subjectivists stop being subjectivists the moment they attempt to impose their morality on others.

    Do you keep your subjective morality to yourself? Or do you (in any way whatsoever) attempt to control others based on your subjective morality?

  131. 131
    mike1962 says:

    I like what Barry asked several months ago…

    Is torturing babies objectively dead-ass-wrong or not?

    The answer tells us a lot about a person.

  132. 132
    Phinehas says:

    RDF:

    SA: No human action is good or evil in itself, in the subjectivist view.
    Terrorism, rape, torture, genocide – these are all potentially morally good acts in subjectivism.

    RDF: No, they aren’t. They apparently are potentially morally good acts for you, but not for me, and not for anyone else I know.

    I believe you. But your answer is not logically consistent with subjectivism. As Mike points out, you are implicitly (or explicitly) declaring that your own morality is objectively superior to theirs. (And everyone here agrees with you!)

    Note the difference in your position on this as opposed to how you might feel about truly subjective beliefs, like what flavor of ice cream tastes better. It would be ludicrous to suppose that, because you prefer vanilla ice cream, those who prefer chocolate are evil. Nor would you ever consider imposing your subjective beliefs about ice cream on others such that you would use force to compel them to eat only your preferred flavor. Why not? Because you know that your perspective on ice cream is not objectively superior to theirs.

    This is what real subjectivism feels like, and what you are describing (and what we all understand, because we experience it every day) is so not that.

  133. 133
    Piotr says:

    mike1962

    … subjectivists stop being subjectivists the moment they attempt to impose their morality on others

    I see. So Stalin and Hitler were objectivists, right? Or would you argue that they didn’t try to impose their moral values on others?

  134. 134
    Silver Asiatic says:

    RDFish

    mike1962 and Phinehas answered you well already.

    I’ll add a point …

    Well, this is pretty terrifying actually.

    You’re turning to a kind of moral outrage here. Your own system, however, permits anyone to say that torture is a morally good act. Within subjectivism, you have to accept that. It’s a morally good act for anyone who declares it to be so. That’s what should be terrifying to you.

  135. 135
    Silver Asiatic says:

    RDF

    I think it is morally wrong for you to torture puppies, just as clearly as I think the sky is blue (another subjective perception).

    We can reference some objective facts and measurements (wavelengths of light reaching our eyes) to state that the sky is blue. This doesn’t work for moral values. What measurements can we offer to explain why an act is good or evil?

  136. 136
    Phinehas says:

    Piotr:

    So Stalin and Hitler were objectivists, right?

    To the extent that Stalin and Hitler thought their morality was objectively superior, they certainly were not being logically consistent with subjectivism. That doesn’t make their morality right, of course.

    Or would you argue that they didn’t try to impose their moral values on others?

    I might argue that they were more concerned with imposing their will on others and that their moral values went no deeper than “might makes right.”

  137. 137
    Piotr says:

    Phinehas,

    How do you distinguish someone whose morality is objectively superior from someone who only thinks so?

  138. 138
    mike1962 says:

    Piotr: So Stalin and Hitler were objectivists, right?

    I don’t know what they called themselves, but they sure acted like objectivists. With themselves at the center of their moral system.

  139. 139
    RDFish says:

    Hi Mike1962,

    But it doesn’t change the reality of the situation: subjectivists stop being subjectivists the moment they attempt to impose their morality on others.

    Why can’t I attempt to impose my morality on others AND reject your claim that your morality is objective to mine? I can, and do, just that.

    You impose your subjective morality on me, and I do the same to you. That’s how it works. Pretending that your morality is objective, and thus superior, doesn’t help.

    I like what Barry asked several months ago…
    Is torturing babies objectively dead-ass-wrong or not?
    The answer tells us a lot about a person.

    The fact that someone would choose to torture babies if their god failed to tell them not to says a lot about them.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  140. 140
    RDFish says:

    Hi Phinehas,

    I believe you. But your answer is not logically consistent with subjectivism. As Mike points out, you are implicitly (or explicitly) declaring that your own morality is objectively superior to theirs. (And everyone here agrees with you!)

    I am a subjectivist, which means I believe nobody’s morality is objectively superior to any other morality. It is the objectivist who pretends that there is some sort of magical (and apparently secret) method for determining what morality is objectively true, and then decides that their faux-objective morality is the objectively superior one!

    Note the difference in your position on this as opposed to how you might feel about truly subjective beliefs, like what flavor of ice cream tastes better. It would be ludicrous to suppose that, because you prefer vanilla ice cream, those who prefer chocolate are evil.

    That is a complete non-sequitor! I think those who prefer chocolate have different preferences in ice cream, not that they are evil. I think people who look at puppy-torture and say it is moral are evil, by which I mean that I perceive them to be immoral.

    Nor would you ever consider imposing your subjective beliefs about ice cream on others such that you would use force to compel them to eat only your preferred flavor. Why not? Because you know that your perspective on ice cream is not objectively superior to theirs.

    I don’t care what flavor ice cream other people eat. I do, however, care very much that people not act immorally. I do not choose to care – it is not a voluntary choice. I cannot choose not to care. Could you simply choose not to care about people doing terrible things to other people? Of course you couldn’t. How can you not understand this?

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  141. 141
    RDFish says:

    Hi Silver Asiatic,

    You’re turning to a kind of moral outrage here. Your own system, however, permits anyone to say that torture is a morally good act. Within subjectivism, you have to accept that.

    This is completely confused. My moral system does not permit anyone to do anything. Rather, it observes that morality is subjective. You pretend that your morality is objective, but it isn’t.

    It’s a morally good act for anyone who declares it to be so.

    Who thinks that? Certainly not me. You still don’t understand this simple idea. If somebody said they perceived the sky as orange, would you be bound to agree they are correct?

    That’s what should be terrifying to you.

    No, it’s really the fact that without a god telling you not to, you might well think that torturing puppies is a good thing to do. That is completely repugnant to me.

    We can reference some objective facts and measurements (wavelengths of light reaching our eyes) to state that the sky is blue.

    I think you are wrong in three ways.

    First, there are all sorts of objective facts that determine which acts people consider immoral. There is a huge literature of descriptive ethics that is concerned with cataloguing such facts.

    Second, light wavelengths do not actually determine color perception – the brain uses lots of other information and complex processing to perceive color. We use lots of different information and complex processing to make moral determinations too. Sometimes it is more straightforward to perceive color – for example, when presented with a monochromatic light against a neutral background. Sometimes it is more straightforward to perceive morality – for example, when presented with someone who is torturing a puppy for enjoyment. Other times color perception is much more complex, and we may be unsure or inconsistent about the colors we see. And other times moral perception is much more complex, and we may be unsure or inconsistent about what we think the moral action is.

    Third, even if we understood all the objective facts that determined color perception, we would have no explanation for why some particular set of stimuli gives rise so some particular phenomenological experience of color. We have no understanding of why a pure 475nm light stimulus is perceived as blue (and of course you may experience something different me from when you see “blue”). We also have no explanation for why I find torturing puppies to be morally reprehensible. Both of these are brute facts about our subjective perceptions.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  142. 142

    RDFish said:

    You impose your subjective morality on me, and I do the same to you. That’s how it works. Pretending that your morality is objective, and thus superior, doesn’t help.

    Since neither of us know if morality is objective or subjective in nature, neither of us are “pretending” unless our actual behavior is inconsistent with our stated beliefs. If you believe morality is individually subjective, then you are pretending that your morality applies to others if you attempt to stop them from doing that which you consider immoral.

    However, if the objectivist attempts to stop them, there is no “pretending” going on; his actions are consilient with his beliefs.

    Under ojectivism one has the natural right and obligation in certain situations to intervene; what principle justifies such interventions under moral subjectivism?

  143. 143

    RDFish said:

    I don’t care what flavor ice cream other people eat. I do, however, care very much that people not act immorally.

    The problem is that under subjectivism the two are the same thing in principle. Is it morally acceptable to force people to eat vanilla ice cream, if you could do so? What if you felt really, really strongly about it?

    That’s the equivocation generated by your misuse of the terms “personal preference” and “morality” as if they referred to two categorically different things under subjectivism, when they do not. They are not different in kind under subjectivism, but only different in degree.

    Therefore, as a subjectivist, your ultimate moral justification and right must logically stem from “because I feel like it”.

  144. 144
    Andre says:

    Seems to me that the average subjectivist don’t really understand their own position, when you don’t like the torture of babies as a subjectivist, it is just your opinion that its wrong, it does not make it wrong. It also has nothing to do with your morals, in a subjective world there are no morals to speak of because they can not be justified in any way at all, it is and will always just be your very own opinion on the matter not on the facts.

  145. 145
    RDFish says:

    Hi William J Murray,

    Since neither of us know if morality is objective or subjective in nature, neither of us are “pretending” unless our actual behavior is inconsistent with our stated beliefs.

    What I mean is this: You don’t know that morality is objective (which you just conceded), so it is disingenuous to argue that objective morality is superior, or that you adhere to objective morality. These claims can’t be true if you don’t even know if objective morality exists, which is why I say you are pretending.

    If you believe morality is individually subjective, then you are pretending that your morality applies to others if you attempt to stop them from doing that which you consider immoral.

    I attempt to convince people to adhere to my moral sense, and they attempt the same with me. I don’t pretend that there is some objective standard that applies to both of us – only objectivists do that.

    However, if the objectivist attempts to stop them, there is no “pretending” going on; his actions are consilient with his beliefs.

    The subjectivist is entirely consistent, holding that there is no objective moral standard, acting in a manner consistent with their own moral sense, and attempting to force others to do the same (without pretending that others are bound by some objective moral code).

    The objectivist position is nothing but pretense, acting as though there is some objective moral code that they are privy to, and judging everybody else as morally inferior because they don’t buy into this pretense, all the while knowing that there is no way for them to objectively ascertain that their moral code is any more objective than anyone else’s.

    Under ojectivism one has the natural right and obligation in certain situations to intervene;…

    No, objectivists have no more right to impose their views than anyone else does. They only pretend to, in order to give special status to their own subjective morals. Your morals have no more special status than mine, so you should stop pretending otherwise.

    The problem is that under subjectivism the two are the same thing in principle.

    The problem is that you can’t change this by falsely declaring that your own particular morals are somehow known to be objectively true.

    Is it morally acceptable to force people to eat vanilla ice cream, if you could do so?

    I don’t think so. Do you?

    What if you felt really, really strongly about it?

    I feel certain that it is still wrong. Don’t you?

    Therefore, as a subjectivist, your ultimate moral justification and right must logically stem from “because I feel like it”.

    You can say that, but it reveals a lack of understanding (and introspection) on your part regarding the nature of moral sentiments in human beings. The important point, however, is that if this is what a subjectivist’s justification is, then as an objectivist, your ultimate moral justification and right stems from “because I feel like it, and not only that, but I pretend that my way is objectively correct!”.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  146. 146
    Piotr says:

    Torturning puppies can be a perfectly morally good action under subjectivism.

    Just out of curiosity: can it be a perfectly moral (or morally neutral) action under (your preferred version of) objectivism?

  147. 147
    Andre says:

    RDFISH

    It is not about who’s moral code is better, if subjective morality is true then it means there is no good or bad, whatever we feel about anything is just a personal opinion, under subjective morality you can’t condemn my act as morally wrong when I rape you, because that is just your personal opinion on the matter and has absolutely no bearing on my moral code which is of course different than yours because my moral code permits rape! Since each person’s moral code is deemed good for himself others can not call it evil, bad or wrong, it just is!

  148. 148
    RDFish says:

    Hi Andre,

    Your moral code is subjective.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  149. 149
    Andre says:

    RDFish

    If it is subjective and I permit rape in my moral code is it wrong?

  150. 150
    RDFish says:

    Hi Andre,

    You are playing with definitions instead of comprehending the issue.

    You should understand this by now:

    If by “wrong” you mean what I perceive as wrong, then rape is wrong.

    If by “wrong” you mean what human beings normally perceive as wrong, then rape is wrong.

    If by “wrong” you mean what YOU perceive as “wrong”, then only you can answer your question.

    If by “wrong” you mean “wrong according to some objective standard” then no, there is no such thing as an objective standard for morality (or at least no objective way for anyone to discover it).

