Tom Gilson

“Hopeless Hypotheses”

From Gladio Mentis – The Sword Of The Mind: Hopeless Hypotheses:

For my purposes, a “hopeless hypothesis” is an idea that, even if true, either must be or should be treated as untrue for all practical purposes. This puts a special onus on anyone claiming a “hopeless hypothesis” to be genuinely true – they have to explain what alternative to believe, and give reasons how and why to do so.

The practical use of these ideas is as follows: First, the fact that even atheists see the value in certain ideas, even if they aren’t true, makes logically consistent systems such as Christianity deserving of at least their grudging respect. Second, some ideas being espoused by anti-Christians aren’t worth believing under any circumstances. Let’s face it, at least the Christian worldview is internally consistent – we can live out exactly what we believe. The atheist has to “pretend” to have free will, and “pretend” that life has meaning, even though that’s not a supportable part of their worldview. Thus the lesson from Pascal’s Wager, that Christianity is something worth pursuing even if all we get in eternity is oblivion.

That’s worth thinking about. I want to caution you, though, against reading into it something “MedicineMan” didn’t write. Some will think he means that Pascal’s wager proves Christianity. That’s not what he’s saying. I’ll leave it to you to read what he really did say; and you can also look to his two previous related posts here and here.

But I will highlight one point from the first quoted paragraph. Some say that unless we can prove the truth of Christianity (or any religion, for that matter), then our default position ought to be to presume there is no God. MedicineMan’s “special onus” here is a challenge that presumption.

71 thoughts on ““Hopeless Hypotheses”

  1. From the link:

    If a skeptic wants to complain about being asked to believe something they don’t think is true, a believer needs only point to these “hopeless hypotheses”.

    We’ve seen our fair share of ‘hopeless hypotheseses’ peddled on this blog disguised as truth. Moral relativism is one of my favorites because nobody lives as if it were really true.

  2. Steve,

    We’ve seen our fair share of ‘hopeless hypotheseses’ peddled on this blog disguised as truth. Moral relativism is one of my favorites because nobody lives as if it were really true.

    Nonsense. We’ve been over this before. If moral taste is subjective, history would look just as it actually does.

    You don’t know me, but let’s suppose I’m a fairly average bloke, morally speaking. I am also a moral relativist. Tell me, what do you believe I am doing that is inconsistent with my moral relativist position?

    (And please be careful not to invoke any absolute moral laws like “One must always grant the subjective tastes of others as much privilege as one’s own subjective tastes” which don’t exist under moral relativism.)

  3. Doctor(logic):

    I think that SteveK’s making the point that no moral relativist really lives as though right and wrong are totally subjective. There will always be some point at which you will consider some action or attitude as “immoral”.

    There are plenty of people who live as though moral relativism was true for them, but very very few who actually live as though it was legitimately true for everyone.

    That was part of my point in the “Hopeless Hypotheses” post. Once someone willingly lives out something that they acknowledge (one way or another) to be false, they lose the rational ability to criticize others for holding to supposedly false beliefs.

  4. Hi DL,

    Tell me, what do you believe I am doing that is inconsistent with my moral relativist position?

    Claiming that no crime could ever warrant a specified punishment, agreeing that justice is never served by the punishment of a third party, making the morality of caring for a burn victim independent of yourself and your opinions, etc.

  5. Charlie,

    You know that my statements on crime and punishment are just my opinions (and frequently shared ones), even if my language appears to you to be absolutist.

    As for the discussion about burn victims, I have stated before, moral preferences can conflict, and I would rather have long-term A than short-term B.

    There’s no contradiction on my part, only distortions on your part.

  6. MedicineMan,

    I think that SteveK’s making the point that no moral relativist really lives as though right and wrong are totally subjective. There will always be some point at which you will consider some action or attitude as “immoral”.

    If what I call “immoral” is subjective, where is the conflict?

    There are plenty of people who live as though moral relativism was true for them, but very very few who actually live as though it was legitimately true for everyone.

    This is making precisely the mistake that I told Steve not to make. You think that moral relativism being true for everyone somehow limits my “right” to object about differences of moral opinion. That’s simply not true.

  7. Doctor(logic):

    I absolutely do think that being a moral relativist limits your ability (not ‘right’, per se) to object to differences in moral opinion. Morals are either subjective, or they aren’t. If you’re willing to draw a line somewhere, beyond which you think something’s immoral for everyone, then you’re not really a moral relativist. You’re a relative relativist, which is just a convoluted way to reject external moral pressures.

    I would consider moral relativism a hopeless hypothesis. At some point, some things have to be considered “wrong”, and treated accordingly. You can’t actually live out, consistently, a belief that there are no moral absolutes. If we really lived as though all morals were relative, civilization would collapse. Moral relativists don’t want the rest of the world to be moral relativists.

    That being said, you can certainly object to moral differences. If you do, though, I presume that you would object only in the sense that you ‘don’t agree’ with the morals of some action(s); you would state that such a thing is immoral for you, but not necessarily immoral for that person, or for anyone else. And, I would presume that there is no act you would consider immoral for everyone.

    Is this accurate, or am I misinterpreting your stance?

  8. Hi DL,
    They aren’t distortions.
    It is impossible to hold the opinion that it can never be felt, by anybody anywhere, that it is moral for a third party to suffer punishment in another’s stead.
    To make such a statement as “it is never just …” is to contradict relativism. If we each determine our own morality and our own justice then the relativist could never say what is never just. All he can say is “I will never agree”.

  9. ps.
    Those weren’t your personal opinions on crime and punishment. They were theological statements you made in judging, surprise, the goodness of God.
    Your relative morality is so absolute that it transcends not only persons and culture, but the natural/supernatural divide as well.

  10. dl, this is just false, and easily demonstrated to be so:

    If moral taste is subjective, history would look just as it actually does.

    History has been changed over and over again by men and women of character who set themselves under an objective morality and called on others to do so. Think Socrates, the Old Testament prophets, Jesus, Paul, Joan of Arc, the writers of the Magna Carta, Wycliffe, Wesley, Wilberforce, the abolitionists, Martin Luther King Jr.–need I go on?

    Okay, maybe they were all just deluded into thinking their morality was objective. But that would mean that the most brilliant moral minds of history were the most misguided. I don’t think so.

  11. MedicineMan,

    I absolutely do think that being a moral relativist limits your ability (not ‘right’, per se) to object to differences in moral opinion. Morals are either subjective, or they aren’t. If you’re willing to draw a line somewhere, beyond which you think something’s immoral for everyone, then you’re not really a moral relativist. You’re a relative relativist, which is just a convoluted way to reject external moral pressures.

    I am a moral relativist. There are things that I think I and others ought to do, but I believe that these moral preferences are subjective. For example, I think it is wrong for people to commit murder. Just because I think it is generally wrong for people to commit murder does not mean that it is absolutely wrong for people to commit murder. So what’s the problem with my opinion about murder being subjective?

    You can’t actually live out, consistently, a belief that there are no moral absolutes. If we really lived as though all morals were relative, civilization would collapse.

    No, you have not established this at all. I think this kind of statement results from simplistic thinking. You think absolute morality is some sort of force field that prevents people from doing bad things. That’s not how it works.

    Suppose that I give you some airtight argument, and you are immediately convinced that morality is relative. For every act you presently consider immoral, there are two possibilities:

    1) You might presently be viscerally disgusted by the immoral act. In which case, you are going to continue to express your moral disgust by not committing said act, and by discouraging that act on the part of others.

    2) You might be attracted to the immoral act. In which case, you have to weigh the retribution of others against the satisfaction gained in or by the commission of the act. This consideration leads to the establishment of social contract, policing, etc.

    For me, the question of absolute morality isn’t solved by a god. God’s morality is just as subjective as anyone else’s. God simply has total enforcement.

    Presently, you don’t want to commit acts your God finds immoral because either (a) he’ll clobber you for it, or (b) you want to improve quality of life and you believe that God is prohibiting the act to that end (i.e., that God knows that abstaining from the act will bring Earthly or psychological rewards). Now if you become a moral subjectivist, (b) doesn’t go away.

    I think only a small minority of people are restrained exclusively by mechanism (a).

    Finally, if morality is subjective, that’s not a hopeless hypothesis. Do you think that “good behavior” trumps the truth?

  12. So what’s the problem with my opinion about murder being subjective?

    For one, it makes it more difficult to legitimize any one view over any other. Why should laws be made against murder if some people think it’s acceptable? How do you decide which views of morality are more worthy of enforcement – which in and of itself implies some morals?

    No, absolute morality is not a force field. And relative morality is not a livable philosophy. Sooner or later, everyone expects other people to conform to some sort of moral code. If we stopped expecting other people to obey any type of moral standard, then society would become anarchy.

    If you can give me an airtight argument that morals are relative, then I’ll treat it as a hypothesis worth considering. Until then, I think we can agree that both the absolutist and the relativist can find ways to jive their views with experience (at least on the surface).

    My view is that I can do this more consistently than you can. You are absolutely right, in that God’s opinion is the only one that counts. The difference is that Christians pick this one morality, rather than any morality, as acceptable.

    No, (b) does not go away in subjectivism. It’s replaced by the idea that what constitutes “improvement” is totally up to each person. It doesn’t prohibit anyone from doing anything good, but it surely leaves the door open to more “wrong” than objectivism.

    Beyond that, it’s simply a worldview issue. It’s an opinion based on presumptions on both sides.

    I’m not sure what you mean by good behavior trumping truth, because I don’t know how that lines up with my conception of a hopeless hypothesis.

  13. MedicineMan,
    I don’t know if you were around for the many discussions we had about belief, morality, subjectivism and epistemology. We learned that DL’s belief system centers around the scientific method such that objective things/concepts are required to statistically conform to a predictive model and must be independently verifiable by anyone following that model (If I’m wrong, DL, please correct me).

    You might guess that most here disagree with DL’s approach as a complete system because it calls into question much of what we claim to know about our everyday lives.

  14. DL: So what’s the problem with my opinion about murder being subjective?

    MM: For one, it makes it more difficult to legitimize any one view over any other. Why should laws be made against murder if some people think it’s acceptable? How do you decide which views of morality are more worthy of enforcement – which in and of itself implies some morals?

    MM, what type of difficulty is the one you have mentioned? Is it is difficulty that make relative morality impossible in principle, or is it one that make relative morality more messy than absolute morality? I think the answer is clearly the latter: DL intended (I suspect) his question to be one of prinicple.

    To answer your questions specifically, a relativistic moral law is made when a group of people (family, tribe, culture, country, etc.) decide to do so. There is no absolute or objective foundation for doing so: as I’ve said before, it is merely a question of power what laws are made (which surely squares with the empirical evidence). Within one culture, once one adopts a moral code, one can be encouraged or admonished to be consistent within that moral code (assuming consistency is part of the larger code of the culture), which looks like, on the surface, an absolute admonishment, but which is really relativistc. When differing moral cultures clash, it’s up to power to decide the difference. Doesn’t look pretty, but that’s the way it is, assuming there’s no God. Doesn’t mean it’s logically inconsistent, either. Assuming there’s no God to provide absolute morality, how could what is be illogical?

  15. MedicineMan,

    Paul is correct.

    For one, it makes it more difficult to legitimize any one view over any other. Why should laws be made against murder if some people think it’s acceptable?

    I find it astonishing that you (and other theists) cannot answer the question you pose.

