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[Morality] Subjectivity vs Objectivity

Mikey CTSMikey CTS Hulk-hands PorcupineWhat is it? Why is it there?Registered User regular
edited June 2011 in Debate and/or Discourse
In the Magic thread, for a brief moment morality entered the discussion. For a while now, I've been very interested in morality. However, the brief interruption from the true subject matter of that thread only last for a page or two. I'm not a student of philosophy or ethics, but I have given it a lot of thought and listened to a lot of ideas on the subject. Of particular interest to me is the existence of objective and subjective morals.

Morality perscribes a list of behaviors to describe how we should maintain a fuctioning, healthy society. Overtime, the list of what is and what is not acceptible behavior has changed. For example, in many civilizations it was considered moral to offer human sacrifices to the gods. Of course today we no longer accept this sort of behavior.

Objective morality states that morals are not subjective. Taken a step further, objective morality says that there are certain morals inwhich we all accept and recognize to be universally valid. That morality is assigned a valid indepent of the mind. That morality is assigned a value independent of human consciousness. This is typically by a creator, such as the Abrahamic god, or by universal laws, such as Karma per Budhhist tradition. Within this system, each broken rule, crime, or sin is typically treated as equally egregious, no matter the circumstance of the action. Moral objectivists typically recognize that some subjective morality does exist.

Subjective morality states that morality is subjective. This means that certain types of behavoir are assigned a value based on rationality. That morals are judged based on what is in our own rational self-interest and then assigned a value by our own consciousness. Because of this, most moral subjectivists believe that each undesirable behavor should be judged on a case-by-case basis, as the circumstances of those actions can vary wildly. This view of morality is typically held by atheists and our legal system is typical subjective, as sentencing can vary widely based on the circumstances of the crime.

Many philosophers and ethists have suggested that moral subjectivity cannot describe what ought to be, that it can only describe what is. Some even maintain that it is impossible to derive an ought from an is. Moral objectivists often hold this up as a victory. Since subject morality cannot describe how things ought to be then objective morality must exist. Subjectivists have a number of counters to this claim, however the one most common I've heard is "so what?" They would ask why is it important for oughts to exist and why they should be recognized at all. In a subjective view point, oughts are not generally considered to valid.

As an atheist, this is a topic that I have a particular interest in. Since I recognize no gods and thus none of their ideological underpinning, I find myself having to justify my own morality. In my view throughout history our morality has changed. It was once considered morally accept to own and sell other human beings. This is no longer true in our contemporary society. Many people in our society consider homosexuality a sin, but I can see no rational basis for this belief thus I refuse to recognize it as immoral. Recognizing this, I believe this puts me firmly in the subjective category.

Now, I know anyone who has studied philosophy is probably screaming at me right now. Yes, this is a gross over simplification of this ongoing debate. However, my interest lies mainly in the objective/subjective schism. Please note the following links below will lead to more indepth decusssions of morality.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_relativism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meta-ethics

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-anti-realism/moral-subjectivism-versus-relativism.html

http://www.class.uidaho.edu/ngier/103/eoes.html

So what are your thoughts on morality? If your understanding of the subject is greater than mine, please help me by filling in the gabs in my knowledge. Do you disagree with my stance that all morality is subjective? Perhaps you believe that some morals are subjective and others are objective.

I would like to stay away from religion in this discussion if at all possible. However, for certain people religion is the cornerstone of their morality, so I recognize that might be impossible. Still, I would ask that we try to avoid it and stick to speaking to meta-morality.

Mikey CTS on
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  • FeralFeral Who needs a medical license when you've got style? Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    I think that what you describe here as "objective morality" is more frequently called "moral realism."
    Mikey CTS wrote: »
    Objective morality states that morals are not subjective. Taken a step further, objective morality says that there are certain morals inwhich we all accept and recognize to be universally valid. That morality is assigned a valid indepent of the mind. That morality is assigned a value independent of human consciousness. This is typically by a creator, such as the Abrahamic god, or by universal laws, such as Karma per Budhhist tradition.

    This describes some forms of moral objectivism, particularly from antiquity, but not necessarily all. I'll point to GE Moore and Thomas Nagel as examples of ethicists who argued for objective morality without appealing to universal laws.

