The Basis for Moral Realism

Jordan has been saying things on the Manhattan Declaration thread like,

Atheism does not entail moral relativism, and theism does not entail moral realism. I’m an atheist, and a moral realist.

I (imperfectly) perceive morality with my moral sense. What is the basis of your “alleged moral objectivity”? I imagine it will be long-winded and incoherent. Or maybe you’ll save us both some time with a good old-fashioned, “Goddidit!”

Everyone on that discussion agrees on one thing: that there are unchanging moral absolutes. The dispute is over the content of those eternal moral standards, and especially over whether they could exist without God. I want to lay out more thoroughly the reasons God is necessary for moral realism.

Moral realism is the view that moral duties and values have an objective reality that does not depend on any person’s or group of persons’ opinions or beliefs about them. Morality has an existence independent of human opinion. In fact, Jordan takes it that it is eternal, or at least as old as the Big Bang.

Again, we all agree that moral duties and values really exist and always have, and that their essential principles are eternally unchanging. We also agree (as Jordan said) that we perceive morality with our moral sense, albeit imperfectly. The question I have is whether that makes sense on atheism. Jordan would ask whether it makes sense on theism.

Regarding the latter, I’m not sure how leaving out spaces between words—“Goddidit!”—turns their meaning around and makes them an argument against what they mean with the spaces included. Theism indeed says, in a rough sense, that moral values exist because God did it. That’s only in a rough sense, of course, because God didn’t “do” moral values. He didn’t make them up or invent them. They are an eternal aspect of his own character and nature. God has eternally been the ultimate instantiation and expression of love, justice, holiness, and so on; and since the universe he created is an expression of himself, those moral values apply in all of creation. Although Jordan said “theism does not entail moral realism,” the fact is that the Jewish and Christian versions of theism do entail it (Islamic theism may also; I can’t speak to that). If there is some form of theism that does not entail moral realism, it’s something other than Judaism or Christianity.

I’m also not sure why “good old-fashioned” counts against the theistic view eternal moral realities. If moral values and duties have existed from eternity past, then humans ought to have had some knowledge about them for longer than just the past couple of decades. I would say that “old-fashioned” counts in favor of a view on this topic. Jordan has tried to use negatively-laden language to take a bite out of the theistic view, but in fact it has turned around and taken a nip out of his own nose (metaphorically, of course).

(Now perhaps Jordan instead meant “Goddidit” was “old-fashioned” by its being some kind of non-answer, presented without any thoughtful justification. If that’s what he means, then I will simply say he is wrong. “Goddidit” is his word—if it’s fair to call it a word—not ours. As evidence that we don’t just settle for a mindless “Goddidit,” I would invite him to read the 48 or so posts I’ve written here on ethical theory along with all their attendant discussion; or better yet to visit some nearby seminary, and see how many books its library has on ethical matters.)

So let’s call Jordan’s phrase, “an old fashioned ‘Goddidit!'” what it really is: it’s his ironically failed and illegitimate attempt to marshall emotion rather than reason in support of his position. And let’s recognize that theism has a more than adequate space in it for eternal moral verities.

Now to the other question: can eternal moral realities exist on atheism? The idea presents numerous problems.

  • What is a moral value or duty; specifically, to whom or what is it a value, and to whom or what is the duty directed, owed, or pointed?
  • To whom or what was it directed, owed, or pointed when there was no person in the universe toward whom it could have been so pointed?
  • Who or what held any responsibility for these moral values or duties before there was any intelligent life?
  • In what did these values or duties inhere, or in other words, where did they exist?
  • Was there such a thing as evil while the stars and planets were forming? What was it?
  • Was killing immoral for the first 3 billion or so years of evolution, before humans arrived? Jordan says yes; but animals killing animals certainly wasn’t immoral then, nor is it now. There was no immoral killing until humans came, as far as I know.
  • When humans arrived, what was it about us that made it (frequently) immoral for us to kill? Note that we take it that it’s not just about killing each other; we often consider it immoral to kill animals, too.
  • Moral standards have changed over time, and in fact have oscillated back and forth on some issues (abortion, infanticide, homosexual relationships, for example). Jordan seems to take it that this moment in history represents the “right” moment on abortion, I think; he definitely takes it that this is the “right” moment on homosexuality. So where we’re heading as a culture on homosexual rights is in the direction of what has been eternally morally true. How can he be sure of this? What is the measuring stick? Is this not possibly chronological/cultural chauvinism?
  • And to tie together two of the previous bullets, does Jordan think that seven billion years ago it was morally that same-sex couples should have the right to unite and call it marriage?