    Just imagine that morality is relative. What would you do about murder?

    Indeed, I think the answer is so obvious that I don’t want to tell you the answer. I’m certain you can see it for yourself.

    If you can give me an airtight argument that morals are relative, then I’ll treat it as a hypothesis worth considering.

    I can give you one airtight argument and an a posteriori argument.

    Assuming you agree that one cannot derive an “ought” from an “is”, we have to conclude that moral theorems derive from moral axioms that are independent of what “is”. There are lots of possible moral axioms. However, one’s choice of moral axioms is a moral choice, reliant on moral axioms. Therefore, morality is as arbitrary and as indeterminate as choice of mathematical axioms. There’s no special status for the mathematical system {x+y=7, x=5}, versus {x+y=7, x=4}. This is because preference for one system over the other requires a mathematical axiom. There’s your airtight case.

    My a posteriori argument relies on a definition of subjective and objective. I prefer a systems definition. Essentially, you can go two ways to establish morality to be objective or subjective: you can find positive evidence that morality is objective, or positive evidence that it is subjective. Biology supplies a ton of evidence that morality is subjective (e.g., the effects of chemistry, and the evolution on human and primate morality). Meanwhile, there’s no evidence that morality is objective and beyond our subjective feelings. Morality predicts nothing (apart from how we feel), and morality has no effect on objects that lack subjective senses. These are the tests we use to identify every other objective domain. For example, the subjective weight of a projectile determines how it affects a metal target despite the fact that the metal target has no subjectivities. That’s why we think that weight/mass is objective. In contrast, the beauty of a painting has no effect on entities that lack subjectivity. A camera behaves no differently taking a photo of a beautiful scene versus an ugly one. A stereo system is no less reliable when playing a Mozart symphony than when playing random sounds with similar power spectrum. Which of these cases resembles morality? The beauty example. Stolen gasoline runs your car just as well as fairly-procured gasoline. You cannot isolate morality from your own subjectivities and see any effects on entities that lack subjectivities.

    Overall, it seems as if you are now moderating your position. You certainly haven’t shown that moral relativism is hopeless.

  16. doctor(logic),

    Not airtight at all. As you told MedicineMan, I’m surprised at you! I have no doubt MedicineMan would handle this just fine, but I’m going for it first (unless he posts before me).

    Assuming you agree that one cannot derive an “ought” from an “is”, we have to conclude that moral theorems derive from moral axioms that are independent of what “is.”

    That’s true under any assumptions except for theism. In theism the nature of God is not just a description of what exists but also a description of what is right. If you make it otherwise, you are making it something other than theism.

    The obvious answer you wanted MedicineMan to have realized is this: you decide that murder should be illegal if you have the power to decide it. Now, in the case of murder this does not seem to pose a problem, for hardly anyone is going to experience the force of your power against them. Those who do, deserve it, most of us agree without much thought.

    But no, it’s not so simple after all. There was a time when someone had the power to decide it was not illegal to murder millions of Jews, quite brutally. Or Kurds. Or Turks. Or residents of Darfur. Or intellectuals in China. Or people who wore glasses (presumed to be intellectuals) in Cambodia. Still, the principle applied: if you have the power to legislate, then you legislate.

    MedicineMan, aren’t you surprised, as doctor(logic) was, that this wasn’t just obvious to you?

  17. Tom, I don’t see what the problem is with the idea that relativism means that others can and have made different moral choices, even about murder. I may not like others’ choices, but it doesn’t make relativism illogical or inconsistent. What exactly is your complaint? If it is merely that you don’t like others’ moral choices, or that they are not compatible with yours, I don’t see how that defeats relativism.

  18. DL:
    What do you think about the statement below? It’s your words modified slightly in order to change the subect to logic.

    Assuming you agree that one cannot derive an “ought” from an “is”, we have to conclude that logical theorems derive from logical axioms that are independent of what “is”. There are lots of possible logical axioms. However, one’s choice of logical axioms is a logical choice, reliant on logical axioms. Therefore, logic is as arbitrary and as indeterminate as choice of mathematical axioms.

    Is logic arbitrary and/or subjective? Why or why not?

  19. Paul,

    Tom, I don’t see what the problem is with the idea that relativism means that others can and have made different moral choices, even about murder. I may not like others’ choices, but it doesn’t make relativism illogical or inconsistent. What exactly is your complaint? If it is merely that you don’t like others’ moral choices, or that they are not compatible with yours, I don’t see how that defeats relativism.

    We’ve been over this ground often, Paul, so I’ll just give one answer this time.

    It changes the whole meaning of morality from right or wrong to powerful or powerless. That may not seem wrong, incoherent, or illogical to you, but it absolutely turns my stomach. And by all genuine moral thinkers down through the ages, defined by their agreed impact for the good of humanity, it is a horrifying inversion of what is right.

    You may say that my choice of “genuine moral thinkers” is skewed by what does or doesn’t turn my stomach. You’re welcome to your opinion on that. But I am just astonished that anyone would try to logically defend Pol Pot’s killing people for wearing glasses! You teach in a university (do you wear glasses?) Bang, you’re dead. As you lie there losing consciousness in your pool of blood, repeat after me: “Because he is the powerful one, there’s nothing illogical in his moral decision to kill me.”

    No, thanks.

  20. Tom,

    That’s true under any assumptions except for theism. In theism the nature of God is not just a description of what exists but also a description of what is right. If you make it otherwise, you are making it something other than theism.

    I don’t agree. It looks like you are just assuming a bunch of moral axioms when you assume theism. Theism is not a free pass that enables you to avoid making assumptions about morality, because it is such an assumption.

    There was a time when someone had the power to decide it was not illegal to murder millions of Jews, quite brutally. Or Kurds. Or Turks. Or residents of Darfur. Or intellectuals in China. Or people who wore glasses (presumed to be intellectuals) in Cambodia. Still, the principle applied: if you have the power to legislate, then you legislate.

    All these things happened in a world in which you think there is objective morality. Indeed, politics and power don’t disappear if morality is objective. So how can this be a test of whether moral relativism makes sense?

  21. doctor(logic),

    That’s true under any assumptions except for theism. In theism the nature of God is not just a description of what exists but also a description of what is right. If you make it otherwise, you are making it something other than theism.

    I don’t agree. It looks like you are just assuming a bunch of moral axioms when you assume theism. Theism is not a free pass that enables you to avoid making assumptions about morality, because it is such an assumption.

    As I expected, you’re trying to make it something other than theism.

    All these things happened in a world in which you think there is objective morality. Indeed, politics and power don’t disappear if morality is objective. So how can this be a test of whether moral relativism makes sense?

    Same answer I’ve always given at this point of these discussions:

    1. If you think you can affirm what I suggested Paul affirm at the end of that comment, then you can probably continue to think that relativism is coherent.

    2. But for the sake of logical and lexical consistency, you ought not to use the word “wrong” or “right” around any other person without explaining that to you, “right” could in some circumstances encompass being killed because you wear glasses. Your hearers will be very misled otherwise.

    3. If you ever hear yourself thinking that someone did something wrong to you, you owe it to yourself for the sake of consistency to bear in mind that this is just your own conception and the other person’s is as valid as yours.

    4. If you ever think about moral improvement or betterment, in regard to yourself, another person, or another culture, logical consistency forces you to recognize it is just change, not improvement. South Africa’s racial policies in 2008 are different than in 1960, but in both those years they were what they were, which by any standard except for some outsiders’ feelings were just fine.

    If you can affirm those things, then I know I will not convince you moral relativism is not logically incoherent. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop writing about it, since I’m sure there are readers lurking out there who wear glasses, or have friends or family members who wear glasses, and don’t think that’s such a good reason to justify being killed along with millions of their countrymen…

  22. dl, this is just false, and easily demonstrated to be so:

    If moral taste is subjective, history would look just as it actually does.

    History has been changed over and over again by men and women of character who set themselves under an objective morality and called on others to do so. Think Socrates, the Old Testament prophets, Jesus, Paul, Joan of Arc, the writers of the Magna Carta, Wycliffe, Wesley, Wilberforce, the abolitionists, Martin Luther King Jr.–need I go on?

    Okay, maybe they were all just deluded into thinking their morality was objective. But that would mean that the most brilliant moral minds of history were the most misguided. I don’t think so.

    Careful, Tom – DL’s saying “if moral taste is subjective”, not “if moral reformers thought moral taste was subjective.”

    The angle to take here is with the validity of using this point as evidence for his view: if history would look no different than it does if moral “taste” was objective or if it was subjective, then DL really can’t use it to support his position – and, really, neither can we. I could state, “If moral taste is objective, history would look just as it actually does,” and it wouldn’t get us anywhere.

  23. Tom wrote:

    It changes the whole meaning of morality from right or wrong to powerful or powerless. That may not seem wrong, incoherent, or illogical to you, but it absolutely turns my stomach

    Yes, I agree about the definition change to the extent that absolute morality disappears, and all that’s left is 1) within an accepted moral code, people say “A is moral” or “B is not moral,” but 2) when looked at from an incompatible culture, or better, from above both cultures, what is right is defined by those with power (the relativistic Golden Rule is “He who has the gold makes the rules”), However, that doesn’t mean that people don’t feel like things are right and wrong, which is why the words are used as if absolutes, even by relativists, but, strictly speaking (or, from the vantage of being above two competing systems), it does come down to a matter of power as to which system will prevail, or, better, seem to be absolute from within one culture.

    If that turns your stomach, I sympathize, but an argument from personal revulsion is not rational.

  24. Obviously there are moral tendencies hardwired into human beings.

    That’s why we find so much basic commonality between individuals and civilizations’ moral principles.

    While natural moral inclinations can be changed by culture we do notice a tendency for civilizations’ views on morality to converge.

    Some core of morality may be objective to the human species even if not intrinsic to reality.

    For Christians, we see the element of moral agreement indicative of the remains of our design. The relatively small elements of disagreement can be attributable to man’s moral decay since the Fall.

  25. All,

    I’ve been away for a bit, but I had a chance to skim (not memorize) the comments since then. Obviously, I don’t have the time or inclination to answer every point in detail. Tom’s made some worthwhile comments already.

    DoctorLogic,

    You’re making at least one mistake by assuming that one’s choice of moral axioms is a purely moral choice. That’s a bit like saying that a person’s choice of what food to eat is purely based on hunger. Christian Theists such as myself would claim that there are logical, evidential, and revelatory reasons to choose one set of morals over another. Just because you can phrase something in logically invalid terms does not make it invalid.

    As far as what I would do about murder, you’re again making a mistake in your inferences. I’d still think murder was wrong, but I’d go from having an unchanging, universal, external basis for that belief to having an arbitrary, subjective basis for that belief. I’d go from logical to illogical. I’d lose any justification for punishing the murderer, since neither one of us would have a moral advantage. All I could do, as a relativist, is try to impose my will on other people.

    Part of my point is that the entire idea of subjective morality is incoherent. It’s meaningless in application. You still think that certain things should be punished, rewarded, encouraged, or discouraged. Unless you believe in applied anarchy, then you’re only a relativist “on paper”, but an objectivist in practice.

    My contention about some things being “hopeless hypotheses” is aimed at this exact problem. You can’t actually live out an applied belief in relativism. You have to choose a standard somewhere, both as an individual, a society, and a species. Since you can’t live it (relativism) out, it’s a functionally meaningless idea, in the same way that determinism is. It’s like playing a game where none of the rules have to be followed at any particular time – it’s meaningless.