    Also, neither of these thinkers, nor any mainstream moral realists that I know of (my knowledge in this realm is limited; MrMister would run circles around me here) hold that morality is "independent" of the mind. Actions are moral and immoral in that they affect sentient beings; in the absence of sentience, there is no morality. (Sentience here means "capable of sensation," not the Star Trek definition of "capable of abstract thought." An earthworm is sentient.) We can judge an action based on how it affects a sentient being, but that does not make it subjective. For instance, we can say "some people are hurt by a derogatory name; others find it funny; and people who don't speak English won't be affected by it at all because they don't understand what it means." The reaction is subjective, but the morality of uttering the word is not - given a particular circumstance, anybody can analyze the situation and say "more harm than good was wrought by uttering the derogatory word" and come to the conclusion that uttering the word was wrong.
    Mikey CTS wrote: »
    Within this system, each broken rule, crime, or sin is typically treated as equally egregious, no matter the circumstance of the action.

    Consequentialism is not necessarily incompatible with objective morality. One might make the statement "All actions which cause a net increase of suffering in the world are morally wrong." This is both consequentialist (the morality of an action depends on its consequences) and objective (we are damning all actions that fulfill this criterion).
    Mikey CTS wrote: »
    Subjective morality states that morality is subjective. This means that certain types of behavoir are assigned a value based on rationality. That morals are judged based on what is in our own rational self-interest and then assigned a value by our own consciousness.

    I think what you're describing here is ethical subjectivism. This isn't the only non-realist or non-objective moral philosophy.
    Mikey CTS wrote: »
    Because of this, most moral subjectivists believe that each undesirable behavor should be judged on a case-by-case basis, as the circumstances of those actions can vary wildly.

    I don't agree with this. It's possible to hold a non-realist, absolutist philosophy. Such a philosophy is arguably silly, but I can say, for instance "morals are statements of emotion; when somebody says that 'killing is bad' what they're saying is 'killing makes me feel bad.'" Then if I say "killing always makes me feel bad," then I've created a subjective, yet absolute moral law. There is no need, in this framework to judge the circumstances of the action on a case-by-case basis.
    Mikey CTS wrote: »
    In my view throughout history our morality has changed. It was once considered morally accept to own and sell other human beings. This is no longer true in our contemporary society. Many people in our society consider homosexuality a sin, but I can see no rational basis for this belief thus I refuse to recognize it as immoral. Recognizing this, I believe this puts me firmly in the subjective category.

    It's possible that those people were merely wrong. What you describe is the disagreement problem - if morality is objective, how can people disagree? It's a very weak argument. People disagree on non-moral facts all the time. Once humans believed that the sun revolved around the earth; now we believe the opposite. This does not mean that heliocentrism is subjective; merely that people are fallible.

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch, man" fallacy.
  • jothkijothki Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    For any objectivists out there, please name something that you subjectively believe is (wrong/right) but is objectively (right/wrong).

  • Apothe0sisApothe0sis Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    It doesn't follow that given you recognise that not all moral beliefs are valid it doesn't follow that moral beliefs are entirely subjective.

    In the same way that not agreeing about the contents of a box doesn't change the contents of the box.

    This doesn't establish moral realism/objectivity (though I believe that what MrMister will eventually say is correct. Except about Sam Harris' the moral landscape, which I think is worthwhile.) to be the case, but rather that as a method of supporting moral relativism this argument fails.

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  • DocDoc Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited June 2011
    jothki wrote: »
    For any objectivists out there, please name something that you subjectively believe is (wrong/right) but is objectively (right/wrong).

    I think it'd be tough to imagine a realistic situation where throwing acid in a girl's face to disfigure and blind her because she wanted to learn to read is objectively the right thing to do.

    But some people subjectively believe it to be so.

    Maybe I misunderstood the question.

  • Apothe0sisApothe0sis Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    jothki wrote: »
    For any objectivists out there, please name something that you subjectively believe is (wrong/right) but is objectively (right/wrong).

    I don't understand the question.

    And I don't know that we have a lot of Objectivists, let alone who will be taking part in the thread.

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  • vagrant_windsvagrant_winds is pumped-up. Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    I've thought that morals were a personal thing while ethics were a society thing.

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  • Apothe0sisApothe0sis Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    I've thought that morals were a personal thing while ethics were a society thing.

    This is not a distinction frequently employed by those in the know i.e. moral philosophers.

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  • Dr Mario KartDr Mario Kart Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    OP, I think you might be interested in the Sam Harris system of values/morals based on the suffering of sentient beings and determined by science. I am also an atheist, and I largely assumed that science had nothing to say on the matter of how things SHOULD be. I just happened to have looked up the introduction earlier today because I was peddling some of my oh so popular memes in an abortion argument.

    The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values
    http://www.kobobooks.com/content/Introduction-The-Moral-Landscape/sc-S9gUy3qPvkG1Si02XnsGOQ/page1.html#1

    TLDR, Even though it is nefariously difficult to define, there are differences between the good life and the bad life. These differences exist in ways that can be measured in reality, and therefore studied through scientific inquiry, whether we're talking about economic statistics or states of the brain.