I propose that these questions are extremely difficult for the atheist who believes in eternal moral realities.

Comments 162
  1. doctor(logic)

    Hmm. Is Goddidit really the Christian view?

    I thought Gos as foundation for moral realism was based on the ontological argument: there has to be a best thing, and it is better for the best thing to exist than not to exist, therefore there is an infinitely best thing which actually does exist. If the argument works, then God is perfectly good, and necessarily so. The ontological argument isn’t taken seriously anymore, but it’s the only way I can see for God’s morality to be anything other God’s arbitrary subjective preference (Euthyphro and all that).

    The rest of the post doesn’t apply to me cos I’m a moral subjectivist. However, I will say that one might be able to argue that what is objectively morally right is what an omniscient agent would do, i.e., that the more one knows/reasons, the more one’s morality will converge on a common set of moral beliefs. That is, if you and I had our minds amplified to the point of omniscience, we would be in total agreement (even in the absence of a God).

    Personally, I don’t see the necessary convergence. I don’t see why knowing all my biases makes me want to defeat them all. Though my ability to compensate for my own biases would enable me to see the truth, and I would be able to see what courses of action would complete my goals, my ultimate goals come from my biases. If I removed my biases, I would have no goals either, and nothing to reason about.

  2. Thomas Reid

    Suppose that the atheist is committed to evolution by way of natural selection. Since this mechanism is a selection for survival, and not necessarily cognitive activity corresponding to reality, we might ask:
    By what mechanism will the current, and supposed unchanging, moral absolutes be maintained as the moral absolutes in the future?

  3. Tom Gilson

    doctor(logic),

    1. “Goddidit” is not really the answer, no, for reasons I stated in the post, though it did serve as a jumping-off point from which one could move toward the answer.

    2. Whether the ontological argument is taken seriously now or not is irrelevant to the rest of what you say here. God is still understood by theists as that than which no greater can be conceived, even if that understanding is not taken seriously as the premise of an argument. (Actually it still does have life, especially in a modal version offered by Plantinga, but that’s a side street we need not travel.)

    3. You “omniscient agent” argument sounds fairly Kant-like, proposing that the proper morality is that which one could will might be a universal principle. But I don’t think even Kant would have said that on the basis of that alone it would be eternal.

    4. Your final paragraph is pretty sensible, taking the viewpoint that one has a universal perspective and from that starting point must imagine or develop a moral viewpoint. I think there could be some life to your argument that such a perspective would be passionless.

    Thomas—good point, I hadn’t thought of that. Thanks.

  4. Bill

    Where have the really courageous atheists gone. Sartre, Nietzsche, Camus, Dostoyevsky? They had no problem acknowledging that the absence of God meant the absence of morality. Dostoyevsky said it best. If there is no God, anything is permissible. That’s right, anything. Murder, rape, incest, infanticide, you name it is all permissible. And they were right.

    Nowadays though it seems we have come to the age of the cowardly atheist. The Oprah atheist. I mean you have to be nice to people, don’t you? You have to help the poor and downtrodden. Actually, you don’t. If this life is all there is you really don’t owe anything to anybody and it just doesn’t matter what good or bad you do. Peter Fischer seems the only one with the courage to say this but everyone wants him to shut up.

    It’s all there though if you want to look for it. All the really prominent atheist philosophers and thinkers have said it one way or the other. It’s not the Christian viewpoint on atheism and morality, it’s the atheist viewpoint on atheism and morality. No God, no morality.

  5. SteveK

    Did time begin at the big bang? If it did, then your question makes no sense, since there would be no such time as “before the big bang”; if it didn’t, then yes, in the sense that the proposition “unjustified killing is wrong” would have be true.

    Jordan points out the necessity of time when using the concept of ‘before’, but he ignores a similar problem when he says “unjustified killing is wrong” was a reality prior to the big bang (or at the same time, I don’t care to argue over that).

    There can’t be a concept of ‘unjustified’ or ‘killing’ or ‘wrong’ prior to life unless Jordan wants to redefine moral realism in terms that nobody will recognize. In other words, Jacob’s unchanging moral realism at the time of the big bang must have reflected reality at that time in order for it to be considered real-ism. It must have applied to non-living objects then (galaxies behaving badly!) as it must today. It’s a realism that nobody thinks is actually real.