    I’m amused that you’re subtly accusing me of moderating my view in response to your comments. Your entire position is set up to avoid ever having to take any real stances on anything at all. More to the point, you’re laying out a view that has no rules at all. Anything you do, or don’t do, is acceptable according to your view, since you can always chalk everything up to moral relativism. You’re giving yourself a universal “out” for any challenge.

    Tom echoed (at least in part) a portion of the problem with this. As a relativist, you don’t have any logical argument to promote one morality over another except for threat of force. You’re laying the foundations for the idea that might makes right, and that this is unavoidable. Christian Theists realize that strength provides power, but we don’t think muscle legitimizes morality.

    Paul,

    Note that you used phrases like “seems absolute from within one culture” and “that doesn’t mean that people don’t feel like things are right and wrong”. Perhaps without knowing it, you’re acknowledging that might doesn’t actually make “right”, it just makes “rules”.

    Compare that to your phrasing that “what is right is defined by those with power”. Sometimes that kind of rhetoric reminds me of the Dawkins-esque claim that everything just “seems” designed, everything “feels” purposed, but none of it really is.

    For what it’s worth, a great deal of moral relativism stems from a desire to reject a particular moral frame that the person dislikes. It’s worth stating that revulsion isn’t a logical basis for the relativist, either.

  26. MM wrote:

    Note that you used phrases like “seems absolute from within one culture” and “that doesn’t mean that people don’t feel like things are right and wrong”. Perhaps without knowing it, you’re acknowledging that might doesn’t actually make “right”, it just makes “rules”.

    Right, no problem so far. “Right” is another name for the rules that we grow up by.

    Compare that to your phrasing that “what is right is defined by those with power”. Sometimes that kind of rhetoric reminds me of the Dawkins-esque claim that everything just “seems” designed, everything “feels” purposed, but none of it really is.

    No prob here, either. To take an extreme example, time is experientially (“feels” like) a very different thing from spaced, but Einstein’s science (science, no less) tells us that they are really just the 4 axes of the space-time continuum. Sometimes things aren’t what they seem.

    For what it’s worth, a great deal of moral relativism stems from a desire to reject a particular moral frame that the person dislikes. It’s worth stating that revulsion isn’t a logical basis for the relativist, either.

    I’d like to ask that you not impute motives behind my argument; that’s a path, if followed by both sides in a debate, quickly leads the debate past its substance. I only mentioned Tom’s revulsion because *he* brought it up first.

    Lastly, because it hasn’t been mentioned here yet, I think, one’s morals in relativism are not arbitrary nor chosen to the extent that one’s inculcation in a culture makes it extremely difficult to merely adopt by whim some other moral code.

  27. Paul,

    I’d like to ask that you not impute motives behind my argument…

    A request I can comply with before you even ask. I’d have to ask, though, that you save the righteous indignation until after you consider what I actually said. I didn’t mention your particular relativism, I simply stated that most relativists aren’t so much bowing to force of logic as they’re emotionally rejecting some particular moral structure. This lines up with your statement here:

    …one’s morals in relativism are not arbitrary nor chosen to the extent that one’s inculcation in a culture makes it extremely difficult to merely adopt by whim some other moral code.

    As I said, moral relativism is far more often a rejection of the mores, or some specifics of them, common to the individual’s society than primarily through some dryly intellectual deduction. It’s certainly not done on a whim, but (often) as a way to reject what’s otherwise inescapable.

    Becoming a relativist by emotional preference is as invalid, in those cases, as rejecting relativism on the basis of its distastefulness.

    All,

    I’m not sure I’ve seen an answer yet to my point about relativism being meaningful in theory only. So far, all of the relativists seem to agree that they’re not anarchists, nor are they advocating anarchy (either privately or communally). There’s a general agreement that even relativists think it’s rational and logical to pursue efforts towards enforcing some version(s) of morality on others (via laws, etc.). And yet, that’s from a philosophy that supposedly says that no one morality is better than any other, beyond private opinion.

    This led to my contention that genuine relativism is possible only in rhetorical gymnastics, not actual application. Keeping this in the ballpark of the posted topic, I’d consider it a hopeless hypothesis for that reason. I guess I need to know how the relativists apply their view to their lives. As I’ve commented previously, I have my opinions on how this happens, and why.

  28. MedicineMan,

    You’re making at least one mistake by assuming that one’s choice of moral axioms is a purely moral choice.

    So, an “is” does determine an “ought”?

    Here’s a thought experiment that the moral absolutists on this blog refuse to engage in: suppose that the evidence (assuming it were somehow relevant and present) shows that murder was an absolute moral imperative. What do you do?

    I’d still think murder was wrong, but I’d go from having an unchanging, universal, external basis for that belief to having an arbitrary, subjective basis for that belief. I’d go from logical to illogical. I’d lose any justification for punishing the murderer, since neither one of us would have a moral advantage.

    Justification for you to act does not rely on pure logic and your knowledge of empirical facts. You don’t watch films, listen to music, pick a favorite food based on logic. You don’t obtain values by logic. Once you have a set of values, preferences, tastes, etc., then logic tells you how to act in accordance with them.

    Part of my point is that the entire idea of subjective morality is incoherent. It’s meaningless in application. You still think that certain things should be punished, rewarded, encouraged, or discouraged.

    This applies to everything subjective. Suppose bananas are your favorite food. You then discover that bananas are not absolutely the most delicious food. Do you quit eating bananas? Do you abstain from eating bananas because you can find no deductive logical proof independent of your tastes that says you should eat them?

    Unless you believe in applied anarchy, then you’re only a relativist “on paper”, but an objectivist in practice.

    Not at all. What will happen is this. All those who are against murder will team up and create a society in which murder is punished and discouraged. This typically breeds people who also dislike murder. The GDP of this group will also be high because of the biological facts about humans. So I am not really leaving things to chance, am I? Historically, morality has been moving in a direction I approve of, and it’s not moving that way because Joe Lunchbox is assuming moral absolutism and performing deductive moral analyses.

    Anything you do, or don’t do, is acceptable according to your view, since you can always chalk everything up to moral relativism. You’re giving yourself a universal “out” for any challenge.

    Again, you very deeply misunderstand moral relativism. Relativism is a description of morality and moral feeling. What I do and don’t do matters to me. It is simply that what I do or don’t do doesn’t matter to the universe!

  29. Here’s a thought experiment that the moral absolutists on this blog refuse to engage in: suppose that the evidence (assuming it were somehow relevant and present) shows that murder was an absolute moral imperative. What do you do?

    I don’t understand the question. Really.

  30. Here’s another thought experiment: suppose gravity caused things to fall upward. Suppose God were found out to be a man behind a curtain pulling levers. What do you do?

    There’s an old question that someone thought proved theism was incoherent: can God create something so heavy he can’t pick it up? The best answer to that question is equally applicable to doctor(logic)’s thought experiment: nonsense is still nonsense, even if you’re talking about theology.

  31. SteveK,

    What Doctor(logic) is trying to do is avoid answering the question posed to him by continually asking one that’s been answered several times already. On top of that, the questions he’s asking are misleading and irrational.

    Doc,

    Notice that I haven’t asked you what you would do if I could provide you with absolutely incontrovertible, totally convincing proof that all morals are absolutely non-subjective. Why? “Hypothesis contrary to fact”, an idea that a logic doctor would be well aware of.

    If, or after, you understand why that makes your question invalid, then consider this: if you did prove something to be an actual moral imperative, would that not make it immoral to disobey it? Your own question not only leaves just one answer, but takes away any criticism you could give me for giving that answer.

    If there “is” a Creator God, who is omnipotent and omniscient and omnibenevolent, and He’s given His creations specific moral guidelines, then we certainly “ought” to adhere to them. That’s a pretty good reason to translate an “is” into an “ought”.

    Invoking bananas is cute, but not irrelevant. Some things are subjective. Morals are not.

    Historically, morality has been moving in a direction I approve of, and it’s not moving that way because Joe Lunchbox is assuming moral absolutism and performing deductive moral analyses.

    And it’s certainly not moving in a good direction because Joe thinks that every moral principle is purely a matter of preference.

    Everything following this…

    What will happen is this…

    avoids the actual question and attempts to insert one I didn’t ask. I’m not asking what you think would happen if everyone was a moral relativist. I’m asking how you, personally, Doctor(logic) apply your philosophy of moral relativism to your life.

    You haven’t really answered how you apply moral relativism to your life, other than to say “it doesn’t matter to the universe, just to me”. That’s a pretty good description of a universally applicable cop-out. That sort of confirms my opinion that your sense of relativism is functionally meaningless. For all practical purposes, you’re a subjectivist, expecting people to conform to at least some standards of behavior that you agree with.

    Lacking any better explanation, I still think that you’re only a relativist in theory, not in practice

  32. MM,

    1. I had no righteous indignation to save for later, I had none at all, I simply made a request, plain and simple.

    2. How do you know that most relativism is a reaction against mores?

    3. That relativists often are rejecting some moral code does not line up with my statement at all. My statement said that relativism says that people *accept,* not reject, (largely, but not completely) the moral code of the society in which they are brought up. You’re twisting my words to say the exact opposite of what I said.

    4. MM said:

    Invoking bananas is cute, but not irrelevant. Some things are subjective. Morals are not.

    You’re assuming/asserting what we’re disagreeing about (which makes for a short conversation). You claim that relativism is incoherent, but DL gave you a perfectly fine anaology (about taste for bananas) that explains how relativism works, and all you can do is to dismiss it by assuming what you’re ostensibly trying to prove to us.

  33. Tom, MedicineMan,

    Since you are apparently unable to see why my question makes sense, I’ll fill you in.

    Under relativism, personal morality is a function of personal taste. Under moral realism, there are absolute rights and wrongs, and how I feel about those moral realities is irrelevant to them.

    I deliberately asked you what would happen if your personal moral tastes strongly conflicted with absolute moral law. You reject the contemplation of such a possibility, and it’s really easy to see why. You cannot imagine an absolute morality that differs from your own subjective morality.

    I’m not saying that you always meet your moral ideals, nor am I saying that your moral ideals are set in stone (i.e., I’m not saying that you never make moral progress). What I am saying is that your discoveries about absolute morality do not significantly deviate from your subjective moral tastes.

    Indeed, your morality is much like my own subjective morality. I have my own moral ideals. Ideals that I rarely meet to my own satisfaction. I strive to meet my own standards of behavior, and criticize myself for failing to meet them, and I do so because I desire to live a better life. I can also make moral discoveries, such as the discovery I made when I learned that homosexuality is not evil, and that my opposition to gays and gay rights grew out of irrational fear.

    Notice that I haven’t asked you what you would do if I could provide you with absolutely incontrovertible, totally convincing proof that all morals are absolutely non-subjective. Why? “Hypothesis contrary to fact”, an idea that a logic doctor would be well aware of.

    This is nonsense. I can easily tell you what I would do. I would choose to live my life as I feel to be right, even if that made me objectively evil. There. Was that so difficult?

    Now, I’ll do your side. God tells you that murder is morally good, and that you’ll have to murder someone you love at some point in order to get into heaven. What do you do? Answer: you choose to be objectively evil. You have to because morality is not truly separable from how we feel. The idea of absolute morality is a bluff that only makes sense if the absolute morality happens to match up with your personal tastes. Absolute morality is easy for you to accept because it is the way you would like the universe to be, even if you cannot always live up to that moral code.