  • LoserForHireXLoserForHireX Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    jothki wrote: »
    For any objectivists out there, please name something that you subjectively believe is (wrong/right) but is objectively (right/wrong).

    I assume you mean someone who holds to an objective morality, and not a Randian.

    Also, if I could do this, I would win Ethics.

    Alternative answer: That which maximizes human virtue is objectively correct.

    "The only way to get rid of a temptation is to give into it." - Oscar Wilde
    "We believe in the people and their 'wisdom' as if there was some special secret entrance to knowledge that barred to anyone who had ever learned anything." - Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Loren MichaelLoren Michael Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    I think morality is culturally conditioned. I reject Sam Harris and MrMister's notions of realism.

    2ezikn6.jpg
  • Evil MultifariousEvil Multifarious Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    I think morality is culturally conditioned. I reject Sam Harris and MrMister's notions of realism.

    morality being culturally conditioned is not in conflict with moral realism, because it can still be closer or farther from what is right in a "real" sense

    i know that you mean that what is culturally conditioned is all that exists, and there are no moral facts

    how does this mesh with the imposition of one's morals on other people when one is aware that there is no moral fact to support those actions?

    Inquisitor wrote: »
    I fucking hate you Canadians.
  • Dr Mario KartDr Mario Kart Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    Sam Harris accounts for cultural variability. Por ejemplo, there may be different ways to raise happy children. However, these differences still are reflected by facts about the brain in particular, and can therefore be understood by scientific inquiry. However, that scientific inquiry can also be used to determine that the cultural variability (and therefore that facet of the culture) is inferior/others are superior. I dont think he's rejecting the notion that people's idea of morality are culturally conditioned. As far as I know, he's a fan of memetics.

  • Tiger BurningTiger Burning (poster is a bear)Registered User, SolidSaints Tube regular
    edited June 2011
    I think morality is culturally conditioned. I reject Sam Harris and MrMister's notions of realism.

    morality being culturally conditioned is not in conflict with moral realism, because it can still be closer or farther from what is right in a "real" sense

    i know that you mean that what is culturally conditioned is all that exists, and there are no moral facts

    how does this mesh with the imposition of one's morals on other people when one is aware that there is no moral fact to support those actions?

    Whether to impose one's morals on another is itself a moral question. It may be the most important moral behavior there is, and we would expect it to be the subject of conditioning as well. This is not an argument that it should be done, just a statement that "why ought we impose our morals?" is in the same class as "why ought we not commit murder?".

    “You could tell by the way he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him.”
  • Loren MichaelLoren Michael Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    how does this mesh with the imposition of one's morals on other people when one is aware that there is no moral fact to support those actions?

    I'm not sure I understand the question. Could you be more specific?

    2ezikn6.jpg
  • Evil MultifariousEvil Multifarious Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    Sam Harris accounts for cultural variability. Por ejemplo, there may be different ways to raise happy children. However, these differences still are reflected by facts about the brain in particular, and can therefore be understood by scientific inquiry. However, that scientific inquiry can also be used to determine that the cultural variability (and therefore that facet of the culture) is inferior/others are superior. I dont think he's rejecting the notion that people's idea of morality are culturally conditioned. As far as I know, he's a fan of memetics.

    why have you been saying "por ejemplo" for every single time you state an example lately?

    there is currently insufficient understanding of the brain and the mind to provide a complete (or even anywhere close) utilitarian model of action. it also depends on the idea that more people being more happy is the aim of moral/right action.

    any scientific method of constructing a moral system depends on the construction of a moral framework before any science takes place, a framework by which to interpret one's data. it must be constructed from various a priori principles and axioms that are outside the realm of science and yet still within the realm of discussion.

    Inquisitor wrote: »
    I fucking hate you Canadians.
  • Loren MichaelLoren Michael Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    Sam Harris accounts for cultural variability. Por ejemplo, there may be different ways to raise happy children. However, these differences still are reflected by facts about the brain in particular, and can therefore be understood by scientific inquiry. However, that scientific inquiry can also be used to determine that the cultural variability (and therefore that facet of the culture) is inferior/others are superior. I dont think he's rejecting the notion that people's idea of morality are culturally conditioned. As far as I know, he's a fan of memetics.

    Evil Multi groked my intent: "...what is culturally conditioned is all that exists, and there are no moral facts"

    2ezikn6.jpg
  • Evil MultifariousEvil Multifarious Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    how does this mesh with the imposition of one's morals on other people when one is aware that there is no moral fact to support those actions?