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  151. 151
    faded_Glory says:

    As I said in the other thread, there is confusion here:

    Everyone has a moral standard, either one’s self or something else outside of one’s self. Subjectivists stop being subjectivists the moment they attempt to impose their morality on others, because regardless of what they say, when they do so they implicitly (or explicitly) declare their own morality to be objectively superior to the person they attempt to correct.

    A thorough-going subjectivist would never attempt to correct the behavior of others.

    You are confusing the subjective nature of moral standards with the absence of moral standards altogether. In fact the opposite is true: there are as many moral standards as there a people. If you drill deep enough down, you will always find points of disagreement about moral issues between any two people. No two people agree 100% about absolutely everything. This is prima facie evidence against morality being objective.

    ‘Correcting the behaviours of others’ is what morality is about. Regardless if it is subjective or objective, the concept of morality is about the desire to promote acts that one regards as good, and to prevent acts that one regards as bad.

    A thorough going subjectivist, just like every other person in the world, will indeed try to correct the behaviour of others when it violates his moral standard.

    Try to understand this simple fact: a standard does not have to be objective to be useful to the person employing it.

    fG

  152. 152
    Andre says:

    If its wrong for you but not for me who is right RdFish?

  153. 153

    RDFish said:

    What I mean is this: You don’t know that morality is objective (which you just conceded), so it is disingenuous to argue that objective morality is superior, or that you adhere to objective morality.

    Except I’ve never made such an argument. The argument I and some others here make is not that objective morality is superior in practice, but rather is superior with regards to its logical consistency, both internally and in relationship to how we actually behave in the world (as if we have moral rights and obligations that are objectively valid – meaning, valid whether others agree or not).

    These claims can’t be true if you don’t even know if objective morality exists, which is why I say you are pretending.

    This is where you seem to fail to grasp the nature of the argument. It’s not an argument about whether or not objective morality is true, or actually exists; it’s an argument about the logical consequences assuming the premises.

    If not knowing whether morality is objective or subjective in nature equals “pretending”, then we’re both “pretending”. There are a lot of things I do not know, but must act in life as if those assumptions are true. I’m not pretending that I know the sun will come up in the morning; I’m operating under the assumption that it will do so based on experience. Similarly, since I actually must act as if morality is objective, giving me moral authority and obligation to intervene in the affairs of others in some cases, I assume morality refers to an objective source.

    That logically necessary assumption (in this argument) is not an assertion or a claim that morality **is** factually objective in nature.

    The subjectivist is entirely consistent, holding that there is no objective moral standard, acting in a manner consistent with their own moral sense, and attempting to force others to do the same (without pretending that others are bound by some objective moral code).

    You claim it is “consistent”, but do not explain how it is “consistent”, and what it is consistent with. Claiming it is logically consistent is not making the case it is logically consistent.

    No, objectivists have no more right to impose their views than anyone else does. They only pretend to, in order to give special status to their own subjective morals. Your morals have no more special status than mine, so you should stop pretending otherwise.

    You seem to consistently make the same debate error; I argue that if moral subjectivism is true, then morality = personal preferences and your only available principle of justification is “because I feel like it”.

    You counter, essentially, by stating that if subjectivism is true (whereas you say the objectivist is “falsely declaring” or “pretending”, which establishes a subjectivist point of view assumption) then, you argue, objectivists are factually doing the same thing as subjectivists.

    Well, of course, if subjectivism is true, objectivists would be factually doing the same thing as subjectivists while calling it something else. Conversely, if objectivism is true, subjectivists would be factually doing the same thing as objectivists while calling it something else.

    The problem is that you can’t change this by falsely declaring that your own particular morals are somehow known to be objectively true.

    Once again, you are making a categorical mistake in your response by assuming morality **is** subjective in nature. I’m not “declaring” any such thing. However, you have agreed here that personal preference and morality, under subjectivism, are indeed categorically the same. IF morality is subjective, this is necessarily true (logically speaking, not physical fact speaking). IF morality is objective in nature, then morality necessarily refers to something beyond personal preference, whether or not the process of discerning them is difficult and prone to error and personal interpretation.

    I feel certain that it is still wrong [forcing people to eat vanilla ice cream even if you feel really, really strongly about it.- WMJ] Don’t you?

    And here you have demonstrated the logical problem under subjectivism: you have contradicted yourself. If there is no categorical difference between personal preference and morality, then all morality can be is a set of very strongly felt personal preferences. IOW, “what is morally right to do” = “very strongly felt personal preferences”.

    Yet, here you explicitly implicate a categorical difference, where even if something is a very strongly felt personal preference of the rightness of an act, it can still be immoral.

    IOW, if “rightness” = strongly felt personal preferences, then a stronglly felt personal preference cannot be wrong, because it is the very definition of “what is right” under moral subjectivism. You cannot have it both ways, either “what is right to do” is defined as “strongly felt personal preference”, or something else, outside of the category of “strongly felt personal personal preference”, defines what is and is not moral to do.

    You can say that, but it reveals a lack of understanding (and introspection) on your part regarding the nature of moral sentiments in human beings.

    Perhaps, but you make no such rational case here. Claiming that your moral sentiments can be logically separated from the principle of “because I feel like it”, which is the principle behind all other actions based on personal preference (and the only justification necessary), seems to me to be a logically impossible task under moral subjectivism.

    The important point, however, is that if this is what a subjectivist’s justification is, then as an objectivist, your ultimate moral justification and right stems from “because I feel like it, and not only that, but I pretend that my way is objectively correct!”.

    Entirely untrue. You are equivocating what are two very different things under each premise by using the same term.

    Under subjectivism, one’s moral “feelings” are assumed to be entirely subjective personal preferences. Under objectivism, moral “feelings” are assumed to represent a sensory capacity where an objective commodity is being sensed. So, while you can phrase it as “both people are acting according to their feelings”, under the two premises the term “feelings” represent two categorically different things.

    Both are nothing more than assumptions, neither of us know which theory is factual (if either). The question is, which principle can morally justify intervening in the affairs of others? Because I personally prefer it, or because I sense the objective wrongness of your act?

    Even if one is in error about what they sense to be objectively wrong, their action is still logically justifiable; how does one justify forcing their personal preferences on others because they feel strongly about it? As you have agreed, you cannot – it is morally wrong to force one’s personal preferences on others just because one feels strongly about it.

    But, categorically, logically, that is all the moral subjectivist has to justify their behavior.

    Moral objectivism doesn’t make one’s actions moral,or even moral moral, in actuality, than any moral subjectivist; it just provides a sound logical framework that logically allows their moral behavior to be justifiable according to some principle other than “because I feel like it”, which is morally unacceptable.

    If you agree that “because I feel like it” or “because I strongly prefer it” are not suitable foundational principles for any morality, then make your case about what other principle is available – ultimately – under moral subjectivism.

  154. 154

    faded_glory said:

    You are confusing the subjective nature of moral standards with the absence of moral standards altogether.

    No, we are simply pointing out that the only “standard” ultimately available under logically consistent moral subjectivism is “because I feel like it”, and we assume that nobody here considers that standard to be sufficient warrant for intervening in the affairs of others.

    In fact the opposite is true: there are as many moral standards as there a people. If you drill deep enough down, you will always find points of disagreement about moral issues between any two people. No two people agree 100% about absolutely everything. This is prima facie evidence against morality being objective.

    Then, by the same token, the fact that many diverse cultures have developed very similar moral standards is prima facie evidence that morality is an objective commodity even if it is being subjectively interpreted, sometimes erroneously.

    ‘Correcting the behaviours of others’ is what morality is about. Regardless if it is subjective or objective, the concept of morality is about the desire to promote acts that one regards as good, and to prevent acts that one regards as bad.

    The term “correcting” carries with it objectivist perspectives, as if there is some objective standard by which behavior can be judged corect or incorrect. The problem here is that under subjectivism, there is no obective standard; there is only personal preference which is the de facto standard under subjectivism. IOW, once one clears away the obfuscating misuse of terminology, you are saying that “what morality is”, definitionally, is “getting people to behave as you personally prefer they would behave.”, where “correctness” = your personal preference.

    A thorough going subjectivist, just like every other person in the world, will indeed try to correct the behaviour of others when it violates his moral standard.

    Stripped of equivocating language: A thorough-going subjectivist will try to get others to behave as they would personally prefer.” and, I would add, would admit that this is indeed what subjectivist morality is, ultimately; doing whatever one feels like doing in order to get others to behave as they would personally prefer.

    I submit that such a “standard” is itself self-evidently immoral, and so logically disqualifies “moral subjectivism” as even a possible worldview candidate for grounding one’s morality.

  155. 155
    mike1962 says:

    RDFish: I attempt to convince people to adhere to my moral sense, and they attempt the same with me. I don’t pretend that there is some objective standard that applies to both of us.

    But you act as if you do. You can claim to be a subjectivist all day if you like, and stomp your feet and rub your belly while doing it, but the moment you impose your morals on another you are acting like an objectivist and your subjectivist claim wafts away like an irrelevant vapour.

    That point seems to be lost on you.

    Subjectivists who act like objectivists are in effect objectivists.

    Actions are what counts.

  156. 156
    Phinehas says:

    WJM @ 153:

    It is exactly this kind of clarity in thinking and skill at clearly elucidating difficult concepts that keeps bringing me back to UD. Whether any subjectivists are convinced by your argument or not, it has been argued about as well as it can be. Thank you.

  157. 157
    hrun0815 says:

    Whether any subjectivists are convinced by your argument or not, it has been argued about as well as it can be

    I’m pretty sure most folks can agree on this… but likely with different underlying reasons.

  158. 158
    Box says:

    faded_glory:

    In fact the opposite is true: there are as many moral standards as there a people. If you drill deep enough down, you will always find points of disagreement about moral issues between any two people. No two people agree 100% about absolutely everything. This is prima facie evidence against morality being objective.

    Not necessarily. Consider the abortion debate. I suppose that both sides agree that murder is wrong – no moral disagreement here. However the main issue is that both sides do not agree that abortion is murder.
    IOW disagreement doesn’t always imply different moral standards, it may also point to different world view.

  159. 159
    hrun0815 says:

    Not necessarily. Consider the abortion debate. I suppose that both sides agree that murder is wrong – no moral disagreement here. However not both sides agree that abortion is murder.
    IOW disagreement doesn’t always imply different moral standards, it may also point to different world view.

    Did you simply restate that people have a moral disagreement about whether or not abortion is morally wrong? Does that not mean that there are different moral standards even if both agree that murder is morally wrong?

  160. 160
    Phinehas says:

    Piotr:

    How do you distinguish someone whose morality is objectively superior from someone who only thinks so?

    This certainly is a challenge for the objectivist, but at least it is a challenge that they can undertake whilst remaining logically consistent.

    On the other hand, the subjectivist can only assert or assume that their own personal preferences are superior to others, else how can they justify enforcing them at all? Even setting aside the issue with everyone’s personal preferences somehow being superior to everyone else’s, this leaves them in a very tricky position.

    In order to be logically consistent, either they must 1) say that it is not only perfectly acceptable, but right for one person to force another to eat vanilla ice cream if one feels really, really strongly about it, or they must admit that 2) feeling really, really strongly about something is not enough to justify one person violating the liberty of another by resorting to compulsion. (Where one might get a right to liberty in the first place is a different, though not wholly unrelated, question.)

    But if feeling really, really strongly about something is not enough for the subjectivist, then what is?

    Here is where the subjectivist will attempt to smuggle some sort of objectivity into the argument. According to this line of thinking, the subjectivist isn’t acting merely on personal preference, but upon moral preference. Evidently, moral preference differs from personal preference chiefly in that it somehow confers something that looks an awful lot like objective superiority upon the one holding a certain moral preference (but not on the one holding the opposite moral preference). How else to describe the difference?

    From whence this objectivity? Perhaps, if only one can gather enough subjectivity together in one place, objectivity is bound to emerge sooner or later. Just so.

  161. 161
    Box says:

    hrun0815 #159,

    I’m saying that disagreement on abortion can be rooted in world view rather than moral standard.

    edit:
    Hrun: Did you simply restate that people have a moral disagreement about whether or not abortion is morally wrong?
    I’m saying that there is no moral disagreement, rather there is disagreement on what abortion is.