  6. Jordan

    Although Jordan said “theism does not entail moral realism,” the fact is that the Jewish and Christian versions of theism do entail it

    Well, theism per se doesn’t, and if Judeo-Christian theism does, you haven’t shown it. All you did was make the naked assertion that, “God has eternally been the ultimate instantiation and expression of love, justice, holiness, and so on; and since the universe he created is an expression of himself, those moral values apply in all of creation.”

    I’m also not sure why “good old-fashioned” counts against the theistic view eternal moral realities. If moral values and duties have existed from eternity past, then humans ought to have had some knowledge about them for longer than just the past couple of decades.

    They have, but that knowledge was very sketchy at first, and has been improving in fits and starts ever since (with occasional setbacks). Moral progress is the reason “old-fashioned” moral standards count against your brand of theism.

    I would say that “old-fashioned” counts in favor of a view on this topic. Jordan has tried to use negatively-laden language to take a bite out of the theistic view, but in fact it has turned around and taken a nip out of his own nose (metaphorically, of course).

    See above.

    (Now perhaps Jordan instead meant “Goddidit” was “old-fashioned” by its being some kind of non-answer, presented without any thoughtful justification.

    Basically, yes.

    If that’s what he means, then I will simply say he is wrong. “Goddidit” is his word—if it’s fair to call it a word—not ours. As evidence that we don’t just settle for a mindless “Goddidit,” I would invite him to read the 48 or so posts I’ve written here on ethical theory along with all their attendant discussion; or better yet to visit some nearby seminary, and see how many books its library has on ethical matters.)

    Here’s a summary of those books: Godditit. Ok, I’ve met my flippancy quota…

    And let’s recognize that theism has a more than adequate space in it for eternal moral verities.

    Whoa, back up. I didn’t say theism doesn’t have “space for eternal moral verities.” I said it doesn’t, in and of itself, entail moral realism.

    What is a moral value or duty; specifically, to whom or what is it a value, and to whom or what is the duty directed, owed, or pointed?

    To whom or what was it directed, owed, or pointed when there was no person in the universe toward whom it could have been so pointed?

    I can’t unpack that question. There are simply moral facts, which we perceive with our moral sense. That’s basic, like numbers or qualia. You can’t dig any deeper.

    Who or what held any responsibility for these moral values or duties before there was any intelligent life?

    I don’t know what you mean by “responsibility for.” If you meant, “responsibility to,” then nobody.

    In what did these values or duties inhere, or in other words, where did they exist?

    In what do numbers inhere? In what does God inhere? Why do we need to identify that in which a thing “inheres” before we can believe in the thing? If all things must inhere in some other thing, wouldn’t that lead to infinite regress?

    Was there such a thing as evil while the stars and planets were forming? What was it?

    Moral facts have always existed. I’m not sure what you mean by “evil,” but there have always been true moral propositions in the form of, “It is wrong to X.”

    Was killing immoral for the first 3 billion or so years of evolution, before humans arrived? Jordan says yes; but animals killing animals certainly wasn’t immoral then, nor is it now. There was no immoral killing until humans came, as far as I know.

    It has always been true that it is wrong for one moral agent (i.e., a fully sentient, rational being with moral sense) to kill another without justification.

    When humans arrived, what was it about us that made it (frequently) immoral for us to kill? Note that we take it that it’s not just about killing each other; we often consider it immoral to kill animals, too.

    Moral agency.

    Moral standards have changed over time, and in fact have oscillated back and forth on some issues (abortion, infanticide, homosexual relationships, for example). Jordan seems to take it that this moment in history represents the “right” moment on abortion, I think; he definitely takes it that this is the “right” moment on homosexuality. So where we’re heading as a culture on homosexual rights is in the direction of what has been eternally morally true. How can he be sure of this? What is the measuring stick? Is this not possibly chronological/cultural chauvinism?

    It comes down to moral sense. I try to make a conscious effort to shed my cultural and religious presuppositions when I approach serious moral issues. This give me moral clarity (I hope). I think if you were to do the same, you and I would agree in most areas. Religion and (to an extent) culture often cloud one’s moral sense.

    And to tie together two of the previous bullets, does Jordan think that seven billion years ago it was morally that same-sex couples should have the right to unite and call it marriage?

    At all times, the proposition, “It is wrong to discriminate without justification,” has been true. Don’t you agree?