    I'm not sure I understand the question. Could you be more specific?

    if you are aware that your morals are the result of social conditioning, and so are the morals of all other people, then if your friend is, say, working at a charity and embezzling money, how could you justify advising him to stop or reporting him to authorities? what if he were just flat-out setting puppies on fire?

    Inquisitor wrote: »
    I fucking hate you Canadians.
  • poshnialloposhniallo Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    Sam Harris accounts for cultural variability. Por ejemplo, there may be different ways to raise happy children. However, these differences still are reflected by facts about the brain in particular, and can therefore be understood by scientific inquiry. However, that scientific inquiry can also be used to determine that the cultural variability (and therefore that facet of the culture) is inferior/others are superior. I dont think he's rejecting the notion that people's idea of morality are culturally conditioned. As far as I know, he's a fan of memetics.

    Evil Multi groked my intent: "...what is culturally conditioned is all that exists, and there are no moral facts"

    So if I lie about there being no moral facts, and state that there are such things as moral facts, and get everyone to throw rocks at you for not believing in The Truth, that's not wrong because there are no such things as moral facts?

    I figure I could take a bear.
  • Dr Mario KartDr Mario Kart Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    Por ejemplo is just a weird habit that I have. I dont recall why I started doing that.

    It certainly is the case that our understanding of the brain is currently very poor. There are other areas where science is stronger. In either case, we do what we can, and work to improve. I think policy decisions are a particularly good place to start.

    So lets say we ask, should we hit school children (corporal punishment). I believe the data indicates that it doesnt work for starters, so I suspect that whatever reason you have to do it is void. Policy issues often delve into the realm of morality for some people, like abortion or the death penalty.

    Of course a lot of people arent entirely convinced that they should believe in or value science, and uh...I dont know what to do about that.

  • Tiger BurningTiger Burning (poster is a bear)Registered User, SolidSaints Tube regular
    edited June 2011
    poshniallo wrote: »
    Sam Harris accounts for cultural variability. Por ejemplo, there may be different ways to raise happy children. However, these differences still are reflected by facts about the brain in particular, and can therefore be understood by scientific inquiry. However, that scientific inquiry can also be used to determine that the cultural variability (and therefore that facet of the culture) is inferior/others are superior. I dont think he's rejecting the notion that people's idea of morality are culturally conditioned. As far as I know, he's a fan of memetics.

    Evil Multi groked my intent: "...what is culturally conditioned is all that exists, and there are no moral facts"

    So if I lie about there being no moral facts, and state that there are such things as moral facts, and get everyone to throw rocks at you for not believing in The Truth, that's not wrong because there are no such things as moral facts?

    It's as wrong as anything ever was, or it could be. It's just not wrong as a matter of rational derivation, contingently speaking. And as EM pointed out, there is a second, seperate question as to whether such a thing could be so derived. I mean, I think many (most?, all?) moral realists would agree that even if a completely rational system of morals is possible, it's not the case that most actual moral systems in practice are rationally derived.

    “You could tell by the way he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him.”
  • V1mV1m Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    Morality is obviously subjective. The real debate is the implications of that: most specifically, do we have the "right" to try to make others conform to our morality?

    Well if my subjective moral system says I do, then yes, I of course have the "right". My moral code strongly prohibits rape, for instance, and if I catch someone in the act then I will do my uttermost to stop them doing it, right up to killing them if necessary. I would do this whether or not the local law supported my actions (and in quite a few places on this planet, it wouldn't). Would anyone care to dispute my moral right to stop a rape? It wont make a bit of difference to my morals, but I'd be interested to have the discussion.

    However, historically speaking, there has by no means been a universal consensus that rape is morally wrong. In fact I would challenge a proponent of the idea of "objective morals" to provide an example. Killing: fine. Theft: not always a problem. Rape: a popular past-time in many times and places. Tyranny, suppression of speech, the right to marry, even abrogating the right to wear what one likes: all not only acceptable but a duty!

    However, with that "right" goes the inevitability of the costs and consequences of enforcing or promoting my morals. What most people call "objective" morality is morality that is widely accepted, which there are few or no costs for subscribing to, and for which transgression is punished in one way or another. Which is to say "morality that is so important to me that I will not accept it being questioned".

  • Loren MichaelLoren Michael Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    how does this mesh with the imposition of one's morals on other people when one is aware that there is no moral fact to support those actions?

    I'm not sure I understand the question. Could you be more specific?

    if you are aware that your morals are the result of social conditioning, and so are the morals of all other people, then if your friend is, say, working at a charity and embezzling money, how could you justify advising him to stop or reporting him to authorities? what if he were just flat-out setting puppies on fire?