  162. 162
    Phinehas says:

    HR:

    I’m pretty sure most folks can agree on this… but likely with different underlying reasons.

    Of course. The question is whether or not some of those folks can explain their underlying reasons with as much clarity and logical consistency as has WJM.

  163. 163

    If ten witnesses come forth and agree that a particular crime occurred, but vary widely in their description of the supposed perpetrator, is that prima facie evidence that no crime at all occurred, but rather that the whole event was simple the product of the subjective imagination of 10 different people?

    Of course not. Personal experience descriptions of objective events and commodities are often varied and conflicting; that is the nature of the process when an objective commodity is subjectively interpreted via sensory input.

  164. 164
    RDFish says:

    Hi William J Murray,

    We agree that we do not know whether or not objective morality exists, and furthermore that even if objective morality does exist, we do not know what particular moral code might happen to be the objectively true one.

    This means that it is irrational to assume that we do in fact know these things. Subjective morality is not a choice; it is the condition we find ourselves in. If you assume that your morality is objectively true, and I assume my morality is objectively true, we have both made subjective assertions about our moral codes, and neither of these assertions can be justified as being true.

    In order for a belief to be considered knowledge, there must be a justification – a reason to think it is true. At the outset you acknowledge that we do not know objective morality, and so it is logically inconsistent from the start to assume that you do know it.

    There are a lot of things I do not know, but must act in life as if those assumptions are true. I’m not pretending that I know the sun will come up in the morning; I’m operating under the assumption that it will do so based on experience.

    This illustrates the problem with your position quite well: We reasonably assume the sun will rise based on experience. The reliable observation of sunrise allows us to justify our expectation that it will continue to rise. In contrast, we have no prior experience of somehow discovering an objective moral code, and therefore we have no justification for assuming that one particular moral code or another is true.

    Similarly, since I actually must act as if morality is objective, giving me moral authority and obligation to intervene in the affairs of others in some cases, I assume morality refers to an objective source.

    You actually must not act as if morality is objective, because as we both know, there is no way to ascertain such a thing. Rather, you must act as if we live in the world we live in; otherwise you are living under an unjustified pretense.

    You claim it is “consistent”, but do not explain how it is “consistent”, and what it is consistent with. Claiming it is logically consistent is not making the case it is logically consistent.

    Subjectivism is consistent in the sense that the subjectivist admits that their own morality is just as subjective as everyone else’s. When a subjectivist admonishes someone else on moral grounds, she is not being inconsistent – she is not assuming an objective truth for her own moral code (this is the charge of objectivists here). Rather, the subjectivist is being honest and acknowledging the facts, while the objectivists attempt to trump others’ morality by a made-up claim (or, as you say, assumption) that their own morality is objectively true.

    You seem to consistently make the same debate error; I argue that if moral subjectivism is true, then morality = personal preferences and your only available principle of justification is “because I feel like it”.

    Let me point this out, although it is not directly germane to our debate: You insist on calling our moral sense a preference, or say it is “because I feel like it” – something that is like a whim, a transient mood. This is why I say you fail to understand the nature of moral sentiments in human beings. Contrary to your characterization, the moral sense is a perception – an involuntary reaction to particular circumstances. You can ascertain this for yourself by taking a clear moral precept (it is wrong to torture babies for pleasure) and attempting to change your mind about that. There are some people who can do this; they are called “psychopaths”. Normal people cannot do this, which explains why there is so much concordance among people’s moral stances.

    You counter, essentially, by stating that if subjectivism is true (whereas you say the objectivist is “falsely declaring” or “pretending”, which establishes a subjectivist point of view assumption) then, you argue, objectivists are factually doing the same thing as subjectivists.

    You’re mistaken here as well: As I’ve explained a number of times above, the subjectivist need not show that no objective morality exists. Subjectivism is justified by something you have already conceded: Even if objective morality does somehow exist, nobody can objectively say what it might be. This means that all we have are subjective ideas about right and wrong – there is no alternative available, as much as we might wish otherwise.

    RDF: The problem is that you can’t change this by falsely declaring that your own particular morals are somehow known to be objectively true.
    WJM: Once again, you are making a categorical mistake in your response by assuming morality **is** subjective in nature.

    Once again, I am doing no such thing. What I said was that you are falsely declaring (or assuming) that some particular moral code is somehow known to be objectively true. In contrast, I am not assuming that morality **is** subjective in nature; I am observing that we have no justification for saying any particular moral code is objectively true. And I am correct in this – as you’ve already acknowledged.

    IOW, if “rightness” = strongly felt personal preferences, then a stronglly felt personal preference cannot be wrong, because it is the very definition of “what is right” under moral subjectivism. You cannot have it both ways, either “what is right to do” is defined as “strongly felt personal preference”, or something else, outside of the category of “strongly felt personal personal preference”, defines what is and is not moral to do.

    This mistake is made over and over again here by you and others, because you are so accustomed to your assumption of objective morality that each time you see the word “wrong” you read it as “objectively wrong”.

    We both know that there is no objective moral standard that we can objectively determine. We both have a moral sense, and we both experience strong reactions to acts we perceive as being immoral. We both call these acts “wrong”. When I say that word, I mean “I experience a strong negative reaction to that act”. When you say that word, you mean “I am assuming that this act violates an objective moral code, however I cannot justify my assumption, but I am unsatisfied with saying that my reaction is subjective, and desire that some transcendent authority give my particular moral perceptions greater weight”.

    Under subjectivism, one’s moral “feelings” are assumed to be entirely subjective personal preferences. Under objectivism, moral “feelings” are assumed to represent a sensory capacity where an objective commodity is being sensed.

    The subjectivist perceives facts about the situation at hand, and subjectively perceives a moral value associated with the acts involved. Similarly, we perceive complex information about a visual scene (including reflected light, ambient light, contrasts, psychological expectations, and other factors) and subjectively form a perception of color. Our perception of color is not voluntary, nor a “personal preference” – it is a perception. Likewise with our moral sense.

    The objectivist does the exact same thing, but goes on to make claims (or assumptions) about something outside of themselves which tells them what the correct moral perception is supposed to be. This is like claiming (or assuming) that one particular experience of color is the objectively correct one, and is determined by something outside of our retinas and visual cortex. It may be true – I can’t prove it isn’t – but we have no objective way of determining that this is the case, nor any objective way to determine what particular experience of color is objectively correct.

    Even if one is in error about what they sense to be objectively wrong, their action is still logically justifiable;

    There is no logical justification for making unfounded assumptions about the objective truth of some moral code and then insisting that others take your word for it.

    If you agree that “because I feel like it” or “because I strongly prefer it” are not suitable foundational principles for any morality, then make your case about what other principle is available – ultimately – under moral subjectivism.

    You are asking for an objective justification for something that is not objectively knowable – that justification obviously does not exist. I am asking you to acknowledge that we are all in the same boat, and simply assuming that one particular moral perception is the objectively correct one does not make anyone more logical, more justified, or more consistent.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  165. 165
    Phinehas says:

    RDF:

    I attempt to convince people to adhere to my moral sense…

    Convincing isn’t really the issue though. Compulsion is, as you rightly admit (sort of) below.

    The subjectivist is entirely consistent, holding that there is no objective moral standard, acting in a manner consistent with their own moral sense, and attempting to force others to do the same (without pretending that others are bound by some objective moral code).

    This only works because of the ambiguity in your, “to do the same.”

    If “to do the same” means “to do that which I feel strongly about,” then you aren’t really being consistent, since you are elevating your own feelings above theirs. Your moral view is being given special treatment as opposed to their moral view.

    If “to do the same” means “acting in a manner consistent with their own moral sense,” then you are being consistent, but you are describing something that is completely at odds with how people behave and what you’ve previously revealed about your own view on morality.

  166. 166
    Phinehas says:

    RDF:

    Contrary to your characterization, the moral sense is a perception…

    OK. Now, what is it that you think you are perceiving? An internal preference? Or something that is objectively true?

  167. 167
    Phinehas says:

    RDF:

    Even if objective morality does somehow exist, nobody can objectively say what it might be.

    I don’t think that you can even come close to supporting this assertion. After all, torturing puppies for fun is wrong, wrong, wrong! For everyone, everywhere, all the time. Right?

  168. 168
    Phinehas says:

    RDF:

    Subjectivism is consistent in the sense that the subjectivist admits that their own morality is just as subjective as everyone else’s.

    You appear to be conflating these two concepts:

    (1) Objective morality exists, but you cannot convince me in any objective way concerning its details.

    (2) Objective morality doesn’t exist.

    You have not demonstrated or supported the jump from (1) to (2), yet when you say that everyone’s morality is just as subjective as everyone else’s, you are basically claiming (2) even though you may pretend you are only claiming (1).

  169. 169
    RDFish says:

    Hi Phinehas,

    This only works because of the ambiguity in your, “to do the same.”
    If “to do the same” means “to do that which I feel strongly about,” then you aren’t really being consistent, since you are elevating your own feelings above theirs. Your moral view is being given special treatment as opposed to their moral view.

    I am putting my interests – or the interests of others – ahead of the person I disagree with, but I am not claiming that my moral sense is objectively correct, as much as I’d like to, because it isn’t possible to know that.

    If “to do the same” means “acting in a manner consistent with their own moral sense,” then you are being consistent, but you are describing something that is completely at odds with how people behave and what you’ve previously revealed about your own view on morality.

    Sorry I don’t understand this. I act in accordance with my moral sense, just as you do.

    Contrary to your characterization, the moral sense is a perception…

    OK. Now, what is it that you think you are perceiving? An internal preference? Or something that is objectively true?

    Read my analogy to color perception. In both cases, we take in all sorts of information (objective facts) about the circumstance, and form a perception inside our heads. As far as we can tell, “color” exists only inside our heads; in the world is only wavelengths of light, reflections, contrasts, and so on. As far as we can tell, “morality” exists only inside our heads, too – in the world is only charity, torture, and so on.

    RDF:Even if objective morality does somehow exist, nobody can objectively say what it might be.
    PH: I don’t think that you can even come close to supporting this assertion.

    It’s not my burden of proof, obviously: If you think you can establish that one particular moral code is objectively true, please tell us how you manage to do that.

    After all, torturing puppies for fun is wrong, wrong, wrong! For everyone, everywhere, all the time. Right?

    That’s certainly how it appears to me. How about you?

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  170. 170
    Silver Asiatic says:

    SA: Your own system, however, permits anyone to say that torture is a morally good act. Within subjectivism, you have to accept that.

    RDFish: This is completely confused. My moral system does not permit anyone to do anything. Rather, it observes that morality is subjective. You pretend that your morality is objective, but it isn’t.

    I don’t know what your moral system is, but within the moral system of subjectivism, an individual is permitted to state for himself, for example, that loving his family is a good moral act. He is permitted to state that torturning puppies is immoral.

    Subjectivism permits this. To permit is synonymous with “does not forbid”. Subjectivism allows each individual to create his own moral code – and that code must be based on the individual’s subjective reasons and not because of the value of an external authority.

    It’s a morally good act for anyone who declares it to be so.

    Who thinks that?

    Every person who accepts the subjectivist moral system thinks that. Whatever the individual determines is morally good or bad, is in fact, morally good or bad for that person. Subjectivism does not impose or assign moral values to any human act.

    If somebody said they perceived the sky as orange, would you be bound to agree they are correct?

    I would be bound to accept that they said that, unless I thought they were lying.
    But you’re merely offering skepticism about the interpretation of any sensory input.

    First, there are all sorts of objective facts that determine which acts people consider immoral.

    Again, you’re twisting it. As I said, there are no objective measurements that determine which acts are immoral. You added “which people consider” immoral. We can go farther and notice you’re claiming that ethics is objective, but that the sky is blue is not.

    If morality is based on objective facts, then subjectivism would be a false moral system.

    We also have no explanation for why I find torturing puppies to be morally reprehensible.

    With this it would seem that you have no explanation for why you act in certain ways. You cannot explain why you would do one thing and avoid another. As you seemed to say before, you claim to have no choice in the matter.

    If this was true for everyone, then any human act would be justified since the person cculd not explain why he did it, and is not free to change his moral ideas.

    This would say something about criminal rehabilitation, moral education and reform.