    Now, suppose that absolute morality is the name of the game. If my subjective morality is incompatible with the absolute, then I’ll do absolutely bad things. I am as committed to doing those bad things just like dissidents in the Soviet Union were committed to opposing the regime even if it meant less comfort for themselves and eventual death. So the relativism and realism issue is irrelevant. People with opposing subjective moralities are going to do what they want independent of what absolute morality has to say about it.

    If there “is” a Creator God, who is omnipotent and omniscient and omnibenevolent, and He’s given His creations specific moral guidelines, then we certainly “ought” to adhere to them. That’s a pretty good reason to translate an “is” into an “ought”.

    This is totally unsupportable, my friend. On what basis can you say that it is true? Because it will result in less suffering for us? That won’t work because suffering isn’t always a guide to the best choice. Because fathers should always be obeyed? Nope. That’s also false. Because God is good and we should trust him to tell us what is good even when it doesn’t look good? That’s not logical either because it’s circular.

    As for bananas, they are very relevant. Your claim is that, sans absolute morality, society collapses. That’s false, and the banana argument explains why. Maybe if you weren’t so terrified of the consequences of moral relativism, you could think about it calmly as a “counterfactual” position. Look, human nature is dodgy at times, but it’s actually more reliable than you think.

    And it’s certainly not moving in a good direction because Joe thinks that every moral principle is purely a matter of preference.

    Let me guess… you think we’re regressing morally, right?

  34. Paul,

    I know that most claims to moral subjectivism are based on a rejection of certain mores by my own experience. Most of the self-labeled relativists I interact with have some part of the Christian moral code (or the general code of society) that they reject, and for them, relativism is a means to legitimize their rejection. Oh, and check out the gem that doctor(logic) dropped that gives that idea a lot of weight (below)…

    In regards to your #3, I did not twist your words. I’m implying that the complementary thought to yours is this: people who choose to reject the morals of their society often do so via a profession of relativism.

    You’re assuming/asserting what we’re disagreeing about (which makes for a short conversation). You claim that relativism is incoherent…

    And you’re not just assuming/asserting the opposite view? I was disagreeing with the irrational idea that if some things are relative, then everything is relative.

    Furthermore, the point about bananas underscores my point about relativism being irrational. Do you really think that one’s opinion about murder should be as inconsequential as whether or not they like or dislike bananas? It’s one thing to claim that morals are relative, but your banana analogy moves towards suggesting that everything is relative.

    Doctor(logic),

    I deliberately asked you what would happen if your personal moral tastes strongly conflicted with absolute moral law. You reject the contemplation of such a possibility, and it’s really easy to see why. You cannot imagine an absolute morality that differs from your own subjective morality.

    Then you’re in denial, and you don’t grasp the point I made here:

    if you did prove something to be an actual moral imperative, would that not make it immoral to disobey it? Your own question not only leaves just one answer, but takes away any criticism you could give me for giving that answer.

    You’re the one who asked what I’d do if you could prove something was an actual moral imperative. Since I’m not a relativist, I don’t think that my opinion supercedes that of an omnipotent, omniscient God. I haven’t rejected the contemplation of that possibility. In fact, I gave the only logical answer that your question allows.

    You, on the other hand, still hadn’t indicated how you apply your professed belief in relativism. Now, you’re saying that you’re going to stick to your own morality, regardless of anything or anyone else:

    If my subjective morality is incompatible with the absolute, then I’ll do absolutely bad things. I am as committed to doing those bad things just like dissidents in the Soviet Union were committed to opposing the regime even if it meant less comfort for themselves and eventual death. So the relativism and realism issue is irrelevant.

    Indeed. You’re admitting that the only concern you have in regards to morality is your opinion. That’s not logic, or reason, or even intuition. That’s pure hard-headed-ness. Given that, what reason should there be to even discuss this with you?

    You’re also quite mistaken here:

    Now, I’ll do your side…Absolute morality is easy for you to accept because it is the way you would like the universe to be, even if you cannot always live up to that moral code.

    Who said that I like every aspect of the morals I think God wants us to adhere to? Part of the Christian conception of morals is that opinion does not dictate fact. I don’t believe that only those morals I like should apply to me (see my point above about rejection of objectivism on the basis of opinion).

    You, on the other hand, have just made it clear that your opinion is all that matters. This is where the relativistic rubber doesn’t actually meet the road of reality:

    If my subjective morality is incompatible with the absolute, then I’ll do absolutely bad things. I am as committed to doing those bad things just like dissidents in the Soviet Union were committed to opposing the regime even if it meant less comfort for themselves and eventual death.

    Those are your words. Imagine if everyone took that attitude towards every moral guideline they didn’t like? I’m gonna speed if I want to. I’m gonna kill if I want to. I’m gonna cheat people if I want to, because I think it’s okay, and I’m committed to opposing the regime of enforced honesty, even if it means less comfort, or even death!

    Now you’re the one saying that society would indeed collapse if everyone really, truly, lived out a belief in relativism.

    On what basis can you say that it is true?

    This is an argument about whether or not the Christian God exists, and out of respect for Tom, I’ll discuss it elsewhere. It’s off-topic here.

    And, lastly:

    Let me guess… you think we’re regressing morally, right?

    I never said that. Try reading my response to your Joe Lunchbox comment more carefully. I’m saying that if we’re moving in the right direction, it’s certainly not being caused by people taking your “I’m gonna do whatever I want no matter what” attitude.

  35. MM, I don’t think that what you said you were doing,

    I’m implying that the complementary thought to yours is this: people who choose to reject the morals of their society often do so via a profession of relativism.

    is what you actually did:

    I simply stated that most relativists aren’t so much bowing to force of logic as they’re emotionally rejecting some particular moral structure. This lines up with your statement here:

    …one’s morals in relativism are not arbitrary nor chosen to the extent that one’s inculcation in a culture makes it extremely difficult to merely adopt by whim some other moral code.

    because my point that people accept their society’s moral code does not “line up” with the idea that relativists reject their society’s code, unless you think that “line up” or “complimentary” means “oppose.”

    That, however, is not a point about the substance of relativism, so allow me to continue. You wrote:

    And you’re not just assuming/asserting the opposite view? I was disagreeing with the irrational idea that if some things are relative, then everything is relative.

    There is a difference between disagreeing and assuming. I may be picky here, forgive me, but allow me. When you wrote as your total response to DL’s banana’s analogy

    Invoking bananas is cute, but not irrelevant. Some things are subjective. Morals are not.

    that disagrees with DL, but in a way that provides no evidence or logica against DL’s idea, it just asserts/assumes that morality is objective, so DL’s bananas analogy must be wrong.

    Now, onto your substantive reply:

    Do you really think that one’s opinion about murder should be as inconsequential as whether or not they like or dislike bananas? It’s one thing to claim that morals are relative, but your banana analogy moves towards suggesting that everything is relative.

    DL’s bananas analogy does not require that murder is as inconsequential as taste for bananas. It only means to say that the way that taste operates with bananas has some pertinent similarities with how relative morality works. It’s a mistake to think that every aspect of one element in an analogy must be true for the other element in an analogy. It’s a mistake because an analogy isn’t a proof, it’s merely a metaphor to aid in understanding some topic in question.

    Lastly, an analogy doesn’t require that *everything* is analogous, but that’s the mistake you make when you posit that relativism would make everything relative. I fully believe in objective reality (with the possible exception of solipsism, which can’t be disproved, but wouldn’t make any difference anyway), but morality and the objective world of objects are two different things. You believe that taste in bananas is subjective and relative, and yet I think you also believe in an objective world, so why does my belief in relative morality imply non-belief in an objective world (“everything is relative”)?

  36. MedicineMan,

    Since I’m not a relativist, I don’t think that my opinion supercedes that of an omnipotent, omniscient God. I haven’t rejected the contemplation of that possibility. In fact, I gave the only logical answer that your question allows.

    So if God tells you kill a child, you’ll obey without question? Just like Abraham planned to do? What if God merely prefers to see us suffer? You don’t seem to be facing up to this possibility, and if you cannot do that, you are deliberately blinding yourself to tests of your belief.

    There’s a classical idea of goodness that includes mercy, freedom from suffering, kindness, etc. There’s a corresponding human idea of evil that includes suffering, hatred and so on. However, all of these things are based on subjective human emotions.

    You seem to be saying that there’s absolute morality, and it must agree with the (statistical) subjective view. Yet, at the same time, I’m sure you agree that there’s no reason why the statistical, subjective view has to be the correct one. The two claims cannot stand together.

    Your position further collapses when you fail to imagine a God who is not classically good. And, metaphysically, God does not have to be classically good.

    Moreover, the rationale you continually provide for moral realism is that its absence would allegedly lead to subjectively bad behavior. I hope you can see why that doesn’t work, even if (counterfactually) the absence of belief in realism did lead to subjectively bad behavior.

    You, on the other hand, still hadn’t indicated how you apply your professed belief in relativism.

    I think I did, but if you missed it… relativism makes no difference most of the time. I do what I feel is right, and what I believe will lead to the most preferable outcome. I have empathy with others, and frequently sacrifice my own short-term, material well-being for the well-being of others, and my long-term well-being. That’s precisely what you do, and it doesn’t mean that I’m living like a moral realist. It might just as well mean you’re living like a moral relativist.

    You’re admitting that the only concern you have in regards to morality is your opinion. That’s not logic, or reason, or even intuition. That’s pure hard-headed-ness. Given that, what reason should there be to even discuss this with you?

    This is a purely emotional statement on your part, and I cannot believe you think it true.

    Arguments for moral realism always rely upon subjective moral judgments. You say that if relativism is true, then murder will be okay, and neither of us like murder, therefore, moral relativism is false. But if morality is not subjective, then when you or I think of murder is 100% irrelevant! (Never mind the false premise that relativism means murder is okay.)

    The reality is that morality is nuanced, whether one is a realist or a relativist. There are intuitive moral feelings, there are heuristic rules (e.g., the Golden Rule), there is empathy, and there are predictions we make about outcomes. When deciding whether to give up our seat to the pregnant woman on the bus, we don’t consult the Psalms to see what it says about pregnant women on buses. What we do is assess the relative amounts of suffering and gain in the transaction. We go based on our intuitions and empathy, and after we have done it once or twice we get a heuristic that says we should give up a little physical comfort for a big emotional payoff. Sometimes we go on heuristics without thinking, and sometimes we re-evaluate our heuristics based on our emotions. We soon realize that the positives outweigh the negatives from a subjective viewpoint.

    The moral realist does this but goes one step further. The realist tries to construct some deductive framework to logically justify the moral decision while giving the illusion that his subjective moral feelings are irrelevant. He then argues that the good vibes he feels about the moral decision are just an incidental bone thrown to him by God for being a good boy.

    It just doesn’t work that way. That’s like constructing a logical, deductive framework around foods so that our preferred choice of food has nothing to do with our tastes, and then, when our food tastes good, we claim we merely get a bonus for having solved God’s deductive logic food puzzle so well.

    Who said that I like every aspect of the morals I think God wants us to adhere to? Part of the Christian conception of morals is that opinion does not dictate fact. I don’t believe that only those morals I like should apply to me (see my point above about rejection of objectivism on the basis of opinion).

    Please elaborate. What moral realities do you object to, and in what way are they any more significant than my own?