    I would justify it on the notions that embezzling money is generally wrong, and that causing needless suffering--particularly to cute things--is also wrong.

    You seem to be assuming that relativism is the same as no morality, and/or that relativism implies rote tolerance of everything.

    2ezikn6.jpg
  • AtomikaAtomika Merry Christmas your arse I pray God it's our lastRegistered User regular
    edited June 2011
    jothki wrote: »
    For any objectivists out there, please name something that you subjectively believe is (wrong/right) but is objectively (right/wrong).

    Well, many studies show that giving direct aid in the form of foodstuffs and medical supplies to undeveloped nations stunt their economic growth, stagnate their development, and increase negative statistics like infant mortality, all the while making them dependent on foreign aid.

    That doesn't stop people from giving billions in charity to those aid efforts.

  • Tiger BurningTiger Burning (poster is a bear)Registered User, SolidSaints Tube regular
    edited June 2011
    jothki wrote: »
    For any objectivists out there, please name something that you subjectively believe is (wrong/right) but is objectively (right/wrong).

    Well, many studies show that giving direct aid in the form of foodstuffs and medical supplies to undeveloped nations stunt their economic growth, stagnate their development, and increase negative statistics like infant mortality, all the while making them dependent on foreign aid.

    That doesn't stop people from giving billions in charity to those aid efforts.

    True, but both you and the other guy have ducked the question by putting it in the third person. The question is, "Is there anything you subjectively believe is (wrong/right) but that you also believe is objectively the opposite."

    “You could tell by the way he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him.”
  • AtomikaAtomika Merry Christmas your arse I pray God it's our lastRegistered User regular
    edited June 2011
    jothki wrote: »
    For any objectivists out there, please name something that you subjectively believe is (wrong/right) but is objectively (right/wrong).

    Well, many studies show that giving direct aid in the form of foodstuffs and medical supplies to undeveloped nations stunt their economic growth, stagnate their development, and increase negative statistics like infant mortality, all the while making them dependent on foreign aid.

    That doesn't stop people from giving billions in charity to those aid efforts.

    True, but both you and the other guy have ducked the question by putting it in the third person. The question is, "Is there anything you subjectively believe is (wrong/right) but that you also believe is objectively the opposite."

    Not off the top of my head. I'm pretty beholden to logical arguments.

    Also, I'm not in the practice of "believing" too many things.

  • Tiger BurningTiger Burning (poster is a bear)Registered User, SolidSaints Tube regular
    edited June 2011

    Also, I'm not in the practice of "believing" too many things.

    It's early yet, but I'mma go out on a limb and assert that this will be the weirdest thing I read today.

    “You could tell by the way he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him.”
  • AtomikaAtomika Merry Christmas your arse I pray God it's our lastRegistered User regular
    edited June 2011

    Also, I'm not in the practice of "believing" too many things.

    It's early yet, but I'mma go out on a limb and assert that this will be the weirdest thing I read today.

    Belief, on some level, implies a certain amount of faith or immalleability to an adherence of an idea or theory.

    I don't "believe" in the rightness or wrongness of many things; I just adhere to things that make logical sense until a better argument presents itself.

  • MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
    edited June 2011
    True, but both you and the other guy have ducked the question by putting it in the third person. The question is, "Is there anything you subjectively believe is (wrong/right) but that you also believe is objectively the opposite."

    They ducked the question because it's a bad question. It implies that moral realists have some special problem, but the problem it identifies is not actually particular to ethics at all, but rather is a feature of belief quite generally. To wit: I don't, in the general case, think that by believing things I can make them so. For example, if I were to believe the sky to be green that would not make the sky green (I would just be wrong). As such, I don't think that my beliefs must all be universally right merely by virtue of being had by me. I have probably erred in some cases.

    But, nonetheless, I can't give you an example of a current belief I hold which isn't true. If I thought it weren't true, I wouldn't believe it in the first place. So even though there is a difference between "I believe P" and "P is true," and even though I am almost entirely certain that said difference is actually manifested in some of my beliefs (I am almost certain that some of my beliefs are wrong), it's nonetheless necessarily the case that I can't give you any particular examples.

    The question you've quoted challenges the moral realist to come up with an example where their personal sentiments come apart from the objective moral law, along the lines of "I think murder is wrong, but murder is objectively right." But no such examples exist for the very same reason that there are no examples of "I think the sky is green, but the sky is actually blue." If I believed that murder was objectively right, I would not have the personal sentiment that it was wrong.

    The reason that I cannot give an example of an incorrect moral sentiment I hold is precisely the same reason that I cannot give an example of an incorrect belief I hold. In neither case does it demonstrate that there is no objective external standard which I can sometimes fail to meet, i.e. no actual color to the sky or no actual content of the moral law.