  171. 171
    RDFish says:

    Hi Phinehas,

    You appear to be conflating these two concepts:

    (1) Objective morality exists, but you cannot convince me in any objective way concerning its details.

    (2) Objective morality doesn’t exist.

    You have not demonstrated or supported the jump from (1) to (2), yet when you say that everyone’s morality is just as subjective as everyone else’s, you are basically claiming (2) even though you may pretend you are only claiming (1).

    Read what I’ve written more carefully. What I’m saying is that (1) We do not know if objective morality exists, and (2) Even if it does, we cannot objectively determine what it is.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  172. 172

    RDFish said:

    We agree that we do not know whether or not objective morality exists, and furthermore that even if objective morality does exist, we do not know what particular moral code might happen to be the objectively true one.

    This means that it is irrational to assume that we do in fact know these things.

    One needn’t subscribe to the idea that they “know” which moral statements are factual representations of “the truth” any more than an eyewitness of any event held to be an objective occurrence must insist they “know” what the truth is behind what they have observed. It is rationally consistent to say “To the best of my ability to honestly report, I observed X, but I admit it is possible I may be mistaken.”

    Subjective morality is not a choice; it is the condition we find ourselves in. If you assume that your morality is objectively true, and I assume my morality is objectively true, we have both made subjective assertions about our moral codes, and neither of these assertions can be justified as being true.

    I don’t attempt to justify objective morality as being true because I do not claim it is true. I’m claiming that it is the only premise that yields a logically consistent moral system that is compatible with how we actually behave. Whether it is true in the sense of factually being the state of affairs we find ourselves in or not is entirely irrelevant to the argument.

    I do, however, want to disabuse you of another terminological equivocation; when you say:

    Subjective morality is not a choice; it is the condition we find ourselves in.”

    You are again conflating two entirely different meanings by using the same term, such as you did before with the term “feelings”. You are conflating two categorically different uses of the term “subjective”.

    In one use of the term subjective, a person is referring solely to internal feelings. In another use of the term subjective, one is referring to the individual sensing and interpreting of objectively existent phenomena. The word “subjective” is used for both categories of experience, but they refer to two fundamentally different categories of experience which lead to fundamentally different types of behavior and fundamentally different sets of rights, obligations and justifications used to explain such behavior.

    In order for a belief to be considered knowledge, there must be a justification – a reason to think it is true. At the outset you acknowledge that we do not know objective morality, and so it is logically inconsistent from the start to assume that you do know it.

    I haven’t claimed to know that objective morality is true. Nor have I argued such.

    we do not know what particular moral code might happen to be the objectively true one.

    As with any observation/experience, we are subject to misinterpretation and mistake.

    We both know that there is no objective moral standard that we can objectively determine.

    Again, your use of terms is sloppy and leads to sloppy assertions and conclusions.

    As individuals, none of us can “objectively” determine anything, because it all passes through our individual senses, interpretation and mental faculties. We do our best to determine what appears to us (again, subjectively) to be mutually, even near-universally-agreed means of quantifying objective commodities; but nothing escapes Plato’s cave of fundamentally subjective experience.

    What we each do is subjectively examine what we hold to be objectively existent commodities and come to agreements about the proposed objective nature of such things. However, it could all be a subjective, internal delusion and nothing more.

    So I disagree with you here due to your improper use of terminology.

    I am observing that we have no justification for saying any particular moral code is objectively true.

    Your ongoing mistake here is insisting even after correction that I am making an argument about whether or not we can justify a belief that objective morality is factually true.

    This mistake is made over and over again here by you and others, because you are so accustomed to your assumption of objective morality that each time you see the word “wrong” you read it as “objectively wrong”.

    No such mistake is being made. I’ve pointed out that if “wrong” doesn’t mean “wrong according to some objective standard” as you insist, then that necessarily indicates that “wrong” = “personal preference” and nothing more. You validate that point when you say:

    When I say that word [wrong – WJM], I mean “I experience a strong negative reaction to that act”

    You go on:

    When you say that word, you mean: I am assuming that this act violates an objective moral code, however I cannot justify my assumption, but I am unsatisfied with saying that my reaction subjective, and desire that some transcendent authority give my particular moral perceptions greater weight”.

    Incorrect. Let me apprise you of what I mean by way of how, over the years, I came to adopt the premise of an objective morality after being an atheistic materialist for many years:

    When I say the word wrong, I mean: “I experience a strong negative reaction to that act (just like you, only my introspection about it doesn’t end there). That negative reaction is either (1) entirely an internal feeling based on entirely subjective personal preference, or it is (2) a sensory capacity through which I am observing/experiencing an external objective commodity, even if imperfectly.

    “Now, which theory best describes how I actually act with regard to moral experience? If they are but subjective, personal preferences, why do some of them compel me to act even when it may put my own safety and well-being at risk? Why would such a subjective feeling obligate me to intervene in the affairs of others? How would “because I feel like it” possibly justify such behavior without being utterly hypocritical? What right have I to act on such feelings towards others even if they are really strongly felt?”

    “If I adopt the idea that morality is a purely subjective feeling without any necessary consequences, can I not then train myself to not interfere in the acts of others, and also train myself to be more free (like Bundy) to not be inhibited by mere personal feelings in my day to day life? Or would do I experience that as itself “wrong”?

    “Since I do not know which is true – subjective morality or objective morality – then I must logically adopt the premise that doesn’t lead to such irrational self-conflictions and hypocrisies. Not that I know it is true, but rather it is the only premise that makes any sense in describing my actual experience.”

    Next, in your attempt to equivocate your way out of the “because I feel like it” box you are in (and already agreed to on more than one occasion above), you reverse your argument and agree with everything I have argued by saying that our moral sense is a perception we cannot change because we feel like it, like the perception of color, and thus categorically different from “personal preferences”:

    Our perception of color is not voluntary, nor a “personal preference” – it is a perception. Likewise with our moral sense.

    All physical characteristics of any commodity held to be objectively existent are described via sensory perceptions. Because our mind interprets light wavelengths as color doesn’t change the fact that the “color”, or technically the electromagnetic wavelength reflected by the commodity, is considered a characteristic of the object itself and not an entirely subjective commodity.

    IF morality was comparable to color perception (and that is exactly my argument), then there would be an actual commodity “out there” that is sending an actual signal to us that we are receiving through an actual sensory capacity to do so and interpreting the results in our mind/brain. This would mean that morality is an actual sensory capacity that recieves an actual moral signal from the world “out there”.

    You kind of did yourself in with that comparison.

    There is no logical justification for making unfounded assumptions about the objective truth of some moral code and then insisting that others take your word for it.

    Again, I’m not making an argument about “truth”, but in any event, I don’t insist anyone “take my word for it”. They have moral eyes, as your comparison indicates, and they have reason. I expect them to figure it out for themselves.

  173. 173
    mike1962 says:

    RDFish: You pretend that your morality is objective, but it isn’t.

    So do you whenever you support the efforts to enforce your morality on others. At least objectivists are consistent, since they believe their morality is objective.

    As a subjectivist, on what basis do you presume to enforce your morality on others when they disagree with you?

  174. 174
    RDFish says:

    I’d like to say that I appreciate everyone’s sincere and civil debating!

  175. 175
    RDFish says:

    Hi Silver Asiatic,

    SA: Your own system, however, permits anyone to say that torture is a morally good act. Within subjectivism, you have to accept that.

    RDFish: This is completely confused. My moral system does not permit anyone to do anything. Rather, it observes that morality is subjective. You pretend that your morality is objective, but it isn’t.

    SA: I don’t know what your moral system is, but within the moral system of subjectivism, an individual is permitted to state for himself, for example, that loving his family is a good moral act. He is permitted to state that torturning puppies is immoral.

    Let’s clarify here: There is nothing about subjectivism that talks about what people are permitted to do or not to do; rather, it is simply the claim that there is no standard of morality that exists outside of people’s own perceptions or judgements. The concept of “forbidding” or “permitting” is not part of the subjectivist position at all. And while I do believe that it is the case that no objective moral standard exists (I actually find the concept of objective morality to be incoherent), here I am actually arguing a weaker position, which is that even if there somehow existed an objective moral standard, there is no objective method by which human beings can discern what this standard might be.

    Subjectivism permits this. To permit is synonymous with “does not forbid”. Subjectivism allows each individual to create his own moral code – and that code must be based on the individual’s subjective reasons and not because of the value of an external authority.

    I do not believe this is what people do at all – neither subjectivists nor objectivists. Like most people (outside of philosophers), I have never sat down and attempted to “create a moral code” based on reason. We cannot reason our way to a moral code, because reason does not ultimately tell us what to find morally acceptable or repugnant. Rather, I observe that I have a moral sense, and I observe that most everyone else has a moral sense too (except for psychopaths).

    Whatever the individual determines is morally good or bad, is in fact, morally good or bad for that person.

    In order not to equivocate between objective and subjective statements, I would say that subjectivists experience their own perceptions regarding morality, and observe that the same is true of people who call themselves “objectivists”.

    Subjectivism does not impose or assign moral values to any human act.

    That is correct.

    RDF: If somebody said they perceived the sky as orange, would you be bound to agree they are correct?
    SA: I would be bound to accept that they said that, unless I thought they were lying.

    Very well. Saying that puppy torture is wrong is in a way analogous to saying the sky is blue. The wrongness of puppy torture and the blueness of the sky are our perceptions – they exist inside our heads, not outside in the world. There are things that affect our perceptions: In the case of color, they include wavelengths of light, contrasts, psychological expectations, and so on; in the case of morality they include reciprocity, suffering, happiness, and so on. But the perception of color (or, say, beauty) is not objectively correct or incorrect, and neither is the perception of morality.

    As I said, there are no objective measurements that determine which acts are immoral. You added “which people consider” immoral. We can go farther and notice you’re claiming that ethics is objective, but that the sky is blue is not.

    Sorry, I lost you here. Again: There are objective facts that influence – but do not determine – our perception of color, beauty, and morality. In each case the ultimate determining factors are subjective, because they are our internal nature, inside our own heads.

    If morality is based on objective facts, then subjectivism would be a false moral system.

    That is correct. But morality is not determined by objective facts.

    We also have no explanation for why I find torturing puppies to be morally reprehensible.

    That’s right in the same sense as we have no explanation for why I see the sky as blue or Angelina Jolie as beautiful. We can talk about wavelengths and chromatic opposition and contrasts and so on, or facial symmetry and smoothness and feature proportions and so on, but these objective factors do not actually account for my subjective perceptions of color or beauty (we can always ask, “Why are those particular combinations of features seen as beautiful?). Likewise I can point to the suffering of innocent and sentient creatures, but those factros do not actually account for my subjective perception of (im)morality (we can always ask, “Why are those particular combinations of factors seen as (im)moral?”).

    With this it would seem that you have no explanation for why you act in certain ways. You cannot explain why you would do one thing and avoid another. As you seemed to say before, you claim to have no choice in the matter.

    Of course we choose what we do, but we do not choose what we find to be orange, beautiful, or moral. And we can talk about things that influence our perceptions, but we cannot ultimately account for them, other than at some point to say, “That is how I see it!”.

    If this was true for everyone, then any human act would be justified since the person cculd not explain why he did it, and is not free to change his moral ideas.

    I don’t believe that this justifies any human act, and I don’t see why you think it does.

    This would say something about criminal rehabilitation, moral education and reform.

    I agree there are implications from moral theory to these issues, but that’s another discussion.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  176. 176
    RDFish says:

    Hi William J Murray,

    One needn’t subscribe to the idea that they “know” which moral statements are factual representations of “the truth” any more than an eyewitness of any event held to be an objective occurrence must insist they “know” what the truth is behind what they have observed. It is rationally consistent to say “To the best of my ability to honestly report, I observed X, but I admit it is possible I may be mistaken.”

    To be mistaken, there must be an objectively correct answer that one’s answer can be compared to. Since we have no way of ascertaining an objectively true moral answer, nor even if one exists, nobody can be said to “honestly” think that their moral judgements are objectively correct. All anyone can say is “This is what I subjectively perceive to be moral”. Hence, subjectivism.

    I don’t attempt to justify objective morality as being true because I do not claim it is true.

    OK, I understand. (Other readers may wish to note that WJM’s objectivism differs from yours on this point!)