    For example, I kinda object to all the deadlines, and all the boring work projects that pile up on my desk. I resent having to spend even a minute of my life pushing paper around. However, given the physical realities of the world and of other people, I would rather do those things than not do them. In that sense, I make moral decisions to do things I don’t enjoy because I choose the “lesser evil” so to speak.

    But, please, go ahead and tell me what moral law you fundamentally object to, and which gives you no gain whatsoever. I doubt it is kindness or love you object to. How about homosexuality? Is the Christian prohibition of homosexuality something you find abhorrent but accept reluctantly? Or do you feel that the prohibition on homosexuality is a minor inconvenience, just like the prohibition on laziness, and it results in an eventual gain?

    Imagine if everyone took that attitude towards every moral guideline they didn’t like? I’m gonna speed if I want to. I’m gonna kill if I want to. I’m gonna cheat people if I want to, because I think it’s okay, and I’m committed to opposing the regime of enforced honesty, even if it means less comfort, or even death!

    That’s precisely what people do today, MM. They are not dissuaded by belief in absolute morality. When subjective morality and absolute morality conflict, people choose an absolute morality that is in accord with their subjective tastes. Just look at Fred Phelps. His morality is objective. So is Osama bin Laden’s. They simply choose an absolute morality that meets their subjective desires. They’re not being persuaded by absolutes, but rather selecting their own absolutes.

  37. Paul,

    What I said I was doing is exactly what I did. You stated that cultural inculcation makes it difficult to adopt other modes of morality. My statement was that adopting the view of relativism is one way to internally justify that rejection, when it occurs. Further reiterations that it’s tough to reject the morals of your culture only support my position that relativism is one means by which people reject those morals; that doesn’t mean they reject all of it, they may only reject some of the particulars. Sometimes that rejection is only as deep as rejecting the authority behind it – leaving the door open to defy that code when it suits you (as DL so aptly demonstrated).

    I’m well aware that analogies are not arguments, and that they’re not comprehensive. I understand that DL thinks that some aspects of “taste” apply to food as well as morals; I think it’s an irrelevant analogy because there are no guidelines for “taste” in the way that there are for “morals”. This is the analogy that DL used:

    Suppose bananas are your favorite food. You then discover that bananas are not absolutely the most delicious food. Do you quit eating bananas? Do you abstain from eating bananas because you can find no deductive logical proof independent of your tastes that says you should eat them?

    It’s a false analogy – what DL is trying to relate does not do so rationally. In matters of culinary taste, there are no requirements, expectations, or consequences that drive us to only eat the “most delicious foods”. There is no rational or logical reason that I’d be expected to eat only “the best tasting” foods, since it makes no difference to me, my God, or my species what foods I think taste the best.

    More to the point, there aren’t prohibitions about what foods I can or cannot like the taste of. The analogy DL uses acts as though I should be as free with my morals as I am with my snacking.

    Morals, on the other hand, have direct consequences on ourselves and our neighbors. There are rational, logical, and theological reasons that we ought to conform only to the “best morals”.

    DL is on the right track in one sense – if there is a pressing need, or rational reason to only adhere to “the best” of something, then we have good reasons to abstain as he said. Such is my view of morality, with the additional belief that God has revealed a specific set of such morals. What he (DL) is trying to do is suggest that this attitude is foolish to take with morals, since it’s foolish to take with fruit.

    I realize that “The Chiquita Parable” isn’t an argument, but an analogy. I dispute it because it’s a false analogy.

  38. Doctor(logic),

    You don’t seem to be facing up to this possibility, and if you cannot do that, you are deliberately blinding yourself to tests of your belief.

    I think that I made it clear that your question, the way you phrased it, left only one possible logical answer. If you can prove something to be an absolute moral imperative, then I cannot be moral without following it.

    I find the mention of Abraham humorous – there’s a faith component in his actions, based on what he knew of God. The lesson of Abraham and Isaac was that God may lead us in directions that we don’t understand, but He’ll always be just and righteous. We may just have to wait to see how. Humorous, because you said this:

    If my subjective morality is incompatible with the absolute, then I’ll do absolutely bad things. I am as committed to doing those bad things just like dissidents in the Soviet Union were committed to opposing the regime even if it meant less comfort for themselves and eventual death. So the relativism and realism issue is irrelevant. People with opposing subjective moralities are going to do what they want independent of what absolute morality has to say about it.

    You asking me if I’d obey if God told me to do something atrocious is much like asking what I’d do if gravity made things fall up, instead of down. At the same time, you clearly stated that, in your opinion, the relativist is bound only by their own opinions, and are justified in doing anything they so choose, regardless of how anyone else views their actions. If you’re attempting to paint my view as riskier than yours, I think you’ve already shot that in the foot.

    You seem to be saying that there’s absolute morality, and it must agree with the (statistical) subjective view.

    No, I am not and have not. Majority opinion has no bearing on fact.

    Yet, at the same time, I’m sure you agree that there’s no reason why the statistical, subjective view has to be the correct one.

    Yes.

    The two claims cannot stand together.

    If I’d made both of those claims, you’d have a point.

    Your position further collapses when you fail to imagine a God who is not classically good. And, metaphysically, God does not have to be classically good.

    Possibility does not mean reality. I am not defending a view based on any possible God, I’m defending a view based on the God of the Bible. What reason is there for me to imagine something irrelevant to my belief?

    Moreover, the rationale you continually provide for moral realism is that its absence would allegedly lead to subjectively bad behavior. I hope you can see why that doesn’t work, even if (counterfactually) the absence of belief in realism did lead to subjectively bad behavior.

    Do I need to re-quote your masterful summary of what would happen if people actually applied a belief in relativism? What you described, if espoused by everyone and directed at everyone else, wouldn’t lead to anarchy, it would be anarchy.

    I think I did, but if you missed it… relativism makes no difference most of the time.

    It makes no difference at any time. You make moral pronouncements that what this person does is wrong, what that person does is right, and so forth. I’m assuming that you don’t excuse behaviors you think are immoral by chalking them up to relativism. ‘Well, I don’t think murder is okay, but I can’t judge his morality.’ You don’t think that way (I presume), so you do in fact act like an objectivist. As I keep saying, your words indicate that your relativism is all in your head.

    MM: You’re admitting that the only concern you have in regards to morality is your opinion. That’s not logic, or reason, or even intuition. That’s pure hard-headed-ness. Given that, what reason should there be to even discuss this with you? | DL: This is a purely emotional statement on your part, and I cannot believe you think it true.

    I guess I do need to re-quote your own words to you:

    DL: If my subjective morality is incompatible with the absolute, then I’ll do absolutely bad things. I am as committed to doing those bad things just like dissidents in the Soviet Union were committed to opposing the regime even if it meant less comfort for themselves and eventual death. So the relativism and realism issue is irrelevant. People with opposing subjective moralities are going to do what they want independent of what absolute morality has to say about it.

    I’m not basing my opinion on emotion, I’m reading your own words.

    You say that if relativism is true, then murder will be okay, and neither of us like murder, therefore, moral relativism is false.

    I said no such thing. We both, I think, agree that if relativism is true, then there is no such thing as “okay” or “not okay”, only opinion. I don’t see how you can argue against your own view. I certainly didn’t make an appeal to consequences. I think it’s false because I believe in a theistic God who’s given us a moral law.

    But if morality is not subjective, then when you or I think of murder is 100% irrelevant!

    Correct. I don’t think that my opinion defines reality.

    The reality is that morality is nuanced, whether one is a realist or a relativist.

    To some extent, of course. There’s a difference between recognizing limitations in a mortal man’s ability to perfectly discern moral issues and claiming that those issues are purely fictional. I don’t dispute that there are internal feelings at play when we make moral choices. I do believe that those feelings exist for a reason, and they have a source. I also don’t think that they’re infallible. Not every urge or feeling is a good feeling.

    The moral realist does this but goes one step further. The realist tries to construct some deductive framework to logically justify the moral decision while giving the illusion that his subjective moral feelings are irrelevant. He then argues that the good vibes he feels about the moral decision are just an incidental bone thrown to him by God for being a good boy.

    Backwards, and completely wrong. Christian theists adjust our behavior to the framework, not the other way around. Remember, we don’t have to like a moral code to follow it. And, again, yes – we do think that our opinions are powerless to change reality. The rest of what you said about this is based on the backwards interpretation, so it’s not worth responding to.

    Please elaborate. What moral realities do you object to, and in what way are they any more significant than my own?

    I don’t object to anything – I’m not in a position to question God. I have urges and desires that sometimes run counter to those moral expectations God has for me, and in those moments, I’d rather do what I want than what God wants. Sort of like rebelling against Soviets, or some such, but you get my drift. The difference between us is that I see an objective, external reason to follow what is moral, and do my best to separate my opinion about morals from the reality of morals; you see only opinions that you cannot really justify one way or the other, but you’re determined to do whatever you want because, well, it’s what you want!

    But, please, go ahead and tell me what moral law you fundamentally object to, and which gives you no gain whatsoever

    See above. You don’t understand my point, so I’m not going to drag this completely off course.

    That’s precisely what people do today, MM. They are not dissuaded by belief in absolute morality.

    Are you suggesting that no person ever chooses to do what they think they should, over what they want to? That no one ever acknowledges a higher authority than their own? That’s not in keeping with other statements you’ve recently made. Furthermore, I’m not denying that most people reject morals that don’t suit their “feelings”. Christians call that “sin”.

    Just look at Fred Phelps. His morality is objective. So is Osama bin Laden’s. They simply choose an absolute morality that meets their subjective desires. They’re not being persuaded by absolutes, but rather selecting their own absolutes.

    And by selecting their absolutes on the basis of subjective preference, they’ve become relativists in theory, and objectivists in practice. Just as you seem to be. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that any type of belief in objectivity is acceptable to a Christian. Belief in the wrong objective set of morals is still wrong. As I said, Christian morality is based on more than just personal preference.

  39. MM,
    My understanding is that DL’s subjective relativism conflicts with his definition of ‘subjective’. Again from my understanding, DL says ‘objective’ means that which is statistically repeatable and independently verifiable according to a certain predictive model.

    Color is one example that fits this criteria. According to science, the color red objectively falls within a certain range of wavelenghts. Anyone who perceives these wavelengths as the color orange or blue is objectively wrong.

    Can beauty pass DL’s test? Yes. Can morality? Yes.

    So why does DL think morality is subjective? To this day I still don’t know.

    For the record, I don’t subscribe to that worldview as a way to explain everything ‘objective’.

  40. DL: But if morality is not subjective, then when you or I think of murder is 100% irrelevant!

    MM: Correct. I don’t think that my opinion defines reality.

    Just one quick point here: Granted that morality is not subjective, what you or I think of murder is irrelevant if and only if we have no faculty to know this objective morality. DL’s trying to make an argument (I think) that our appeal to moral intuitions is logically inconsistent with our claims of objectivity – and he’d be right, unless the moral realist affirms our ability to access this morality via moral intuition. As it is, I think his objection on this point is beating at straw.

  41. MM,

    I think that I made it clear that your question, the way you phrased it, left only one possible logical answer. If you can prove something to be an absolute moral imperative, then I cannot be moral without following it.

    But would you choose to be moral? That’s my point.

    What good is an objective moral imperative if you would prefer to be objectively evil?

    If God were subjectively evil, it would not matter to you that God was absolutely morally correct. You would prefer to be objectively evil and subjectively good.