  • DrukDruk Registered User
    edited June 2011
    I believe (or at least, will put forward the idea) that a person committing suicide is objectively right but can be subjectively wrong. It's their body to do with as they please; they have a right to do so. But that doesn't make it a nice thing to do.

  • MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
    edited June 2011
    Mikey CTS wrote: »
    Objective morality states that morals are not subjective. Taken a step further, objective morality says that there are certain morals in which we all accept and recognize to be universally valid. That morality is assigned a valid indepent of the mind. That morality is assigned a value independent of human consciousness. This is typically by a creator, such as the Abrahamic god, or by universal laws, such as Karma per Budhhist tradition. Within this system, each broken rule, crime, or sin is typically treated as equally egregious, no matter the circumstance of the action. Moral objectivists typically recognize that some subjective morality does exist.

    Subjective morality states that morality is subjective. This means that certain types of behavoir are assigned a value based on rationality. That morals are judged based on what is in our own rational self-interest and then assigned a value by our own consciousness. Because of this, most moral subjectivists believe that each undesirable behavor should be judged on a case-by-case basis, as the circumstances of those actions can vary wildly. This view of morality is typically held by atheists and our legal system is typical subjective, as sentencing can vary widely based on the circumstances of the crime.

    I accept neither your characterization of objective morality nor of subjective morality. The biggest problem with both is that you're confusing morality's content with its character. The debate between moral realists and anti-realists is not over what actually is right, but rather, over what it even means to call something 'right' in the first place. Of course, we like to hope that once we understand morality's character that will help us come to understand it's content, and, as such, that once we figure out what it means to call something 'right' we'll also have a better idea of what things are actually right. But they are nonetheless separate issues.

    The upshot is that: a moral realist need not believe that all transgressions are equally bad, nor need an anti-realist think that undesirable behavior needs to be judged on a case-by-base basis. A moral realist could just as well think that it's objectively correct that we ought to take specific details of the situation into account when making judgments, and an anti-realist could just as well hold the firm conviction that one ought hold all transgressions, no matter the circumstance, to be equally bad. This is not what the disagreement between them is about.

    People commonly associate moral realism with religious revelation. Since religious revelation is stupid, they then judge moral realism to also be stupid. But this is a mistake. It may have been coincidentally true in the past that many moral realists were religious, but who wasn't back then? It's may also be true that most religious philosophers are moral realists. But the converse is not true--it is not the case that most realists are religious. The major contemporary realists of which I am aware are not religious and neither is their philosophy.

    Rather, in broad strokes, what realists accept and anti-realists deny is that there are facts about what is good and bad, and that those facts are independent of our judgment of them at least insofar as it is possible for us to go wrong about them. The claim 'murder is wrong' is thus closer to the claim 'the earth rotates the sun' than it is to the exclamation 'mmm candy!' We do not primarily express personal preferences with our moral language, although hopefully one's personal preferences do indeed track their moral judgment, rather we attempt to learn and express facts about what one has reason to do or avoid. That there are such facts to be learned and expressed is what I, and other moral realists, defend.

  • Evil MultifariousEvil Multifarious Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    how does this mesh with the imposition of one's morals on other people when one is aware that there is no moral fact to support those actions?

    I'm not sure I understand the question. Could you be more specific?

    if you are aware that your morals are the result of social conditioning, and so are the morals of all other people, then if your friend is, say, working at a charity and embezzling money, how could you justify advising him to stop or reporting him to authorities? what if he were just flat-out setting puppies on fire?

    I would justify it on the notions that embezzling money is generally wrong, and that causing needless suffering--particularly to cute things--is also wrong.

    You seem to be assuming that relativism is the same as no morality, and/or that relativism implies rote tolerance of everything.

    Certainly not. Relativism has nothing to do with universal tolerance; it simply means that your objection to an act is not grounded in any external fact or truth.

    What I am trying to get at is the problem of judging other people by your morality if they don't share it. If morality is relative - which I think is a perfectly reasonable position - how can embezzlement be "generally" wrong? It can be wrong to you, but there is no justification for "general" wrongs.

    I know that you will report the embezzlement or otherwise act against it. You will do this because you are conditioned to believe it's wrong. That is an eminently satisfying description of what is.

    When it comes to what ought to be, there is a problem: when faced with conflicting moral positions - the guy who loves embezzling vs yourself - how can they be resolved if there is no objective standard for morality?

    Moral relativism has no tools for proposing what ought to be, because it provides no means of comparing or evaluating morals. If you say that minimizing suffering is a standard, for example, you are creating a non-relative axiom for moral judgment, and abandoning relativism.