    I’m claiming that it is the only premise that yields a logically consistent moral system that is compatible with how we actually behave.

    I understand that is what you claim, and I counter that simply because you feel it would be preferable for us to have an objective moral standard does not justify assuming its existence. You attempt to frame this as a matter of logical consistency, but that is not the case; as I’ve shown, the subjectivist makes no illogical or inconsistent assertions. Rather, I believe your own moral sense is perturbed by the actual state of affairs, and compels you toward a belief in something without any epistemological justification.

    In one use of the term subjective, a person is referring solely to internal feelings. In another use of the term subjective, one is referring to the individual sensing and interpreting of objectively existent phenomena.

    When I say “subjective”, I am referring to something internal to the subject, but I am not necessarily referring to internal “feelings”, unless you would say that a perception of color or of beauty is a “feeling”. Color and beauty are not independent of objectively existing phenomena, but neither do they exist outside of the subject.

    RDF: We both know that there is no objective moral standard that we can objectively determine.
    WJM: Again, your use of terms is sloppy and leads to sloppy assertions and conclusions.

    I don’t think the problem is my sloppiness. Rather, it is your failure to understand that we perceive morality in a way that is analogous to how we perceive color or beauty. These perceptions are subjective, but not independent of objective reality. There is no objective standard that we objectively know of for how we should perceive beauty, and there is no objective standard that we objectively know of for how we should perceive morality. I think that is quite clear.

    As individuals, none of us can “objectively” determine anything, because it all passes through our individual senses, interpretation and mental faculties. We do our best to determine what appears to us (again, subjectively) to be mutually, even near-universally-agreed means of quantifying objective commodities; but nothing escapes Plato’s cave of fundamentally subjective experience. What we each do is subjectively examine what we hold to be objectively existent commodities and come to agreements about the proposed objective nature of such things. However, it could all be a subjective, internal delusion and nothing more.

    We agree on this.

    So I disagree with you here due to your improper use of terminology.

    There is nothing improper about my terminology. The problem derives from the well-known difficulties in saying what makes anything objective (which you have just described). That is why I have provided analogies to other things we perceive, such as color and beauty. When I say Angelina Jolie is beautiful, I am not suggesting that she matches an objectively existing standard. Likewise, when I say puppy torture is wrong, I am not being inconsistent in any way, and I mean that I subjectively experience that act as wrong.

    Let me apprise you of what I mean by way of how, over the years, I came to adopt the premise of an objective morality after being an atheistic materialist for many years:

    When I say the word wrong, I mean: “I experience a strong negative reaction to that act (just like you, only my introspection about it doesn’t end there). That negative reaction is either (1) entirely an internal feeling based on entirely subjective personal preference, or it is (2) a sensory capacity through which I am observing/experiencing an external objective commodity, even if imperfectly.

    Let us use the beauty analogy to clarify this. When you experience the sight of something you consider beautiful, is this enirely an internal feeling or a sensory capacity through which I am observing/experiencing an external objective commodity, even if imperfectly?

    “Now, which theory best describes how I actually act with regard to moral experience? If they are but subjective, personal preferences, why do some of them compel me to act even when it may put my own safety and well-being at risk? Why would such a subjective feeling obligate me to intervene in the affairs of others? How would “because I feel like it” possibly justify such behavior without being utterly hypocritical? What right have I to act on such feelings towards others even if they are really strongly felt?”

    Here you are conflating two different sorts of questions. First, you ask what compels us to act on our moral sentiments, even when it is difficult or dangerous to do so, and second, you ask what justifies us to do so. The answer is the same for both, though: There are no objectively discernable explanations or justifications for our behaviors. Why are we motivated to have sex with people we find attractive, even though it may entail risks? Why do we risk our lives to climb mountains or land on the moon? Is there some objective standard that tells us we ought to do these things (or not)? No, there isn’t. I am not motivated to fly to the moon (why? I don’t know) but I am motivated to have sex with attractive women, and I am also highly motivated to stand up for others who suffer injustice, even if it entails risk and cost to myself. Why? I don’t know, but I can’t deny that I am. Maybe it’s because in my subconscious I think this will make me more desireable to attractive women who will then decide to have sex with me… but I don’t think that’s the reason. But I could be wrong.

    “If I adopt the idea that morality is a purely subjective feeling without any necessary consequences, can I not then train myself to not interfere in the acts of others, and also train myself to be more free (like Bundy) to not be inhibited by mere personal feelings in my day to day life?

    I don’t understand. If it is possible to train ourselves in this way, why couldn’t one do this without adopting the idea that morality is subjective? If I am going to choose to “train myself” to ignore my moral sentiments, why wouldn’t I ignore some objective standard of morality – one that I can’t even demonstrate exists?!

    “Since I do not know which is true – subjective morality or objective morality…

    No, this is not the question. Rather, look at what we already have agreed is true: We cannot objectively discern any objective morality by which we ought to live, period. Any assumption, then, of some particular morality is nothing but a personal choice (a “preference”, as you say). Living by an objective moral standard is simply not an option available to us.

    … – then I must logically adopt the premise that doesn’t lead to such irrational self-conflictions and hypocrisies. Not that I know it is true, but rather it is the only premise that makes any sense in describing my actual experience.

    On the contrary, my actual experience dictates that to live in good faith I must admit (as you do) that we have no objectively accessible morality, and thus I have no choice but to do what I perceive as right.

    Next, in your attempt to equivocate your way out of the “because I feel like it” box you are in (and already agreed to on more than one occasion above), you reverse your argument and agree with everything I have argued by saying that our moral sense is a perception we cannot change because we feel like it, like the perception of color, and thus categorically different from “personal preferences”:

    Sorry, but I think you’ve lost the thread here. I have never reversed any of my arguments of course. I have made distinctions between involuntary perceptions and deliberate choices, and between senses and preferences, but I’ve also explained repeatedly that my argument does not rest on these distinctions. I’ve simply pointed out that if you think of our moral sense the way you think of our ice cream preferences, you fail to understand some basic aspects of human experience.

    Because our mind interprets light wavelengths as color doesn’t change the fact that the “color”, or technically the electromagnetic wavelength reflected by the commodity, is considered a characteristic of the object itself and not an entirely subjective commodity.

    You don’t understand color perception I’m afraid. You can research the topic (it is very interesting, actually), or take my word for the fact that wavelength does not alone determine color perception (other complex factors, even including psychological expectations and experience, play a role). In any event, rather than debate that topic, you can think about our appreciation of beauty, rather than color.

    RDF: IF morality was comparable to color perception (and that is exactly my argument), then there would be an actual commodity “out there” that is sending an actual signal to us that we are receiving through an actual sensory capacity to do so and interpreting the results in our mind/brain. This would mean that morality is an actual sensory capacity that recieves an actual moral signal from the world “out there”.
    WJM: You kind of did yourself in with that comparison.

    Again, your mistake here derives from the fact that you don’t know anything about color perception. It is a favorite of philosophers of mind for several reasons, including the complex and incomplete mapping between properties that we consider objective (such as wavelength or chromatic opposition) and others we don’t (such as past experience with colored objects). Again, the relationship between objective facts and subjective perceptions is probably clearer for you if you think about beauty than color.

    Again, I’m not making an argument about “truth”, but in any event, I don’t insist anyone “take my word for it”. They have moral eyes, as your comparison indicates, and they have reason. I expect them to figure it out for themselves.

    Well, William, this is in fact what we all do. Even those who (unlike you) pretend that they do know what moral code is objectively true, in the end, rely on the same moral sense that I do when we decide how to act. We are all subjectivists – we all rely on our (necessarily subjective) moral sense to know right from wrong.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  177. 177
    RDFish says:

    Hi Mike1962,

    RDF: You pretend that your morality is objective, but it isn’t.
    MIKE: So do you whenever you support the efforts to enforce your morality on others.

    No, I don’t. I say that I am attempting to enforce my (subjective) morality on others of course.

    At least objectivists are consistent, since they believe their morality is objective.

    Actually WJM here (who I think is probably the most articulate expositor of objectivism here) disagrees with you – he denies that we can know that morality is objective, and argues only that we ought to assume it is. It is not consistent to act as though you know objective morals when you in fact cannot.

    As a subjectivist, on what basis do you presume to enforce your morality on others when they disagree with you?

    Because I choose to put the interests of myself and others ahead of those with moral sentiments that conflict with mine – just like you do.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  178. 178
    Phinehas says:

    RDF:

    I am putting my interests – or the interests of others – ahead of the person I disagree with, but I am not claiming that my moral sense is objectively correct, as much as I’d like to, because it isn’t possible to know that.

    Right. You are not claiming that your moral sense is objectively correct, you are just acting as though your moral sense is objectively correct. (Your actions–though not your claims–are indistinguishable from those of a person who believes they are objectively correct.) In this, you are not being logically consistent.

    As far as we can tell, “color” exists only inside our heads; in the world is only wavelengths of light, reflections, contrasts, and so on.

    OK. We subjectively experience what may well be (you go further with a declarative about what “is”) an objective reality. We act in a manner that is indistinguishable from how someone who believes in an objective reality would act. Our actions are consistent with a belief in an objective reality even though our experience is subjective. Are you claiming that we should all be subjectivists when it comes to reality as well as morality, since all of these are perceptions? If not, then you appear to be multiplying your inconsistencies.

    RDF:Even if objective morality does somehow exist, nobody can objectively say what it might be.

    PH: I don’t think that you can even come close to supporting this assertion.

    RDF: It’s not my burden of proof, obviously…

    Since it is your assertion, exactly who else do you think ought to bear the burden of proving it?

    What I’m saying is that (1) We do not know if objective morality exists, and (2) Even if it does, we cannot objectively determine what it is.

    Are you sure you are not adding (3) So only subjective morality exists? It seems like you are trying to go from (1) We do not know whether objective morality exists or does not exist, to (3) So only subjective morality exists. You appear to be trying to use (2) to get there, but I don’t think it can do the job without resorting to equivocation. All you can really say is that you do not know whether objective morality exists or does not exist. Full stop.

    But this is all beside the point, because the argument is not about whether objective reality exists or not, but about whether one’s actions are consistent with the existence of an objective reality or not. Anyone enforcing their morality on others is acting in a manner that is consistent with the existence of an objective morality, and not consistent with a subjective morality.

  179. 179
    Phinehas says:

    RDF:

    To be mistaken, there must be an objectively correct answer that one’s answer can be compared to. Since we have no way of ascertaining an objectively true moral answer, nor even if one exists, nobody can be said to “honestly” think that their moral judgements are objectively correct. All anyone can say is “This is what I subjectively perceive to be moral”. Hence, subjectivism.

    Can anyone “honestly” think that wavelengths of light actually exist in an objective kind of way? Why does your argument work for morality, but not reality?

  180. 180
    Phinehas says:

    RDF:

    Actually WJM here (who I think is probably the most articulate expositor of objectivism here) disagrees with you – he denies that we can know that morality is objective, and argues only that we ought to assume it is. It is not consistent to act as though you know objective morals when you in fact cannot.

    I would guess WJM’s beliefs are a bit more nuanced, but I’ll let him argue that case if he so desires.

    I certainly wouldn’t want to defend a claim about what someone (and especially Someone) cannot know. I tend to agree with G. K. Chesterton that it seems strange to suppose that we know enough about the unknown to know that it is unknowable.

  181. 181
    Phinehas says:

    RDF:

    …he denies that we can know that morality is objective, and argues only that we ought to assume it is…

    (I don’t think this is what WJM believes, so I am addressing this to RDF and not WJM.)

    Are the only two options to either know that morality is objective or to assume that it is? Or (as seems typical of anti-IDers) are you leaving out the possibility that evidence could lead one to make an inference to the best explanation without requiring of them either perfect knowledge or pure assumption?

  182. 182
    RDFish says:

    Hi Phinehas,

    You are not claiming that your moral sense is objectively correct, you are just acting as though your moral sense is objectively correct.

    No, I am not.

    (Your actions–though not your claims–are indistinguishable from those of a person who believes they are objectively correct.)

    Yes, this is true, but that doesn’t mean I’m being inconsistent of course. The truth is, the objectivist is doing exactly what I’m doing: Attempting to make others conform to their own subjective moral sentiments. The difference is, I’m aware of it (and honest about it).