    Possibility does not mean reality. I am not defending a view based on any possible God, I’m defending a view based on the God of the Bible. What reason is there for me to imagine something irrelevant to my belief?

    It’s not irrelevant to your belief. It is the test of your belief. This just reinforces my conclusions further. You are happy to believe in objective morality because the only belief you’ll consider is the one in which objective morality concurs with your own subjective morality.

    I don’t object to anything – I’m not in a position to question God. I have urges and desires that sometimes run counter to those moral expectations God has for me, and in those moments, I’d rather do what I want than what God wants.

    In other words, no major objections to God’s morality.

    Sort of like rebelling against Soviets, or some such, but you get my drift.

    Oh, really? So the Soviet dissidents were just like spoiled children not wanting to tidy their rooms? That’s the kind of equivalence you’re claiming, but it’s clearly false. The dissidents were willing to risk death to stand up for what they believed was right. There are times when people feel it is better to go down with a clear conscience than to be a collaborator. And you can find nothing about God’s instructions that is morally abhorrent. You only find directives that you agree with, but which you’re occasionally too lazy to execute.

    As I said, Christian morality is based on more than just personal preference.

    No, it isn’t. You might think it is, but you’ll never know because you refuse to honestly consider counterfactuals. Instead, you put yourself in your little box in which no experience can possibly contradict your existing belief in moral realism.

  42. Hi MM,
    You said to DL:

    Christian theists adjust our behavior to the framework, not the other way around. Remember, we don’t have to like a moral code to follow it.

    ===
    History says:

    DL,
    We choose our methodology precisely to guarantee our preferred moral conclusions.

    Perhaps the relativist does.
    The realist, as discussed twice before on this thread
    http://www.haloscan.com/comments/tgilblog/E20061208094246/#195219
    will recognize that there are things which are right, duties to which he is bound, which he would not prefer.
    Premarital sex is a good one. How many chaste Christians do you think would have chosen that route based upon their personal preferences?
    Charlie | 12.22.06 – 8:09 pm | #

    http://www.haloscan.com/comments/tgilblog/E20061208094246/#197079

    Hi DL,
    From Tom,

    We theists spend a whole lot of energy trying to get our mixed-up subjective morality to line up with God’s objective morality!

    Boy, it would be nice if you heard it that time and quit pretending otherwise.
    Charlie | 11.29.07 – 11:25 pm | #

    http://www.haloscan.com/comments/tgilblog/E20071123125506/#225775

    Better luck to you.

  43. Doctor(logic),

    But would you choose to be moral? That’s my point… What good is an objective moral imperative if you would prefer to be objectively evil?…If God were subjectively evil, it would not matter to you that God was absolutely morally correct. You would prefer to be objectively evil and subjectively good.

    I don’t think you really know what your point is, and thus this is not really worth much more of my time. But I’ll give you another shot. You phrased your question like this:

    suppose that the evidence (assuming it were somehow relevant and present) shows that murder was an absolute moral imperative. What do you do?

    If you really understood anything about logic, you’d realize that what you asked for was a truism. Your question, in and of itself, presumes that moral absolutes are real, and that murder is an absolute moral imperative. Since I’ve already indicated that I believe in acting morally, there is only one possible answer I can give. Furthermore, it undermines any claims you have to be moral at all. You’re trying to provoke an emotional response to the idea of murder, not make a logical inference.

    Logically, according to what you’ve said, you’re completely disinterested in “morals”. Your opinion is all that matters. What good is discussing morals in the first place, if you’re unwilling to follow any morals that don’t fit your opinion? Asking the question above only digs you deeper into that hole.

    MM: What reason is there for me to imagine something irrelevant to my belief? | DL: It’s not irrelevant to your belief. It is the test of your belief. This just reinforces my conclusions further.

    The test of my belief is not my willingness to consider irrelevant truisms like the one you posed. If that reinforces your conclusions, then you have no interest in learning anything from a dialogue at all.

    You are happy to believe in objective morality because the only belief you’ll consider is the one in which objective morality concurs with your own subjective morality.

    Since I can’t really communicate with DL, perhaps the reader will reference my statements above that I don’t always have an emotional draw to the moral constraints of Christianity. The morals I follow are not always the morals I’d like to follow. Unlike DL, I don’t think that I should be willing to violate any and every moral law that I feel less than thrilled about.

    MM: I don’t object to anything – I’m not in a position to question God… | DL: In other words, no major objections to God’s morality.

    DL here demonstrates that he doesn’t know the difference between an objection and a preference.

    MM: Sort of like rebelling against Soviets, or some such, but you get my drift. | DL: Oh, really? So the Soviet dissidents were just like spoiled children not wanting to tidy their rooms? That’s the kind of equivalence you’re claiming, but it’s clearly false. The dissidents were willing to risk death to stand up for what they believed was right. There are times when people feel it is better to go down with a clear conscience than to be a collaborator.

    So, now DL has fallen completely off the edge of the rational cliff. I made a joke about his comparing his moral relativism to the bravery of the Soviet dissidents, and he’s acting like I’m the one using them for cheap points. Note also that DL’s still pursuing the idea that he’s under no obligation to obey any moral notion he doesn’t like, and that that rebellion is something he should be proud of.

    And you can find nothing about God’s instructions that is morally abhorrent. You only find directives that you agree with, but which you’re occasionally too lazy to execute.

    Here, DL not only demonstrates that he didn’t pay attention to what I said earlier, but he’s starting to lose focus. There’s a big step between having a personal preference contrary to God’s and finding Him abhorrent. Apparently DL thinks that, in order to be a paragon of logical morality like him, I am obligated to find some aspect of God’s morals absolutely disgusting. If that doesn’t make his prejudice clear, I don’t know what will.

    MM:As I said, Christian morality is based on more than just personal preference. | DL: No, it isn’t. You might think it is, but you’ll never know because you refuse to honestly consider counterfactuals.

    DL doesn’t seem to realize that counterfactuals imply a “what if-what then”, and have to be treated carefully for that reason. Not every “what if-what then” is meaningful or worthwhile. DL is assuming that anything he can put into words is a logically valid statement. As long as DL keeps posing irrational counterfactuals, I’ll keep treating them as such. Actually, I’m not liable to respond to much of it anymore anyway.

    Instead, you put yourself in your little box in which no experience can possibly contradict your existing belief in moral realism.

    If that’s what DL really thinks, then he should see me as a philosophical compatriot. No matter how many times DL has shown that he lives according to objectivist principles, no matter how many times he’s stated that he’s not interested in morality, but rather his own opinion, he’s not willing to question the logic or wisdom of his self-professed relativism. And I sympathize with him, because he’s not as solid in his grasp of logic as he thinks he is.

  44. MedicineMan,

    I’m sorry, but you’re not seeing something important.

    Morality cannot be defined as “what I think I ought to do” and “what God thinks I ought to do” at the same time. Not unless they are identical, and they aren’t in general. IOW, what you feel you ought to do isn’t always what is objectively moral, and neither should it be in all cases.

    You seem to be making a tacit admission that if God is subjectively evil and wants you to murder people, you’ll murder them. I know you’re not a murderer and you don’t think God is actually like that, but you seem to be saying something quite bizarre: that it is always better to do what God says is right, no matter what the cost. Now, the God you believe in is one who you believe to be good, and any differences of opinion result from you having a lack of information. But the thought experiment makes an important point. You think it is better to be objectively good, even if God was a different guy who was subjectively evil. I find that a very bizarre commitment to have. Following orders is more important to you than anything else.

    Apparently DL thinks that, in order to be a paragon of logical morality like him, I am obligated to find some aspect of God’s morals absolutely disgusting.

    Not at all. I’m saying that you are comfortable with your God-centered morality because the particular God you believe in is compatible with your personal morality. I am saying that following rules is not the highest value for man (not ideally, but empirically). I simply don’t believe you when you claim that you are different. You are unwilling to look at a scenario where the consequence of following God’s rules results in a negative outcome for you. You’re going to heaven, you think, so why should you ever worry about a conflict with the rules?

  45. What good is an objective moral imperative if you would prefer to be objectively evil?

    One might as well ask what good an objective physical imperative is if you would prefer to act counter to it. What good is earth’s gravitational pull if you prefer to escape it and fly to another planet? Your statement, DL, makes no sense as my preference has no effect on what IS.

  46. DL,

    Morality cannot be defined as “what I think I ought to do” and “what God thinks I ought to do” at the same time. Not unless they are identical, and they aren’t in general. IOW, what you feel you ought to do isn’t always what is objectively moral…

    Yes, which stands in contrast to your views as stated above.

    …and neither should it be in all cases.

    It may be splitting hairs, but Christians actually do believe that “what I think” about morality should correspond to God’s morality; the fact that it doesn’t is part of the concept of sin.

    You seem to be making a tacit admission that if God is subjectively evil and wants you to murder people, you’ll murder them.

    The lynch-pin is in your phrasing “subjectively evil”. If what you mean is that I’m willing to follow the morality laid out by God, (as per my belief that He is the origin of morality in the first place) regardless of what other people think, then I suppose so.

    …I know you’re not a murderer and you don’t think God is actually like that…

    Which is why your line of thought is not only misleading but misses the drift of the Christian concept of morals.

    …you seem to be saying something quite bizarre: that it is always better to do what God says is right, no matter what the cost.

    How is this bizzare in comparison to your view, that it’s always better to act on your own feelings of morality, rather than anyone else’s, no matter what the cost? At least my conception of moral boundaries are limited by an external standard. Yours aren’t limited by anything other than your own ability to rationalize them.

    You think it is better to be objectively good, even if God was a different guy who was subjectively evil. I find that a very bizarre commitment to have. Following orders is more important to you than anything else.

    Again, you’re trying to make a misleading emotional inference. Look at the logic of that statement more closely. If God is the standard of goodness, then I’m going to follow what He says is moral. The whole concept of subjectivism means that God is evil in some peoples’ opinion. So, no, I’m not really concerned by opinion, I’m committed to truth.

    I’m committed to following that which is truly good. That which is truly good is defined by God. That’s a commitment to rationalism, not obedience for the sake of obedience.

    You are unwilling to look at a scenario where the consequence of following God’s rules results in a negative outcome for you.

    I don’t think you mean to take this in the direction that your words are leading you. I want to be sure you don’t. Let me make this very, very clear: do not presume to question whether or not Christians have willingly made sacrifices as a result of doing what they felt God wanted them to do.

    I am very thankful that the negative outcomes I’ve experienced in this life – as a direct result of following my Christian faith – haven’t been as bad as they’ve been for some. Christians throughout history have suffered and died for their faith, when they could have taken a relativistic attitude and done what they felt like instead.

  47. Hi Medicine Man,
    I just wanted to say I’ve been enjoying your perspective and outlook on this thread. As you may have noticed from the links, DL has been repeating this line for a long time here, and I’m afraid some of us (myself especially) take for granted a lot of what has been said before. Your take is very refreshing.
    Your observation about learning and dialogue was the point of my previous comment to you and it encourages me to see that this is obvious to others as well as myself.
    Thanks for your participation and insights.

  48. Charlie,

    I appreciate your kind remarks.

    Obviously, I haven’t been involved in prior discussions with Doctor(logic), so I’m only really able to work with what he’s said here. You have to give him credit for even considering the questions of morality- if he is really considering them. Misguided or not, flawed or not, in his own way, he’s trying to apply some sort of thought to a very important question.