    In the absence of such a standard, all that matters is which person or group is powerful enough to enforce their morality. Again, this seems like it's quite an accurate description of how things are, but I think most people would agree it's not how it ought to be.

    Inquisitor wrote: »
    I fucking hate you Canadians.
  • Evil MultifariousEvil Multifarious Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    MrMister, what about the notion that "murder is wrong" is closer "unicorns have horns" - a statement about a concept with no physical analogue or constituent but which is nonetheless, for certain notions of truth, true?

    Inquisitor wrote: »
    I fucking hate you Canadians.
  • Loren MichaelLoren Michael Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    Relativism has nothing to do with universal tolerance; it simply means that your objection to an act is not grounded in any external fact or truth.

    What I am trying to get at is the problem of judging other people by your morality if they don't share it. If morality is relative - which I think is a perfectly reasonable position - how can embezzlement be "generally" wrong? It can be wrong to you, but there is no justification for "general" wrongs.

    I know that you will report the embezzlement or otherwise act against it. You will do this because you are conditioned to believe it's wrong. That is an eminently satisfying description of what is.

    When it comes to what ought to be, there is a problem: when faced with conflicting moral positions - the guy who loves embezzling vs yourself - how can they be resolved if there is no objective standard for morality?

    Moral relativism has no tools for proposing what ought to be, because it provides no means of comparing or evaluating morals. If you say that minimizing suffering is a standard, for example, you are creating a non-relative axiom for moral judgment, and abandoning relativism.

    In the absence of such a standard, all that matters is which person or group is powerful enough to enforce their morality. Again, this seems like it's quite an accurate description of how things are, but I think most people would agree it's not how it ought to be.

    So... you're not so much critiquing the truth of relativism, but rather explaining the problems with the way the world actually is?

    In general, people have Venn diagrams of overlapping moralities, and disagreements can be settled by appealing to common ground. When this doesn't work, any number of other appeals might work. Also, as you note, there's always the option of might simply making right, and carrot/sticking individuals into accepting the desired moral paradigm.

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  • MrMisterMrMister Valuing scholarship above all elseRegistered User regular
    edited June 2011
    MrMister, what about the notion that "murder is wrong" is closer "unicorns have horns" - a statement about a concept with no physical analogue or constituent but which is nonetheless, for certain notions of truth, true?

    I don't know if I fully get the analogy: after all, murders are real and unicorns are not (regardless of the properties we ascribe to either one). Also, the question of how to evaluate the truth of "unicorns have horns" is itself somewhat complicated, and involves philosophy of language on which I am rather rusty.

    Edit: I should also offer the disclaimer that I really was, as I mentioned, speaking "in broad strokes" with the above characterization. There is a whole spectrum of views, some of which are actually not obvious (at least, to me) to characterize in terms of realism or anti-realism. Messing with the relevant sense of truth is one of the ways to generate such positions.

  • Grey PaladinGrey Paladin Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    I think a critical mistake people make when they consider morality is ignoring human biology and psychology.

    Humans are social animals and so, as a rule, dislike seeing their own kind get hurt. In fact, most psychologically normal humans draw pleasure from helping their group. Social pressure can change and warp this (especially by demonizing outsiders), and a select few naturally do not follow the pattern, but it remains a near-universal basis found in every society.

    So, while morality is subjective, humans objectively lean towards certain ideals. I believe this largely reconciles objective and subjective morality, as both describe the same phenomena from different sides.

    The second mistake people often make is thinking that morality is in any way arbitrary. This is untrue.
    Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.

    Or, in other words, a society should logically foster those who's actions benefit it and condemn those that harm it. Consider the following: If everyone acted according to a society's moral code, all of society would benefit, down to the individual member. If an individual member were to break this moral code for his own benefit, he would be harming society as a whole. Were his actions be made universal, society would disintegrate and no one would benefit since even the unethical person requires a society to leech from.

    The unethical person is the enemy of society. This is the basis of our laws and sense of justice. This is why we punish those who break our society's moral code - we prevent such behavior from spreading through making it undesirable by punishing the offenders, as to defend the ethical people who help society as a whole. This benefits society while fighting those who would exploit it by acting unethically - by becoming parasites.


    EDIT: There is a thing to be said for what is considered beneficial beyond the basis varying widely between society to society. However, it is important to keep track of this common basis, as it guides the other beliefs: when people decide to sacrifice their children to the fiery sun god, it is because they genuinely believe it is for the best of the collective. It is on this ground that moral debate can stand. By studying the factuality of such claims and examining the results and costs involving them, one can deduce whether they form a coherent belief system along with the core values and whether they are true at all.