    I propose that these questions are extremely difficult for the atheist who believes in eternal moral realities.

    And for Christians. Are you going to answer them now?

  7. Bill

    Jordan,
    You state; ”It has always been true that it is wrong for one moral agent (i.e., a fully sentient, rational being with moral sense) to kill another without justification”.

    It seems to me you are hedging your statements by including the fact that this rule applies to “moral agents”.

    How does one become a moral agent? Is it a choice one makes or is it a fact of his existence.

    If it is a choice one makes, why should I be bound by it? If it is a fact of my existence how did it become so?

  8. SteveK

    Jordan,

    It has always been true that it is wrong for one moral agent (i.e., a fully sentient, rational being with moral sense) to kill another without justification.

    Relating this to my previous comment, how can a propositional truth involving living beings be true in the absense of living beings? If your statement is true then it seems the following statement is also true for the same reasons: it has always been true that Tom Gilson runs this blog, even at the time of the big bang. Of course, both are nonsensical.

  9. Jordan

    How does one become a moral agent? Is it a choice one makes or is it a fact of his existence.

    It is a fact of his existence.

    If it is a fact of my existence how did it become so?

    I can’t give you a definitive answer. Does that give me license to invent a cause (i.e., God)?

  10. Jordan

    Relating this to my previous comment, how can a propositional truth involving living beings be true in the absense of living beings?

    How could it not? Will the proposition “2 + 2 = 4” stop being true if the human species goes extinct?

    If your statement is true then it seems the following statement is also true for the same reasons: it has always been true that Tom Gilson runs this blog, even at the time of the big bang. Of course, both are nonsensical.

    No, because the proposition, “It has always been true that it is wrong for one moral agent (i.e., a fully sentient, rational being with moral sense) to kill another without justification,” is about a moral fact, whereas the proposition, “Tom Gilson runs this blog,” is about Tom Gilson. Moral facts are eternal and immutable (wouldn’t you agree?). Tom Gilson isn’t.

  11. Bill

    Jordan,

    You believe, based on faith, that men are moral agents and then criticise those who believe, based on faith, in God.

    Or in your words, those who believe in God have taken license to invent him but you somehow did not take that same license to invent the moral agent you believe in.

  12. Jordan

    You believe, based on faith, that men are moral agents and then criticise those who believe, based on faith, in God.

    No, moral agency is just a label we apply to a set of attributes (which includes rationality, sentience, and moral sense). There’s no faith involved, unless you are suggesting that belief in rationality, sentience, and moral sense is a matter of faith.

  13. SteveK

    Jordan,

    How could it not?

    I thought I made that clear.

    Will the proposition “2 + 2 = 4″ stop being true if the human species goes extinct?

    I’m not making that kind of argument. To answer your question, no.

    No, because the proposition, “It has always been true that it is wrong for one moral agent (i.e., a fully sentient, rational being with moral sense) to kill another without justification,” is about a moral fact

    A moral fact about what? Moral agents. The term ‘moral agent’ has no connection to reality at the time of the big bang. If a term within the proposition lacks any connection to reality can the proposition be true? No.

    , whereas the proposition, “Tom Gilson runs this blog,” is about Tom Gilson. Moral facts are eternal and immutable (wouldn’t you agree?). Tom Gilson isn’t.

    You’re making my point, Jordan. You’re right, the proposition isn’t an eternal fact of reality because Tom Gilson is not an eternal fact of reality in your scenario. A proposition devoid of reality cannot be a true proposition.

  14. Thomas Reid

    Will the proposition “2 + 2 = 4″ stop being true if the human species goes extinct?

    You seem to be equating descriptive propositions with prescriptive ones. Why?

    Equating these concepts appears fundamental to your position, for you use it to assert that moral facts are eternal and immutable even if there are no moral agents in existence:

    “It has always been true that it is wrong for one moral agent (i.e., a fully sentient, rational being with moral sense) to kill another without justification,” is about a moral fact…

    Now if there are no moral agents, there is literally nothing towards which a prescription proposition refers. There is no thing to be commanded.

    But suppose that objection is wrong. This begs additional questions:

    1. How did the universe “anticipate” our arrival such that these statements have always been true? What secured the truth of prescriptive propositions throughout time? Tom alludes to this problem in the OP.

    2. Why presume that only true prescriptive propositions have existed for all time? Could not false ones have existed also (for example, “one ought to torture little babies for fun”). If so, how does one know that our moral sense does not invert those that are true and false? Or in other words, why should we think our moral sense is trustworthy?