    We all make an effort to justify what we believe, so I can’t fault him (or anyone else) for that. It may well be that DL’s doing that alone, and not really trying to put the logical pieces together. I can’t say one way or the other, so I’m content to sift what’s insightful out of what’s unsightly.

  49. MM, you originally claimed that subjective morality was incoherent, presumably because of its subjectivity, and DL showed you how another subjective realm is not incoherent (taste for bananas). Again, you’re trying to make his analogy do more than it needs to. Of course you can find many ways in which bananas are not like morality, but that’s completely irrelevant to DL’s proper use of his analogy. So all that stuff about being inconsequential, the consequences of morality, requirements, expectations, etc., is merely setting up a straw man that the analogy never needed.

  50. Paul:

    Again, you’re trying to make his analogy do more than it needs to. Of course you can find many ways in which bananas are not like morality, but that’s completely irrelevant to DL’s proper use of his analogy.

    Most people would argue (and do) that you and DL are using a specific analogy that doesn’t fit very well with respect to the important differences. The differences are highly relevant. It’s what we are arguing about. Nobody, including relativists, think moral preferences are the same as food preferences.

  51. Paul,

    Subjective morality is incoherent for the same reason that determinism and pluralism are – it’s not compatible with the way we actually live our lives. No one actually lives as though they’re lacking in free will. No one actually lives as though all truth claims are equally valid. No one actually lives as though all morals are equally valid (which they are, if they’re really subjective).

    Yes, DL showed that another – that is, different – area of experience is subjective, and coherent. It would be incoherent if DL said that taste was subjective, but acted (and expected others to act) as though there was something wrong about disliking bananas. The analogy actually works in my favor if DL thinks that it’s okay for groups of people to band together and punish folks who don’t eat bananas, even though he thinks taste is purely subjective. That’s what he’s doing with morality – living like there is such a thing as moral truth, speaking as though there is not.

    It’s a false analogy because what he is trying to relate between morals and taste does not relate.

    I’m saying very clearly that just because one thing can be coherently subjective does not mean that everything can be coherently subjective.

  52. DL & Paul
    Here’s an example to show why the food/morality analogies don’t work.

    A gunman threatens to murder a man’s children if he doesn’t take a bite of sushi. The man really dislikes the taste of sushi, not just a little – he strongly dislikes the taste of sushi more than any food.

    All observers, including the man himself, are disturbed several orders of magnitude more by the fact that a gunman would murder this man’s children than the fact he would be forced to taste something he disliked strongly.

    In fact, there is no food imaginable that would cause you or anyone else to be disturbed by its taste more than the murder of an innocent person.

    We have a well-researched, clinical description for people who think and live out their lives in opposition to this: Sociopath.

  53. MM, just because a concept is incompatible with how we actually live our lives does not defeat it. The best example I can think of for this is Einsteinian physics. Everyone experiences time and space as radically different things, but Einstein showed that, to the best of our scientific understanding, they are really just the same thing, two different axes in a 4-D continuum.

    You claiming that relativism is incoherent is like saying that it’s absurd to think that time and space are but two axes of a 4-D continuum. Of course, I live my life like time and space are different, but Einstein showed that that’s not the case. (As to why the underlying unity of time and space is invisible to us experientially is a whole ‘nother question).

    Certainly, I live my life as if I were a moral absolutist, most of the time. But, when push comes to shove; when, metaphorically, Newtonian physics doesn’t get us quite close enough; when we’re really talking about what reality is, relativism is not incoherent.

  54. MM wrote:

    I’m saying very clearly that just because one thing can be coherently subjective does not mean that everything can be coherently subjective.

    Because I never said that DL’s analogy was a proof (remember?), I/we weren’t claiming that everything must be coherently subjective because we found one example; but, rather, that because we can find *one* black crow, that is, one realm in which subjectivity is not incoherent, then *you* can’t claim that relativism must be incoherent on the basis of its subjectivity.

  55. Paul,

    I think you’ve at least got a rational perspective on the idea, even if we don’t agree on the particulars. Where I would disagree leads back to my idea of the “hopeless hypothesis”.

    You’re right that it does not “defeat” it, in the sense that it proves it’s wrong. What it does do is demonstrate that there is neither benefit nor rationality in applying it to our lives. Therefore, it’s not a viable philosophy to claim or to attempt to apply. This, in the same sense as determinism or predestination.

    You may well believe that relativism is true, but, as you’re saying, that belief cannot be anything other than theoretical. There is no circumstance in which you can rationally apply that belief consistent with its outworkings. Thus, it’s a hopeless hypothesis – an idea of no value, regardless of its truth or falsity.

    To continue the determinism example, a person can believe intellectually that they are determined, and lack true free will. Yet, there is no way for them to apply that belief rationally to their lives. Thus, for all practical and meaningful purposes, determinism’s truth or falsehood is irrelevant – it’s a hopeless idea.

    The same is true for moral relativism. You can’t actually apply it in a rational way, so whether it’s true or not makes no difference.

    As you noted, the 4-D theory (as you said, it’s not really verifiable…yet) may well be true, but it’s a mostly* incoherent idea in our lives. My conception of the hopeless hypothesis speaks to this. If you claimed there was value in living out the 4D theory, I’d have to ask…how? IF there is no value, or it’s not possible, then who cares if it’s true?

    *For the sake of nit-picking, we actually can apply the 4D idea to life, since there really are temporal effects caused by motion. You’ve suggested a much better analogy, though, than the Chiquita Theorem we saw earlier.

  56. Paul,

    I/we weren’t claiming that everything must be coherently subjective because we found one example; but, rather, that because we can find *one* black crow, that is, one realm in which subjectivity is not incoherent, then *you* can’t claim that relativism must be incoherent on the basis of its subjectivity.

    I agree – that’s more or less sound logic. At least, I agree that if at least one area of experience can be both subjective and coherent, you can’t automatically dismiss every other areas that are subjective as incoherent just because they’re subjective.

    I disagree that the coherence is possible in respect to morality in the way it is to taste, which is why I reject the Chiquita Theorem. It would be a fine demonstration that subjective coherence can happen, but there are aspects of morality that make subjectivity and coherence incompatible, in the same way that pluralism and coherence are incompatible.

  57. MedicineMan,

    I wonder what your definition of rationality is. Consider this line of reasoning:

    1) I don’t like pickles.

    2) I want to live a happy healthy life.

    3) I do not need to eat pickles to have a healthy life.

    4) My life will be less happy if I eat pickles.

    5) Therefore, I will not eat pickles.

    This seems completely rational to me, and yet it relies upon my tastes, preferences and desires.

    Relativism most certainly does not eliminate moral reasoning because this is an instance of moral reasoning. It is reasoning about what I think I ought to do. It would be begging the question to say that the above is not moral reasoning just because it does not rely upon an objective moral reality.

    We could analyze this in a more general way. You might argue that there are implicit axioms in the above chain. For example, there is a premise (0):

    (0) I will do what I want to do.

    You might even call this the First Law of Free Will. Even you cannot help but obey (0) as a prime directive.

    You believe you add another series of premises:

    0.1) I want to do what is objectively good more than anything else, no matter what that entails.
    0.2) God determines for me what is objectively good.
    0.3) Therefore, I should do what God wants.
    0.4) If God is indifferent to my moral choice (or if his preference is unknown), then revert to my personal preferences.

    Here’s my argument again. It makes no sense to place premise (0.1) in a position before the questions of what God wants. Here’s an example:

    0.1) I want to do what is objectively good more than anything else, no matter what that entails.
    0.2) Vecna determines for me what is objectively good. (He wants murder, suffering and death.)
    0.3) Therefore, I should do what Vecna wants.
    0.4) If Vecna is indifferent to my moral choice (or if his preference is unknown), then revert to my personal preferences.

    Why would anyone accept (0.1) as a preliminary without any consideration of the consequences? That would be senseless. Who would want to be good without any clue of what that entails? No one does.

    What might be more rational is to have (0.1) swap places with (0.2). That way, you can see what you are buying. However, this leads you into trouble. Even if you believe God exists and sets objective morality, that does not make you rational to follow God. To be rational, you have to like what God is selling before you buy.

  58. MedicineMan,

    You said to Paul:

    You may well believe that relativism is true, but, as you’re saying, that belief cannot be anything other than theoretical. There is no circumstance in which you can rationally apply that belief consistent with its outworkings.

    You have never not established this. You just keep pretending that is is obvious.

    You think that:

    1) In order for person A to make an effective moral claim against person B, person B has to think person A is a moral realist.

    2) In order for person A to make an effective moral claim against person B, person A has to actually be a moral realist.

    3) In order for person A to reason about what he ought to do, there has to be an absolute morality, or else his decision is irrational.

    Each of these is false.

    Suppose a guy walks up to you on the street and says “Hey, it’s chilly today, and if you give that busker a $1, he’ll be able to afford a hot cup of coffee. You should do that.”

    Realizing that you had not given the busker or the weather a second thought this morning, you decide to reflect on the issue. You think, “yeah, if I were a busker, I would really enjoy a hot cup of coffee on a morning like this.” You also think that you lose about $1 a week in your sofa’s seat cushions, so the $1 means a lot less to you than to the busker. You conclude that you should give the busker a $1.

    At no point in this reasoning process do you need to think about realism versus relativism.

    At no point in process did you think about whether the guy who first suggested the donation was, in fact, Adolf Hitler or Professor Relativist. Your decision is not governed by the man’s moral authority, but by your own moral compass (i.e., your own internal moral authority).

    Also, you reasoned about what you ought to do without any reference to absolutes. You reasoned based on your tastes, the material facts, and your empathy.

    Yet you insist that society will collapse if we learn that morality is relative. What would you do differently if you knew morality were relative?

    I put it to you that you rely on your own moral compass when making moral decisions, and that taking God out of the picture won’t change anything significant. As Jake has said, humans have tendencies that result from our evolutionary history and our ability to empathize. Doing what we want isn’t the end of the world – it’s the first law of free will.

    In the absence of objective morality…

    If you think premarital sex has adverse consequences, then you’ll try to prevent it. On the other hand, if you think it has no adverse consequences, then the benefits outweigh the penalties, and you will engage in it. No big deal.

    Similarly, if you think theft has adverse consequences, then you’ll try to prevent it. On the other hand, if you think it has no adverse consequences, then the benefits outweigh the penalties, and you will permit it or engage in it.

  59. Doctor(logic),

    Your 1-5 is rational, assuming that (3) is true [it may be for pickles, but it may not be for other foods]. It is rational, and it relies on your tastes and desires. We can skip just about everything else you said. Why? You can’t get past the idea that just because gustative taste is subjective and rational, that does not mean that morality can be subjective and rational.

    Not all reasoning about what a person thinks they should do is necessarily moral reasoning. And this…

    It would be begging the question to say that the above is not moral reasoning just because it does not rely upon an objective moral reality.

    …is nonsensical. No one made such a claim.

    Your premise (0) is highly subject to interpretation. I understand how you’re using it, however, and it’s not all bad in that sense. The difference is that subjectivists don’t think that there’s any reason to change what they want to do for any reason. Objectivists think that there’s an external standard that we should be trying to conform our “wants” to. Given the interpretative room in your (0), it’s not necessarily true that you must do what you want to do. That’s just a form of determinism, implying that you don’t really have any choices at all, which would make everything else you’re trying to say moot.