    Such beliefs seem absolutely barbaric to us, but there would be more debate if we took it for a fact that if we did not sacrifice said children to the sun god the world would end on the next morning. (Mind, personally, I believe that sacrificing said children is still incoherent given the value we place in human life and the society-wide implications of it being alright to sacrifice an ethical person for the good of all, but this, here, is certainly debatable).

    "All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible." - T.E. Lawrence
  • MoridinMoridin Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    MrMister wrote: »
    The claim 'murder is wrong' is thus closer to the claim 'the earth rotates the sun' than it is to the exclamation 'mmm candy!' We do not primarily express personal preferences with our moral language, although hopefully one's personal preferences do indeed track their moral judgment, rather we attempt to learn and express facts about what one has reason to do or avoid. That there are such facts to be learned and expressed is what I, and other moral realists, defend.

    This hasn't really ever been satisfactorily explained to me. I mean, I'm personally disgusted by murder, and would never do it short of some life or death situation, but why is murder objectively wrong?

    Is my personal disgust powerful enough to be a reason to believe it to be objectively true? That seems to be pretty shoddy logic.

    Or is the "objective truth" not actually "murder is wrong" but "murder is wrong given x and y and z"?

    I don't really understand what's being optimized for. Like, given some moral dilemma, I agree with the assertion, "There's probably a way to resolve the situation such that all parties involved benefit the most in accordance with their own values and desires." This is the more utilitarian approach.

    I just don't see how you get to, "There's an objectively correct way to resolve the situation, independent of the values and desires of the actors involved."

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  • Evil MultifariousEvil Multifarious Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    Relativism has nothing to do with universal tolerance; it simply means that your objection to an act is not grounded in any external fact or truth.

    What I am trying to get at is the problem of judging other people by your morality if they don't share it. If morality is relative - which I think is a perfectly reasonable position - how can embezzlement be "generally" wrong? It can be wrong to you, but there is no justification for "general" wrongs.

    I know that you will report the embezzlement or otherwise act against it. You will do this because you are conditioned to believe it's wrong. That is an eminently satisfying description of what is.

    When it comes to what ought to be, there is a problem: when faced with conflicting moral positions - the guy who loves embezzling vs yourself - how can they be resolved if there is no objective standard for morality?

    Moral relativism has no tools for proposing what ought to be, because it provides no means of comparing or evaluating morals. If you say that minimizing suffering is a standard, for example, you are creating a non-relative axiom for moral judgment, and abandoning relativism.

    In the absence of such a standard, all that matters is which person or group is powerful enough to enforce their morality. Again, this seems like it's quite an accurate description of how things are, but I think most people would agree it's not how it ought to be.

    So... you're not so much critiquing the truth of relativism, but rather explaining the problems with the way the world actually is?

    In general, people have Venn diagrams of overlapping moralities, and disagreements can be settled by appealing to common ground. When this doesn't work, any number of other appeals might work. Also, as you note, there's always the option of might simply making right, and carrot/sticking individuals into accepting the desired moral paradigm.

    The question of ethics is, ultimately, how should we act? How ought we behave?

    I am saying that a position of moral relativism offers no answer to that question. It is more an explanation of why we act the way we do.

    You speak of the "desired moral paradigm," but as relativists, we must instantly see that the moral paradigm we desire is not inherently any more true than the one we are discouraging. How, then, is it rational to act in support of that morality? If we say "I will pursue my morality even though I know it is a cultural artifact of no greater inherent moral worth than the one I'm discouraging," we are being disingenuous. We are claiming self awareness and then acting without considering its rational implications.

    What I am saying then, I suppose, is that it does not seem possible to be an active moral relativist. When morals conflict, we make judgments. We may be aware that those judgments come from relative cultural values, but if we did not believe that our morality was objectively, factually superior or more moral, we would not act to assert it.

    Inquisitor wrote: »
    I fucking hate you Canadians.
  • Grey PaladinGrey Paladin Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    @Evil Multifarious: How does my post fails to qualify for what you describe? It states that morals are relative, but at the same time it provides a guideline that is based on reason.

    "All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible." - T.E. Lawrence
  • PataPata Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    jothki wrote: »
    For any objectivists out there, please name something that you subjectively believe is (wrong/right) but is objectively (right/wrong).

    This is a really silly question.

    A person who believes in objective morality will of course feel that their morals are in the category of "objectively right".

    Spoiler:
  • JebusUDJebusUD Registered User regular
    edited June 2011
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj9oB4zpHww&feature=related

    everybody watch.

    Also, everybody wang chung tonight.

    You haven't given me a reason to steer clear of you!
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