  15. Jordan

    You seem to be equating descriptive propositions with prescriptive ones. Why?

    The proposition in question isn’t prescriptive. It merely states a moral fact, from which you may or may not derive a prescriptive proposition. Analogy: “2 + 2 = 4,” is descriptive, whereas, “When you add 2 and 2, you ought to let the result be 4,” is prescriptive.

    How did the universe “anticipate” our arrival such that these statements have always been true?

    That’s like asking how the universe anticipated our arrival such that God would exist.

    Why presume that only true prescriptive propositions have existed for all time? Could not false ones have existed also (for example, “one ought to torture little babies for fun”). If so, how does one know that our moral sense does not invert those that are true and false? Or in other words, why should we think our moral sense is trustworthy?

    How do we know 2 + 2 has always been 4? Why should we think our number sense is trustworthy? How do you know you’re not a brain in a vat? etc., etc. Down that road lies solipsism.

  16. Jordan

    SteveK,

    Firstly, doesn’t your reasoning create problems for Christian moral realism? For example, how, according to your view, could the proposition, “It is wrong for one human being to kill another,” have been true before God created human beings? And, if it couldn’t, does that pose a problem for Christian moral realism?

    SteveK wrote: A moral fact about what? Moral agents. The term ‘moral agent’ has no connection to reality at the time of the big bang. If a term within the proposition lacks any connection to reality can the proposition be true? No.

    It can when your dealing in the abstract. For example, “the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees,” is true even in the absense of physical triangles. That’s because the idea of triangles doesn’t rely on their existence; likewise, the idea of moral agents does not rely on the existence of moral agents.

    You’re making my point, Jordan. You’re right, the proposition isn’t an eternal fact of reality because Tom Gilson is not an eternal fact of reality in your scenario. A proposition devoid of reality cannot be a true proposition.

    No, you missed my point. “Tom Gilson runs this blog,” says, among other things, that Tom Gilson exists (he must, if he runs a blog), so, when Tom doesn’t exist, the proposition is false. On the other hand, if you were to say something like, “It is good for men named Tom Gilson to run blogs,” that would not entail that Tom Gilson exists, or even that blogs exist — only that, if a man named Tom Gilson ran a blog, that would be good.

  17. Tom Gilson

    Jordan, you said to me,

    Well, theism per se doesn’t, and if Judeo-Christian theism does, you haven’t shown it. All you did was make the naked assertion that, “God has eternally been the ultimate instantiation and expression of love, justice, holiness, and so on; and since the universe he created is an expression of himself, those moral values apply in all of creation.”

    1. If on the one hand you think this is an inaccurate depiction of what Judeo-Christian theism affirms, it’s not a naked assertion. It is standard teaching of Judaism and Christianity. The latter portion follow from the earlier portion of the statement besides.

    2. If on the other hand, you want me to prove that God is all that he is said to be here, please don’t call on me to do it in one comment. Please read the entire content of the whole history of the blog first. I mean, really…

    Here’s a summary of those books: Godditit. Ok, I’ve met my flippancy quota…

    Either that or you’ve met your quota for being really an uninformed thoughtless non-participant, pretending to be a participant in a thoughtful dialogue. I’m willing to chalk it up to flippancy instead, since you’re actually participating in the rest of the dialogue here. But I hope behind your admission of flippancy you really do recognize there is no substance whatever to your “Goddidit” charge in the form you’ve presented it.

    Whoa, back up. I didn’t say theism doesn’t have “space for eternal moral verities.” I said it doesn’t, in and of itself, entail moral realism.

    Fine. But the argument I presented goes on to suggest that your worldview does not have space for it. It was a transitional phrase, okay?

    I can’t unpack that question. There are simply moral facts, which we perceive with our moral sense. That’s basic, like numbers or qualia. You can’t dig any deeper.

    How many paragraphs earlier were you complaining that I had made a naked assertion? But mine wasn’t that. Yours, however, is “There are simply moral facts,” and “I can’t unpack that question.” Don’t you see, Jordan, what you’re doing? Don’t you understand the reason you can’t answer the questions I put to you there is because there is none? Don’t you see that eternal moral reality without an eternal moral agent of some kind is meaningless? You’ve as much as admitted it here!

    In what do numbers inhere? In what does God inhere? Why do we need to identify that in which a thing “inheres” before we can believe in the thing? If all things must inhere in some other thing, wouldn’t that lead to infinite regress?