    In this, you are not being logically consistent.

    I am being perfectly consistent.

    Are you claiming that we should all be subjectivists when it comes to reality as well as morality, since all of these are perceptions?

    No.

    If not, then you appear to be multiplying your inconsistencies.

    No, there’s not a single one.

    RDF:Even if objective morality does somehow exist, nobody can objectively say what it might be.
    PH: I don’t think that you can even come close to supporting this assertion.
    RDF: It’s not my burden of proof, obviously…
    PH: Since it is your assertion, exactly who else do you think ought to bear the burden of proving it?

    Hahaha. The claim is yours: You say that you can justify a belief in objectively true morality. It thus behooves you to do what you claim to be able to do, which is to say why you think one particular moral code is objectively true.

    Are you sure you are not adding (3) So only subjective morality exists?

    I do believe this to be the case (because (a) I don’t see how invoking a god resolves the issue, and (b) I don’t see any reason to believe in any particular god in the first place). However, my argument here doesn’t depend on this at all. All I am arguing here is that even if an objectively true morality exists, we cannot objectively discern what it might be.

    All you can really say is that you do not know whether objective morality exists or does not exist. Full stop.

    Nope – I repeat, even if an objectively true morality exists, we cannot objectively discern what it might be.

    But this is all beside the point, because the argument is not about whether objective reality exists or not, but about whether one’s actions are consistent with the existence of an objective reality or not.

    I’m going to assume you mean “morality” when you write “reality” here – is that right?

    If so, then actually no, that isn’t really what I was arguing (at least with WJM or SA) about. But fine, we can talk about that too. I suppose that everybody’s actions are consistent with the existence of an objective morality. Then again, our actions are consistent with the existence of an invisible unicorn in my pocket – but these consistencies don’t tell us anything about the existence of either thing.

    Anyone enforcing their morality on others is acting in a manner that is consistent with the existence of an objective morality, and not consistent with a subjective morality.

    No, it is perfectly consistent with the latter as well, as long as the subjectivist doesn’t attempt to justify their actions by saying their morality is objectively true. And I don’t say that.

    Can anyone “honestly” think that wavelengths of light actually exist in an objective kind of way?

    Sure – I do, for example. [edited to add: Wavelengths of light objectively exist. Our experience of color does not exist objectively, nor is it actually determined solely by wavelengths of light – see my reply on WJM on the matter of color perception.]

    Why does your argument work for morality, but not reality?

    I don’t understand your question, sorry.

    I would guess WJM’s beliefs are a bit more nuanced, but I’ll let him argue that case if he so desires.

    As he has – see his post @172, where he emphasizes repeatedly that he makes no claims regarding the existence of an objectively true morality.

    I certainly wouldn’t want to defend a claim about what someone (and especially Someone) cannot know. I tend to agree with G. K. Chesterton that it seems strange to suppose that we know enough about the unknown to know that it is unknowable.

    You’ll have to take this up with WJM.

    …he denies that we can know that morality is objective, and argues only that we ought to assume it is…
    (I don’t think this is what WJM believes, so I am addressing this to RDF and not WJM.)

    WJM says, for example, “I don’t attempt to justify objective morality as being true because I do not claim it is true.” He also says, “Your ongoing mistake here is insisting even after correction that I am making an argument about whether or not we can justify a belief that objective morality is factually true.” I think that’s pretty clear.

    Are the only two options to either know that morality is objective or to assume that it is?

    No (neither are my position obviously).

    Or (as seems typical of anti-IDers) are you leaving out the possibility that evidence could lead one to make an inference to the best explanation without requiring of them either perfect knowledge or pure assumption?

    Sorry, I don’t understand what you are saying here. Abduction requires evidence – what evidence do you present for the existence of an objectvely true morality?

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  183. 183

    RDFish:

    To be mistaken, there must be an objectively correct answer that one’s answer can be compared to.

    Now, you don’t have to be able to compare it to an objectively correct answer for you to be wrong. It’s wrong whether you can compare it or not, whether or not you ever find out it’s wrong.

    Since we have no way of ascertaining an objectively true moral answer, nor even if one exists, nobody can be said to “honestly” think that their moral judgements are objectively correct. All anyone can say is “This is what I subjectively perceive to be moral”. Hence, subjectivism.

    We have no way of ascertaining an objectively true statement about anything (Plato’s Cave). All any of us can do wrt making true statements about any phenomena considered to be objective is honestly giving it our best effort using our sensory capacity and logic. I know, as all sane people do, that it is immoral to gratuitously torture children. I hold this to be as true a statement as any statement held to be true about any presumed objective commodity.

    Could I be mistaken? Sure. I could also measure a board several times and still be mistaken about its length. My capacity to be correct or mistaken about an objective commodity doesn’t rely on my capacity to discern its objectively true value.

    But, as I said, this isn’t an argument about whether or not objective morality is true.

    OK, I understand. (Other readers may wish to note that WJM’s objectivism differs from yours on this point!)

    What argument they may be making about “objective morality” – such as, that it exists, or which version is “true” – may be different from the nature of my argument, but that doesn’t mean that our concept of objective morality differs significantly.

    I understand that is what you claim, and I counter that simply because you feel it would be preferable for us to have an objective moral standard does not justify assuming its existence.

    I’ve never made the argument that because I prefer moral objectivism, it is therefore more logical. What a stupid argument that would be.

    I prefer morality to be entirely subjective and I prefer not to have any moral obligations whatsoever so I can do whatever I wish without consideration of any necessary consequences.

    Unfortunately for me, however, I cannot live as I would prefer to live. I know, because I made a several year effort to do just that.

    You attempt to frame this as a matter of logical consistency, but that is not the case; as I’ve shown, the subjectivist makes no illogical or inconsistent assertions.

    My argument is about the logical consistency; that is the case, whether I succeed or not.

    This demonstrates that you don’t comprehend the nature of the argument, or perhaps even what it means to make a logical argument. What do you even mean when you claim you’ve made no “illogical asssertions”…? The logic or illogic of your position would be demonstrated by the conclusions one necessarily infers from a premise, and whether or not those inferences and conclusions match up to how you actually behave. Assertions are not a logical argument.

    During this debate you attempted to justify moral interventions first by saying it was justified by a “strong feeling”. When challenged if a “strong feeling” about vanilla ice cream would morally justify forcing others to eat vanilla, you said no, invalidating your own claim that strong feelings = moral right.

    I pointed out that logically, if strong feeling = moral right, then forcing others to eat vanilla would be morally right if you felt strongly about it. Of course you disagreed, and then attempted to find some other justification, or means of explaining the moral subjectivist perspective better.

    You changed your tack to justifying moral intervention by comparing “moral sense” to the perception of color – something that is not voluntary. When I point out that sensing color is in fact the sensory interpretation of an objectively existent commodity, you attempt to bluff me by saying:

    You don’t understand color perception I’m afraid. You can research the topic (it is very interesting, actually), or take my word for the fact that wavelength does not alone determine color perception (other complex factors, even including psychological expectations and experience, play a role).

    I’m a graphic disigner. Colors have specific wavelength frequencies that can be checked and verified by various devices that must be calibrated in order to correctly measure color values. Our individual color perception is a subjective interpretation of an objectively existent phenomena – electromagnetic wavelengths – which now can be precisely measured and used across platforms even if one is color-blind or has a different psychology than someone else.

    However, I think realizing it was a mistaken venture into the arena of color, you attempt to find something else to compare subjective “moral sense” to in order to find some way to justify moral interventions: beauty.

    But, what have you done here, other than backtrack into a subjective commodity that offers you no justification whatsoever for intervening into the affairs of others? Would you stop a man from buying a painting considers beautiful simply because you do not, and you feel very strongly that you do not?

    Would you justify taking a sculptor’s tools and materials away from him because you disagreed with his idea of beauty? Would you correct a man at a restaurant if he called his wife beautiful and you felt she was not?

    Rather, I believe your own moral sense is perturbed by the actual state of affairs, and compels you toward a belief in something without any epistemological justification.

    The question isn’t what you believe, but whether or not you can offer a principled justification for moral intervention that is not itself immoral.

    If you say you have the right to intervene “because I feel like it” sense, your morality is immoral.

    If you say you have the right to intervene “because I perceive an act to be wrong”, you have offered two different variations on that theme; the perception of beauty, and the perception of color.

    If your friend tells you he needs to paint his house white to be in code or he will be thrown out of the neighborhood, and you notice he is painting his house yellow, intervention is justified because you believe he is objectively using the wrong color of paint. You tell him, “that is the wrong color! You’ll be out of code. I can’t let you paint your house the wrong color or you’ll be thrown out. You must be color-blind or something.” You do not consider it a matter of subjective, internal preference, you must attempt to intervene on behalf of your friend.

    If your friend tells you he wants to buy a beautiful painting and, accompanying him to the gallery he picks up a painting you do not consider beautiful and exclaims “oh, this painting is utterly breathtaking, I must have it!”, do you feel comfortable intervening in his purchase and telling him that he is wrong about the beauty of the painting, and refuse to let him buy it?

    Or, as a friend, do you dismiss your own personal perspective and leave your friend to his own idea of “beauty”, since it is subjective anyway, and it makes him happy to look at what he considers to be a beautiful painting?

    The color version refers to an objectively existent and quantifiable commodity (even though it has not always been so); the beauty version offers no justification for moral interventions that is not itself immoral.

    This is why your logic fails, RDFish. You are flipping around from one stated principle to another, from one comparison to another, because the ones that offer a sound justification for moral intervention refer to objective commodities, and the ones you abandon because they are themselves immoral refer to internal, subjective commodities.

    Once again: how does moral subjectivism justify moral interventions if morality is subjective in nature, in the “beauty” or “personal feelings” sense? That is the logical rebuttal you must make if you wish to meet my argument square on, and have so far failed in doing so.

    What subjectivist-consistent principle justifies moral interventions?

    Mike1962 said:

    At least objectivists are consistent, since they believe their morality is objective.

    To which RDFish responded:

    Actually WJM here (…) disagrees with you – he denies that we can know that morality is objective, and argues only that we ought to assume it is. It is not consistent to act as though you know objective morals when you in fact cannot.

    Mike made no claim that objectivists know morality is objective in nature. One can act as if a thing is true, and believe that it is true, even while admitting they do not know it is true. You don’t have to know the sun will come up in the morning (in fact, unless you can see the future, you cannot know it) to both reasonably believe and and reasonably act as if it will.

    Mike19p62 said:

    As a subjectivist, on what basis do you presume to enforce your morality on others when they disagree with you?

    RDFish responds:

    Because I choose to put the interests of myself and others ahead of those with moral sentiments that conflict with mine – just like you do.

    So, your answer is that your basis for presuming to intervene in the affairs of others is that you put your interests ahead of theirs because theirs conflict with your own?

    Putting your own interests ahead of others and being willing to force your interests on them for no principled reason other than that theirs conflict with your own is pretty much the antithesis of moral behavior. It’s not just immoral, it’s monstrous.

    But, as RDFish has so clearly demonstrated, that is what moral subjectivism logically leads to.

  184. 184
    Silver Asiatic says:

    RDFish

    Of course we choose what we do, but we do not choose what we find to be … moral.

    What we do is based on what we find to be moral.

  185. 185
    RDFish says:

    Hi WJM,

    I will respond to your post a bit later when I have the time to try and make your errors more clear.

    In the meanwhile, I would ask that you not accuse of me of “bluffing”. Your vocation of graphic designer has obviously not required you to understand scientific research into color perception. A quick search came up with this, just as an example:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25323417

    I’m not being inconsistent, I’m not changing my argument, and I’m not bluffing about anything, WJM. I’m trying in good faith to explain to you why I think you are wrong. Please let’s try to continue to debate pleasantly, and give each other the benefit of any doubt.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  186. 186

    BTW, my statements about what we can and cannot “know” depend on how one defines “knowledge”, and to what degree of certainty one crosses that threshold.

    We cannot be certain that morality refers to an objective commodity, but I consider it possible to make a case for sufficient warrant for the reasonable belief that morality refers to an objective commodity.

    I’m not going to make that argument because it doesn’t interest me; however, the case I’m currently making could be used as part of that argument – that the logical necessity of the objectivist premise adds towards sufficient warrant to reasonably believe morality refers to an objective commodity.