    There is a lot in your first (0.x) series that doesn’t fit Christian theology. For instance, Christians don’t believe that God determines objective good for me, we believe he’s determined an objective good for everyone. What you wrote is just your relativism bleeding through. We also don’t think that God is ever indifferent to our moral choices; if God’s not concerned what decision we make, it’s because it’s not a moral decision.

    Again, by invoking Vecna (or Hextor, or Nerull, or any other DnD deity you think will get an emotional response) you’re asking me to defend what I don’t believe. You’re also losing the logical connections. As I said before, if there IS such a thing an objective, absolute moral rule, then it makes no difference if we like it or not. Your own question is removing the logical ability to criticize someone for choosing to follow the rule. All you’re really doing is continuing to assert that your personal feelings should be the highest authority in the universe.

    It’s highly rational to accept (0.1) because of the consideration of the consequences. Try to follow: if there is an omnipotent God who created me, and He tells me to follow rules A,B, and C, I have good reasons to follow those rules, and to understand that the consequences for violating them will be worse than the consequences of following them.

    When you ask this…

    ”Who would want to be good without any clue of what that entails? No one does.”

    …you really mean to say this: “Who would want to follow a rule that doesn’t give me what I want? Why would anyone ever do something they don’t want to?” Your attitude of swapping your 1 and 2 not only wouldn’t solve the problem (if I want to be “good”, but I don’t want to pay the price, then I apparently don’t really want to be good.), but it shows how the moral framework you’re creating is purely selfish.

    I think you should be able to see that you’re relying on emotion, and not reason, when you say this:

    ”To be rational, you have to like what God is selling before you buy.”

    To you, your own personal desires are the ultimate authority. That’s not rational at all.

  60. MM, we may actually be making progress in understanding each other.

    You say that relativism is nothing more than theoretical, but I see it as the underlying foundation, a background that is necessary but is rarely revealed or thought about because it doesn’t have to be, just like we rarely need the precision of Einsteinian physics in our daily lives, Newton is just fine the vast majority of the time, and we can act as if it is actually true, but, in reality, it isn’t. (I know I haven’t proved the reality of relativism, I’m looking now at only the coherence of the system.)

    That isn’t a hopeless hypothesis.

  61. Doctor(logic),

    I keep stating (not pretending) that it’s obvious, because no one has yet indicated somewhere that they’ll actually apply moral relativism in a coherent and consistent way. Note, please, that said “moral”, and not “morsel” – spare me more irrelevant analogies about fruit. The very act of making moral judgments – which you do – is a form of objectivism. You’re not really saying, “I don’t prefer murder,” “I don’t prefer the rape of toddlers”, you think (I presume) that those things are wrong. You’re not really willing to accept any standard of morals. You’re just inserting your opinion above any other considerations.

    For example, you keep making subtle suggestions that it would be wrong to murder if God was Vecna and Vecna said “I command you to murder”. Wait, now. I thought morality was subjective – are you implying that murder is wrong, regardless of the situation? That’s objectivism. If not, why keep making that argument?

    Your numbered section is completely off the map. I’m stating that you cannot attempt to make a moral claim against someone at all, since relativism, by definition, means that there is no “right” or “wrong” answer to any moral question. That’s why it’s irrational.

    When you say to someone, “that’s wrong”, instead of “that’s not what I would prefer”, you’re not being a relativist, you’re acting as an objectivist. I think we can agree that if absolute morals do exist, then they are by definition not relative. Noncontradiction requires that contradictory statements cannot be simultaneously true. So, is morals are relative, then there is no such thing as a “real” right or wrong – it’s all opinion.

    Paul, for example, understands that he acts as an objectivist in practice. There are aspects of morality that Paul thinks, intellectually, are subjective, but he recognizes that he can’t make moral judgments under a relativistic framework – because they don’t make sense. That doesn’t change the fact that Paul’s a relativist, just like Dawkins is still a determinist. What it does do is put Paul (and Dawkins) on a more realistic footing regarding what they believe. I don’t agree with Paul, but I can communicate with him. In the end, we probably won’t agree, because this is a worldview issue based mostly on presuppositions. We do have a shot at better understanding both our own views and each others’.

    In contrast, I’ve spent more than enough time watching you do gymnastics, so feel free to continue on your own. I’d rather talk to someone who’s got something other than pseudo-logic to offer.

  62. MM,

    You still resist answering my philosophical question. Why be good?

    What does it mean to be good in the abstract sense? IOW, suppose you had never heard of God or the Bible. What does good mean and why do you want to act in a good way?

    You say:

    Try to follow: if there is an omnipotent God who created me, and He tells me to follow rules A,B, and C, I have good reasons to follow those rules, and to understand that the consequences for violating them will be worse than the consequences of following them.

    What does worse mean?

    What I see is you saying that there are some laws of the universe that dictate what it means for something to be good. Much like there being laws that dictate what it means for a rock to melt. Well, why do you want your rocks molten? If such laws existed, why follow them?

    You say the consequences will be better. In what way? How does good/bad dichotomy have any more significance to you than the solid/molten rock dichotomy?

    Again, I want you to talk about good and bad in the abstract. Don’t talk about Christianity. Just pretend that we haven’t considered any particular moral system yet. I want to know what you expect to get out of the moral system you choose.

  63. MM,

    So, if morals are relative, then there is no such thing as a “real” right or wrong – it’s all opinion.

    This is begging the question, no true Scotsman reasoning.

    “Real” right and wrong means objective right and wrong. That’s question-begging. Right and wrong ARE opinions. They have always been. They are opinions we are willing to fight for. Right and wrong are exactly like pretty and ugly, but rather than applying to things, they apply to actions.

    When you say to someone, “that’s wrong”, instead of “that’s not what I would prefer”, you’re not being a relativist, you’re acting as an objectivist.

    Not at all. Right and wrong are opinions, not statements about objective fact. You are making the assumption that right and wrong refer to absolutes from the very beginning, then saying that if they don’t refer to absolutes there is a contradiction. But you’re just assuming your conclusion.

    It’s the equivalent of this: Right and wrong are just opinions. If you are saying that we ought to act without consideration of personal opinion, then you are not referring to right and wrong, but to something else, maybe rules” or “laws”, but not right and wrong. Therefore, morality must be opinion because if it isn’t, there’s no morality.

    Paul, for example, understands that he acts as an objectivist in practice. There are aspects of morality that Paul thinks, intellectually, are subjective, but he recognizes that he can’t make moral judgments under a relativistic framework – because they don’t make sense.

    Whoa! Did I miss that, Paul? You are saying you act as an objectivist in practice? I don’t think so, MM.

  64. Paul,

    I understand where you’re coming from about relativism being the “truth” behind the “appearance” of human experience. That’s the same basic way that determinists look at determinism. According to them, we think we’re free and we can make choices. In reality, they say, we aren’t and can’t – we’re just collected atoms following the laws of physics. Even though I disagree with the so-called fact of determinism, I can appreciate the reasoning behind it (granting some presuppositions). But, our relationships and societies and experiences are based on the idea that we can, in fact choose. We can’t completely obliterate that idea in any meaningful way. We can’t live coherently by assuming that we can’t choose and see any positive results.

    I can say the same about moral relativism. Part of our human experience is the conviction that some things are always, always, wrong (or right). If we start acting as though nothing is really wrong or right, just more or less preferable, then we lose any ability to rationally call anything wrong at all. We open the door for the “yeah, says who?” response to any moral criticisms.

    Remember, you can’t have any absolutes and still be relativistic. Even one absolute moral law makes you an objectivist. To truly believe in determinism, you have to hold that there is no “free will” at all, just the illusion of it. To truly believe in relativism, you have to believe that there are no “moral laws” at all, just preferences.

    So, I’m not calling moral relativism a hopeless hypothesis because of any truth value questions. I’m looking only at whether or not we can actually apply it to human experience. Ultimately, we can’t. Relativists are free to believe that, ultimately, there are no moral absolutes and no objective moral laws, but the nature of human experience demands that they live as though those things do exist.

  65. DL,

    Whoa! Did I miss that, Paul? You are saying you act as an objectivist in practice? I don’t think so, MM.

    Yes, you did, which is an example of why I’ve lost interest in responding to you. See above for this:

    Paul:Certainly, I live my life as if I were a moral absolutist, most of the time.

    There’s more to Paul’s statement there, including some qualifications that you might want to look for as well. Happy hunting.

  66. Paul,

    I might not get back to this for a while (tonight, I hope), but please continue if you feel so led. I am interested in your response, but I can’t reply in a timely fashion.

    Later…

  67. To DL’s relief, I think I’d better, uh, “adjust” my statement about living my life as a moral realist or absolutist (like a physicist fully aware of Einstein might be a practicing Newtonian).

    As I survey my moral life, I find it complicated and hard to summarize. All I can do now is to throw out a few quick, random examples.

    Recently, I had occasion to tell my step-son that it was wrong for him to do A because “what if someone treated you that way?” My point was obvious to him. So we may extract a moral code–do unto others, etc.– from this example that appeals to one’s sense of fairness. Is that realist/objective/absolutist?

    I think murder is wrong, and so does the society of Saudia Arabia, and the two cultures sanction state executions, but for different offenses. Is one society moral for execution A and the other not for execution B?

    I think it would be instructive to lay out several specific cases of a moral code and generalize by type, and see what issues for relativism arise, but that’s more than I can do right now.

  68. However, when the moral values are in opposition and irreconcilable, objectivists use precisely the same methods of force as relativists. Objectivists are more than happy to kill and torture when people don’t agree with them. The difference is that they take more pride in their coercion.

    As a sociological fact that can be very true. The most salient example on the world scene today is radical Islam–like the alleged honor killing in Texas last week, or the woman who was punished by the courts (was it in Saudi Arabia?) for being raped.

    The Western system of checks and balances was devised by men (primarily) who were steeped in Biblical knowledge regarding the state of humankind. They knew about corruptibility, they knew about the sin of pride (you imply you agree there’s something wrong there), and they knew that these needed restraint. But they also knew that power needed to be applied for the maintenance of social well-being. They did a masterful job of limiting the way that power could be applied; the best that has been devised on Earth, to my knowledge.

    They were objectivists. Almost everybody in history, up until sometime in the 20th century or so, has been. They were not “more than happy to kill and torture.” If by implication you intend to say that subjectivists do not kill and torture, then you’ll have a hard time proving it. I’ll bet the man who’s in prison right now for doing that to my cousin is probably a subjectivist. Was Hannibal Lecter an objectivist? How about the Columbine shooters?

    Anyway, we have two issues that need to be conceptually distinguished: how do we determine what is right and wrong, and how do we practically accomplish agreement and enforcement regarding right and wrong? You, Paul, and os have begun focusing on the second: you say that enforcement is the same either way. To some extent, yes.

    But it’s not all enforcement. There is still the question of whether enforcement itself is justified and justifiable. To the relativist the answer is that power justifies enforcement; and I have yet to see any of you contradict that. To the moral realist, enforcement is justified when it is done in service of that which is actually right (and that includes the manner in which it is done, not just the outcome).

    Is there illogic in your position? I do not say there ultimately is, except that I have often warned you about the difficulty you will certainly have maintaining it consistently (most recently here).

    And I repeat: you have provided no justification for applying morality to any situation, except for the justification of power. It’s a strange definition of morality that puts power front and center that way. I think with some more work we could find an incoherency there.

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