    Infinite regress is indeed a huge problem unless it ends in some self-existent being, which is the case with God as understood by Christians. Apart from that you do have quite a problem. Numbers do not inhere in anything in particular, except as an abstraction of particulars. They require some mind to make sense of them.

    Moral facts have always existed. I’m not sure what you mean by “evil,” but there have always been true moral propositions in the form of, “It is wrong to X.”

    What was evil before the stars existed? You can’t answer a clarifying question about your position just by re-stating your position.

    It has always been true that it is wrong for one moral agent (i.e., a fully sentient, rational being with moral sense) to kill another without justification.

    Was it wrong before any moral agents existed?

    It comes down to moral sense. I try to make a conscious effort to shed my cultural and religious presuppositions when I approach serious moral issues. This give me moral clarity (I hope). I think if you were to do the same, you and I would agree in most areas. Religion and (to an extent) culture often cloud one’s moral sense.

    I applaud you for this. I don’t think you are fully aware, however, just how culturally conditioned your own position on this issue is.

    At all times, the proposition, “It is wrong to discriminate without justification,” has been true. Don’t you agree?

    I agree. I think that it is wrong also not to discriminate when there is sufficient justification. Don’t you agree?

    And for Christians. Are you going to answer them now?

    My answer to my extended set of questions is that moral value or duty is a matter of living in tune with the eternal moral character of God. There never was a time in the history of the cosmos when there was no person to whom it could have been pointed. There never was a time when there was no intelligent life, for God has always existed. Moral duties have always inhered in God. There was such a thing as evil while the stars were forming, or at least the term had real meaning (I don’t know when it was first instantiated): it was to rebel against the goodness of God. Animals killing animals has never been immoral, at least not when it was across species. (Intra-species morality is a matter of some interesting study, and I don’t claim to have a full answer on that. But animal morality cannot have the same spiritual implications as human morality at any rate.) The diachronic measuring stick for morality is the unchanging character of God.

    The questions are not that difficult to answer from a theistic viewpoint.

    Bill: How does one become a moral agent? Is it a choice one makes or is it a fact of his existence.
    Jordan: It is a fact of his existence.

    Doesn’t that fact need some explanation? Or as Bill said,

    Bill: If it is a fact of my existence how did it become so?
    I can’t give you a definitive answer. Does that give me license to invent a cause (i.e., God)?

    It should give you reason to doubt that your own answer is adequate!

    SteveK: Relating this to my previous comment, how can a propositional truth involving living beings be true in the absense of living beings?
    Jordan: How could it not? Will the proposition “2 + 2 = 4″ stop being true if the human species goes extinct?

    1. The mathematical proposition you present does not fit the question, which was about living beings.
    2. SteveK was talking about before living beings existed, before they were even available concepts for that proposition to exist truly (if a proposition’s being available can even be thought of in that circumstance).

    Moral facts are eternal and immutable (wouldn’t you agree?).

    Of course we agree. The dispute is over how they can be eternal, if as you say there is no God.

    No, moral agency is just a label we apply to a set of attributes (which includes rationality, sentience, and moral sense). There’s no faith involved, unless you are suggesting that belief in rationality, sentience, and moral sense is a matter of faith.

    You take it as a matter of faith that it exists somewhere and has always existed.

    Thomas Reid: How did the universe “anticipate” our arrival such that these statements have always been true?
    Jordan: That’s like asking how the universe anticipated our arrival such that God would exist.

    No it isn’t. If there is a God, then there was no “anticipating” him. He is self-existent, timeless, eternal, both past and future.

  18. Bill

    “No, moral agency is just a label we apply to a set of attributes (which includes rationality, sentience, and moral sense). There’s no faith involved, unless you are suggesting that belief in rationality, sentience, and moral sense is a matter of faith”.

    A classic bootstrapped argument: A moral agent is a person with a … moral sense. Huh? What? And how or where do you get that moral sense. Again, this is a faith based belief exactly like the one of which you were critical. And throwing in rationality and sentience is a red herring when you can’t explain where they came from either.

    Again we see an atheist appropriating theistic beliefs for his own use without being able to justify where they came from. Even your own wording shows this. It’s you that says that it’s a “belief in rationality, sentience, and moral sense”. Beliefs are all faith based. That is the very definition of them unless you can prove where they came from. And that is something you certainly haven’t done.