  187. 187
    Phinehas says:

    RDF:

    RDF:Even if objective morality does somehow exist, nobody can objectively say what it might be.
    PH: I don’t think that you can even come close to supporting this assertion.
    RDF: It’s not my burden of proof, obviously…
    PH: Since it is your assertion, exactly who else do you think ought to bear the burden of proving it?
    RDF: Hahaha. The claim is yours: You say that you can justify a belief in objectively true morality.

    Hahaha. Where do I say that?

    While you scan the thread frantically for a quote, let me point out that I’ve quoted your assertion above. Either you can support that assertion or you cannot. Evidently, you cannot.

  188. 188

    RDFish, if you have a rebuttal concerning color perception, make your case. Asserting that I don’t understand the nature of color perception and then offering a link with no quotes or explanation as to how you think that link makes a difference in our argument is not sufficient; it may not be a bluff, but that is what it appears to be.

    Please be advised: that there are device/neural and programming/psychological variations/discrepancies that affect color representation/perception doesn’t change the fact that the term “red” refers to a definite, narrow e-m bandwidth which can be objectively measured (inasmuch as anything can be objectively measured).

    One can be objectively wrong about the color of an object; one cannot be wrong about the beauty one finds in a painting. The objective wrongness of a color justifies interventions where color is important; the subjective view that something is not beautiful does not justify intervention in the affairs of someone who hold the opposite view about that thing.

  189. 189
    RDFish says:

    Hi William J Murray,

    Regarding color:

    RDFish, if you have a rebuttal concerning color perception, make your case. Asserting that I don’t understand the nature of color perception and then offering a link with no quotes or explanation as to how you think that link makes a difference in our argument is not sufficient; it may not be a bluff, but that is what it appears to be.

    I asserted in our discussion that color perception depended upon much more than wavelengths of light. I explained that there was a complex and incomplete mapping between properties that we consider objective (such as wavelength or chromatic opposition) and our subjective experience, which includes other factors we consider subjective (such as expectations and past experience with colored objects). I then suggested we talk about beauty rather than color, since I didn’t want to get sidetracked into discussing the extremely complex issue of color perception when the topic here is moral theory.

    You replied by telling me your occupation, and that our subjective experience of color was indeed our interpretation of electromagnetic wavelengths, which can be precisely measured. You proceeded to accuse me of “bluffing” on this point, and that I was attempting to cover for some mistake I had made by offering beauty as a simpler example.

    I replied to your accusation by providing an academic citation for a paper whose abstract read: “To create subjective experience, our brain must translate physical stimulus input by incorporating prior knowledge and expectations. For example, we perceive color and not wavelength information, and this in part depends on our past experience with colored objects ( Hansen et al. 2006; Mitterer and de Ruiter 2008).” This clearly and explicitly refutes your claim that colors are wavelengths that can be measured objectively by an instrument, and clearly and explicitly supports my assertions that many other factors besides wavelength are involved – including clearly subjective factors such as prior experience and expectations. I thought we’d be done with it – and yet you failed to see the relevance of this article (!), and decided to pursue the discussion on this topic. Fine.

    Here is a simple, non-technical article that explains why color is subjective.
    From that article:

    Probably the hardest concept to fully grasp about color is that color is all in your head. Literally. … And–this is the hard part–color is not a property of the thing that’s causing the sensation. In other words, grass is not green and the sky is not blue. Rather, they have physical properties that make you perceive green and blue, but even that’s true only in some circumstances.

    And this doesn’t begin to touch on the complexity (and controversies!) that abound vis-a-vis color perception. There is a huge literature across multiple disciplines (physiology, psychology/cognitive science, and philosophy) that discusses the surprising, complex, and thoroughly subjective nature of color perception.

    One can be objectively wrong about the color of an object

    Colors are not merely objective properties of objects, and some theorists hold that color isn’t a property of objects at all. Despite your insistence, colors are not wavelengths, nor are they our subjective interpretations of wavelengths. Colors are subjective sensations inside our heads, and are affected by many other things besides wavelengths. Some of these things are external to the subject, and some of these things (such as our expectations and memories) are not. One cannot be wrong about what color one is experiencing any more that one can be wrong about what level of enjoyment one is experiencing, or how much beauty one finds in a painting. The fact that in your profession you can simply equate or correlate wavelengths to colors merely shows that your job does not require a sophisticated understanding of the psychology, physiology, or philosophy of color perception.

    So with regard to this issue, you are wrong on every single count – both about color perception and about my actions and motivations in this discussion.

    Let’s move on.

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  190. 190
    RDFish says:

    Hi William J Murray,

    We have no way of ascertaining an objectively true statement about anything (Plato’s Cave). All any of us can do wrt making true statements about any phenomena considered to be objective is honestly giving it our best effort using our sensory capacity and logic. I know, as all sane people do, that it is immoral to gratuitously torture children. I hold this to be as true a statement as any statement held to be true about any presumed objective commodity.

    If you’d like to descend further into epistemology and bring into doubt our ability to ascertain realism itself, that’s fine, but it will end our discussion here. So without entering those muddy waters, let us agree that we both do make distinctions between the objective and subjective all the time, and simply illustrate with examples:

    Objective (independent of mind): light wavelengths, solid objects, laws of thermodynamics, laws of math…
    Subjective (dependent upon mind): color, beauty, taste, pleasure…

    Let us agree that one can be mistaken about the existence, correctness, or truth of the former items, but not of the latter items. Agreed?

    Now, you’ve made clear repeatedly that you are not arguing that morality is known to be a member of the first list (i.e. that it is objective). Rather, you are saying that we should merely assume, for the sake of logical consistency, that it belongs there:

    WJM @172:
    I don’t attempt to justify objective morality as being true because I do not claim it is true. I’m claiming that it is the only premise that yields a logically consistent moral system that is compatible with how we actually behave.

    Is that still your position? Because you just now said that (at least some) moral statements are “as objective as any presumed objective commodity”, so you seem to be contradicting yourself. Which is it, then? Do you, or do you not, claim that moral facts are as objective as any other presumed objective fact?

    If you have changed your mind about this, we have a different debate – but for now I’ll assume you still hold to what you said @172 (contra other objectivists here, like Phinehas).

    My point in that case is that if you cannot know that morality is objective, then you cannot know whether or not you are mistaken. I believe your rejoinder will be that one can be mistaken even if it is impossible to know whether or not a mistake is even possible. That’s fine – if you’d like, I will grant you that it is theoretically possible for one to be mistaken vis-a-vis an objective morality that may or may not exist and is objectively unknowable.

    I’ve never made the argument that because I prefer moral objectivism, it is therefore more logical. What a stupid argument that would be.

    Yes, it’s not a very good argument. You believe that in order to justify imposing your will over those who violate your moral code, you need to assume (claim?) that your moral code is objectively true. I disagree, because I don’t think there is an objective justification for imposing one’s morals on other people at all. I assumed that you would prefer to objectively justify your imposing of your own morals on others, rather than act this way without objective justification. This would then (to your way of thinking) require you to assume objectivism.

    I prefer morality to be entirely subjective and I prefer not to have any moral obligations whatsoever so I can do whatever I wish without consideration of any necessary consequences.

    Interesting!!! I feel exactly the opposite! I wish we all knew clearly and exactly what was right in every situation. Surely there would still be people who would violate this moral code, but there may not be so many wars between two peoples who both thought they were following objectively true moral codes.

    Unfortunately for me, however, I cannot live as I would prefer to live. I know, because I made a several year effort to do just that.

    Again, I couldn’t disagree more strongly! I do live just as I prefer to live. I wonder if our different attitudes about what life we prefer to live has something to do with our different views regarding the nature of morality? You feel constrained by your morality – that it keeps you from doing things you want to do. I feel the opposite – that acting according to my moral sentiments makes me happy, and I wouldn’t want to live any other way.

    This demonstrates that you don’t comprehend the nature of the argument, or perhaps even what it means to make a logical argument. What do you even mean when you claim you’ve made no “illogical asssertions”…? The logic or illogic of your position would be demonstrated by the conclusions one necessarily infers from a premise, and whether or not those inferences and conclusions match up to how you actually behave. Assertions are not a logical argument.

    Once again I will explain this to you: You believe that subjectivists are logically inconsistent because they act in a way that is inconsistent with subjectivism. As you say:

    WJM @153:
    The argument I and some others here make is not that objective morality is superior in practice, but rather is superior with regards to its logical consistency, both internally and in relationship to how we actually behave in the world (as if we have moral rights and obligations that are objectively valid – meaning, valid whether others agree or not).

    I am arguing (over and over again) that there is no logical inconsistency involved when a subjectivist imposes their moral sense on others. There is no objective justification for a subjectivist imposing their morals on others, just as there is no objective justification for an objectivist imposing their morals on others. And the fact that you subjectively choose to assume that your morality is objective doesn’t change a thing.

    During this debate you attempted to justify moral interventions first by saying it was justified by a “strong feeling”.

    Well no, William, I never said this at all. We aren’t going to get anywhere if you simply make up strawmen arguments and shoot them down.

    What you may be referring to is my comment to Phinehas @140:

    I don’t care what flavor ice cream other people eat. I do, however, care very much that people not act immorally. I do not choose to care – it is not a voluntary choice. I cannot choose not to care. Could you simply choose not to care about people doing terrible things to other people? Of course you couldn’t. How can you not understand this?

    Do you see any reference to justifying moral interventions there? Of course not. Phinehas asked me why I would enforce my morals over others, but not my ice cream preference. I told him why.

    When challenged if a “strong feeling” about vanilla ice cream would morally justify forcing others to eat vanilla, you said no, invalidating your own claim that strong feelings = moral right.

    You’re descending into complete nonsense. Of course I would never say that “strong feelings = moral right”. You are making all of this up, and wasting our time.

    You changed your tack to justifying moral intervention by comparing “moral sense” to the perception of color – something that is not voluntary.

    You seem intent to make it seem as though I have changed my beliefs or my arguments or my “tack” or “backtracked”, even though I haven’t once done so. You fail to actually quote what I say and provide a reference (the way I do), because you making all of this up. It’s annoying.

    I am endorsing here a type of subjectivism called moral non-cognitivism (in other debates here regarding ID, my position is essentially theological non-cognitivism). I have adhered to these theories for many years, and I am certainly not vacillating on my beliefs in this debate.

    Here is what I actually did say:

    RDF @164:
    Let me point this out, although it is not directly germane to our debate: You insist on calling our moral sense a preference, or say it is “because I feel like it” – something that is like a whim, a transient mood….

    So I didn’t change my tack when I explained to you that moral sense was perceptual, not volitional – I simply made the point, and told you explicitly that it was not germane to our debate! Please pay attention!

    But, what have you done here, other than backtrack into a subjective commodity that offers you no justification whatsoever for intervening into the affairs of others?

    Another false accusation of backtracking. Hmmm.

    In my previous post to you I have explained exactly why I offered the example of beauty. It was not because I was backtracking, but rather because you didn’t understand color perception.

    Would you stop a man from buying a painting considers beautiful simply because you do not, and you feel very strongly that you do not? Would you justify taking a sculptor’s tools and materials away from him because you disagreed with his idea of beauty? Would you correct a man at a restaurant if he called his wife beautiful and you felt she was not?

    These are ridiculous questions. As I’ve already explained, I am not motivated to do any such thing of course. And as I’ve already explained, I am highly motivated to act in accordance with my moral sense, even at significant personal cost. Perhaps you mistakenly think that “motivation” is the same thing as “objective justification”? Is that the problem?

    The question isn’t what you believe, but whether or not you can offer a principled justification for moral intervention that is not itself immoral.

    And yet again: You cannot offer a principled justification for moral intervention, and neither can I. Assuming that your morality is objective doesn’t help.

    If you say you have the right to intervene “because I feel like it” sense, your morality is immoral.

    I have never said any such thing – you made that up completely and pretended that I said it.

    If you say you have the right to intervene “because I perceive an act to be wrong”, you have offered two different variations on that theme; the perception of beauty, and the perception of color.

    You cannot objectively justify a right to impose your morals on others, and neither can I. Assuming that your morality is objective doesn’t help. And beauty and color have nothing to do with this central point; rather, they are illustrations of the sort of perception that characterizes our moral sense.

    If your friend tells you he wants to buy a beautiful painting and, accompanying him to the gallery he picks up a painting you do not consider beautiful and exclaims “oh, this painting is utterly breathtaking, I must have it!”, do you feel comfortable intervening in his purchase and telling him that he is wrong about the beauty of the painting, and refuse to let him buy it?

    I’ve already explained why these are ridiculous questions.

    The color version refers to an objectively existent and quantifiable commodity (even though it has not always been so);

    You are completely wrong about color perception, as I’ve shown in my previous post to you.

    …the beauty version offers no justification for moral interventions that is not itself immoral.

    For the Nth time, beauty has nothing to do with justification for moral intervention. You have no objective justification for moral intervention and neither do I. We both cite our subjective moral sense, and our undeniable compulsion to act on it, and so we do. In our speeches we justify our acts by appealing to obvious moral statements: We cannot and will not let people torture puppies! Let us go to war against these dastardly villians who torture puppies!!! But underneath all this is not some objective code handed down from on high – it is all subjective moral sense. And so we cannot provide an objective justification for our moral interventions – but we both (like all normal people) perceive our interventions to be perfectly moral.

    This is why your logic fails, RDFish. You are flipping around from one stated principle to another, from one comparison to another, because the ones that offer a sound justification for moral intervention refer to objective commodities, and the ones you abandon because they are themselves immoral refer to internal, subjective commodities.

    I am really, really tired of you accusing me of flipping around and changing my arguments. Not one single time in this entire debate have I done any such thing, and you have provided exactly ZERO quotes to support your silly accusations.

    Once again: how does moral subjectivism justify moral interventions…

    Once again: Objectivists cannot objectively justify their moral interventions, and neither can subjectivists.

    I can keep this up as long you keep repeating your error. But I’d rather not. Please, please, please read what I say and don’t just keep repeating the same misunderstanding.

    …if morality is subjective in nature, in the “beauty” or “personal feelings” sense?

    For the Nth+1 time: Beauty and personal feelings have nothing to do with justifying moral interventions.

    That is the logical rebuttal you must make if you wish to meet my argument square on, and have so far failed in doing so.

    I’m afraid you are desperately confused at this point. My rebuttal to your argument is this:

    1) I believe we agree that there is no objective way to determine the existence of an objectively true moral code.
    2) Therefore one cannot justify one’s own morality, or enforcing one’s own morality on others, on the basis of adherence to an objective moral code.
    3) Simply assuming that an objectively true moral code exists doesn’t help, because making that assumption is nothing but a subjective choice, and so is the particular moral code one happens to assume is the one that is objectively true. There is nothing objective about it.

    What subjectivist-consistent principle justifies moral interventions?

    There is no principle that can objectively justify moral interventions, and no amount of assuming with change that.

    Mike made no claim that objectivists know morality is objective in nature. One can act as if a thing is true, and believe that it is true, even while admitting they do not know it is true. You don’t have to know the sun will come up in the morning (in fact, unless you can see the future, you cannot know it) to both reasonably believe and and reasonably act as if it will.

    I now see that you really do not read my posts at all. Sigh. I already explained to you

    RDF @164: This illustrates the problem with your position quite well: We reasonably assume the sun will rise based on experience. The reliable observation of sunrise allows us to justify our expectation that it will continue to rise. In contrast, we have no prior experience of somehow discovering an objective moral code, and therefore we have no justification for assuming that one particular moral code or another is true.

    I was hoping we could have a productive debate. But if all you do is make up strawman arguments, falsely accuse me of changing my arguments, and simply ignore my refutations and repeat yourself as though I’ve never said anything, then there is really no point at all.

    MIKE: As a subjectivist, on what basis do you presume to enforce your morality on others when they disagree with you?
    RDF: Because I choose to put the interests of myself and others ahead of those with moral sentiments that conflict with mine – just like you do.
    WJM: So, your answer is that your basis for presuming to intervene in the affairs of others is that you put your interests ahead of theirs because theirs conflict with your own?

    For the Nth+2 time, that is the subjective basis, or motivation, for your moral interventions – just like they are for mine. They do not constitute an objective moral justification.

    Putting your own interests ahead of others and being willing to force your interests on them for no principled reason other than that theirs conflict with your own is pretty much the antithesis of moral behavior. It’s not just immoral, it’s monstrous.

    Ah, it’s all fallen apart for you now. I’ve shown why you are wrong about objectivism, so you can’t help but try to paint me as a monster. Hmmm.

    You have no principled reason for forcing your interests on others, yet you do it. Why don’t you think you are a monster, William? You pretend that all you have to do is simply assume that your morality is objective, and that will magically give you moral authority over others? That’s the height of self-deluded arrogance!

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  191. 191
    mike1962 says:

    RDFish: Mike1962 argued that anything we can imagine must be real, which is clearly not the case.

    I never said that or even implied it. What I showed (by my reply question) is that your talking onion retort is vacuous.

  192. 192
    mike1962 says:

    Me: As a subjectivist, on what basis do you presume to enforce your morality on others when they disagree with you?

    RDFish: Because I choose to put the interests of myself and others ahead of those with moral sentiments that conflict with mine – just like you do.

    But you are evading the root issue. Why do you choose thusly? On what moral basis do you “choose to put the interests of [yourself] and others ahead of those with moral sentiments that conflict with [yours]?”

    Mere preference and desire?

    Again, regardless of what you say, you act as if your morality is imperative, and take it from a private subjective place and put it into an objective arena when you involve others, especially against their will. You act like an objectivist. You act as if you really really believe you are right. Else on what basis are you choosing and acting? Mere preference and desire? Why not just ignore the preference and kill the desire?

    The bottom line is, it must be true that you really really think you are in the right when you compel others to do your moral will against their moral will. There is no other basis that makes sense for an otherwise rational person.

  193. 193
    RDFish says:

    MIKE:

    Mike: But you are evading the root issue. Why do you choose thusly? On what moral basis do you “choose to put the interests of [yourself] and others ahead of those with moral sentiments that conflict with [yours]?

    There are no moral principles which can be shown to be objectively true. We thus have only our subjective moral sense. Nobody – not you, not WJM, and not me – can objectively justify our moral interventions. We do it because we are compelled to, in much the same way we are compelled to do all sorts of other things (survive, procreate, seek adventure, and so on). There are no objectively true justifications available to anyone. The difference is that the objectivist pretends that there are, while the subjectivist acknowledges that there are none.

    Mere preference and desire?

    Our moral sense is like a perception, not like a mere preference or desire. But yes, your morality is based on your subjective moral sense, just like mine is, and neither of us can change that because there is no objectively knowable alternative.

    The bottom line is, it must be true that you really really think you are in the right when you compel others to do your moral will against their moral will. There is no other basis that makes sense for an otherwise rational person.

    I am utterly certain that I’m subjectively right – just as I am completely certain that Angelina Jolie is a beautiful woman. You may disagree, however, and find her ugly, and there is no objective method to determine which of us would be correct. And if I told you that I believe in a supernatural beauty judge who has settled the matter in my favor, that would not convince you, because you would have no objective way to ascertain that I really did know this supernatural beauty judge. You would instead tell me that it was merely my subjective choice to believe in this supposedly transcendent beauty judge, so my judgement was no more objective than yours is.

    Do you understand? This is what I’m saying. Of course there is nothing wrong with believing in a god, believing that this god delivers transcendent moral imperatives, and trying to act in accord with them. And of course there is much right with that! Still and yet, this does not make one’s morality objectively true, because the choices to believe in a god, and this particular god, with this particular morality – these are all just as subjective as the subjective moral imperatives that each of us acts upon.

    ALL: I will be unavailable until late Friday night. I look forward to your replies!

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  194. 194
    Phinehas says:

    RDF:

    Mike: The bottom line is, it must be true that you really really think you are in the right when you compel others to do your moral will against their moral will. There is no other basis that makes sense for an otherwise rational person.

    I am utterly certain that I’m subjectively right – just as I am completely certain that Angelina Jolie is a beautiful woman.

    No. Not “just as.” Quite the opposite of “just as.” For you would never compel others to share your perception on Angelina Jolie’s beauty. Such an idea is ludicrous.

    So, when it comes to your behavior, it is very obvious that some of your “subjectivity” is of a very different nature than the rest. And no matter how you flail about trying to explain that difference away, it is exceedingly apparent that a key distinction is that you act exactly as though this special kind of “subjectivity” is objectively true, even while you claim that it is not.

  195. 195
    Phinehas says:

    RDF:

    Our moral sense is like a perception, not like a mere preference or desire.

    What is it that we are perceiving? Something that exists and is real and true? Or an illusion?

    If we act in a manner consistent with the notion that we are perceiving something that exists and is real and is true, then why claim that it is an illusion? To do so is logically inconsistent.

  196. 196
    RDFish says:

    Hi Phinehas,

    RDF: I am utterly certain that I’m subjectively right – just as I am completely certain that Angelina Jolie is a beautiful woman.
    PHINEHAS: No. Not “just as.” Quite the opposite of “just as.” For you would never compel others to share your perception on Angelina Jolie’s beauty.

    No, Phinehas, our perception of beauty is neither exactly the same nor the opposite of our perception of morality.

    Here are some things that are the same:
    1) We do not voluntarily choose what we see to be beautiful; likewise, neither do we voluntary choose what we consider to be moral.
    2) Beauty exists in our own heads rather than objectively in the world, but there are objective features(symmetry, proportion, etc) that influence our perception of beauty; likewise, morality also exists in our own heads rather than objectively in the world, but there are objective features (pain, inequality, etc) that influence our perception of morality.
    3) There is no objective standard for beauty; likewise, neither is there an objective standard for morality.

    Here are a couple of differences between the two:
    i) Beauty is sometimes more concrete – more physical and less abstract – than morality (although sometimes very abstract things, such as mathematical equations or philosophical ideas, are experienced as beautiful by some people)
    ii) Beauty and morality affect us emotionally in extremely different ways. Beauty sometimes makes us happy, sometimes makes us weep; we actively seek it out in art, music, nature, other people, animals, etc. Morality doesn’t apply to all situations, but when we judge something to be immoral we can be roused to act with extreme intensity and devotion, even at great personal cost. (Sexual attractiveness is more like this than beauty is, I suppose – people are also motivated by sexual attraction to act with great intensity and take huge risks).

    So, when it comes to your behavior, it is very obvious that some of your “subjectivity” is of a very different nature than the rest.

    Yes, very true.

    And no matter how you flail about trying to explain that difference away,…

    Um, what? I just agreed with this, and even gave some examples!

    …it is exceedingly apparent that a key distinction is that you act exactly as though this special kind of “subjectivity” is objectively true, even while you claim that it is not.

    Um, what? Finding something immoral is no more objective than finding something beautiful. There is no objective standard for beauty, sexual attractiveness, or morality (or if there is, we have no objective way of discerning it).

    What is it that we are perceiving? Something that exists and is real and true? Or an illusion?

    Again, it is neither of these – see (2) above. Like beauty, morality is neither an illusion nor something that exists objectively outside of the beholder.

    If we act in a manner consistent with the notion that we are perceiving something that exists and is real and is true, then why claim that it is an illusion? To do so is logically inconsistent.

    Like beauty, morality is neither objectively real nor an illusion. It is a subjective perception of real objective things (actions, objects, etc) in the world.

    I’ve been accused of logical inconsistency here quite consistently. Nothing I’ve said here is logically inconsistent, however. [deleted – I just saw another post by WJM and will respond on that thread ]

    Cheers,
    RDFish/AIGuy

  197. 197
    Mung says:

    RDFish:

    1) We do not voluntarily choose what we see to be beautiful; likewise, neither do we voluntary choose what we consider to be moral.

    These are objective facts.

  198. 198
    Mung says:

    RDFish:

    2) Beauty exists in our own heads rather than objectively in the world, but there are objective features(symmetry, proportion, etc) that influence our perception of beauty; likewise, morality also exists in our own heads rather than objectively in the world, but there are objective features (pain, inequality, etc) that influence our perception of morality.

    These are objective facts.

  199. 199
    Mung says:

    RDfish:

    3) There is no objective standard for beauty; likewise, neither is there an objective standard for morality.

    These are objective facts.

Leave a Reply