  19. SteveK

    Jordan,

    On the other hand, if you were to say something like, “It is good for men named Tom Gilson to run blogs,” that would not entail that Tom Gilson exists, or even that blogs exist — only that, if a man named Tom Gilson ran a blog, that would be good.

    So your reasoning is that moral agents don’t need to exist for the statement “It is wrong for one moral agent to kill another without justification” to always be factually true. Hmmm…

    By the same reasoning, the statement below must always be factually true.

    “Pink unicorns enjoy eating their cotton candy.”

    I don’t know what else to say.

  20. SteveK

    Jordan,

    Firstly, doesn’t your reasoning create problems for Christian moral realism? For example, how, according to your view, could the proposition, “It is wrong for one human being to kill another,” have been true before God created human beings? And, if it couldn’t, does that pose a problem for Christian moral realism?

    It doesn’t pose a problem because Christianity doesn’t say that particular moral proposition was true prior to the existence of human beings.

    Christianity’s eternally true moral proposition is this: God’s (immutable) character is the source (grounding) for all that is holy and good (or something close to that statement).

  21. SteveK

    It doesn’t pose a problem because Christianity doesn’t say that particular moral proposition was true prior to the existence of human beings.

    One could argue that moral propositions about spiritual beings existed eternally within the character of God so in that sense it would have been an eternal truth prior to God’s creation of time and specific spiritual beings.

  22. Thomas Reid

    TR: You seem to be equating descriptive propositions with prescriptive ones. Why?

    J: The proposition in question isn’t prescriptive. It merely states a moral fact, from which you may or may not derive a prescriptive proposition. Analogy: “2 + 2 = 4,” is descriptive, whereas, “When you add 2 and 2, you ought to let the result be 4,” is prescriptive.

    Now this gets to my point. You say a prescriptive proposition (an “ought”) “may or may not” be derived from the descriptive moral fact. But how is the latter derived, assuming the former is true? What gives the prescriptive proposition any meaning? When is the “ought” brought about? The atheist can only reply, “when there are moral agents in existence”.

    TR: How did the universe “anticipate” our arrival such that these statements have always been true?

    J: That’s like asking how the universe anticipated our arrival such that God would exist.

    The statements are not analogous, since God is not a proposition nor is He understood to be a contingent entity. What process or entity was brought into existence as part of the universe such that propositions about contingent beings have always been true?

    TR: Why presume that only true prescriptive propositions have existed for all time? Could not false ones have existed also (for example, “one ought to torture little babies for fun”). If so, how does one know that our moral sense does not invert those that are true and false? Or in other words, why should we think our moral sense is trustworthy?

    J: How do we know 2 + 2 has always been 4? Why should we think our number sense is trustworthy? How do you know you’re not a brain in a vat? etc., etc. Down that road lies solipsism.

    That isn’t an answer to the question, which is fine (there are a lot of questions I can’t answer). But fear of solipsism should have nothing to do with it. The physical world could exist, and we could have a correct perception of it, we could even know mathematics, without having any reason to believe our moral sense is giving us correct information about the eternal and invariable moral truths in the universe.
    Your response here is representative of the larger course of this entire discussion. When pressed for answers as to how moral absolutes come about in the absence of any moral agents or law-giver, your responses continually take the form of “moral absolutes exist”. But of course that is not an answer to the question, furthermore no one is challenging you on that position. If you are content to not answer the question, then I for one will be content to no longer ask it.

  23. woodchuck64

    How do moral absolutes come about in the absence of any moral agents or law-giver?

    Consider the question of the fastest way to travel from New York to Los Angeles in 2009. The absolute answer is a ride on the SR-71 (at least as far as I know).

    In the same way, moral absolutes are the answer to the question: what is the best way to harmonize the desires of the human race.

    Coming at this from the angle of desirism.

  24. Tom Gilson

    I’m having trouble, woodchuck64, figuring out how the answer you gave actually answers the question. It assumes the existence of the human race—moral agents.

  25. woodchuck64

    I’m having trouble, woodchuck64, figuring out how the answer you gave actually answers the question. And the trouble isn’t with me this time, I’m quite sure. Your answer isn’t an answer this time. It assumes the existence of the human race, which is a race of beings who are moral agents.

    Did the answer to the question of the fastest way to travel from New York to Los Angeles in 2009 exist prior to 2009, or even prior to the existence of New York or Los Angeles? I would say yes, as a possible set of configurations of matter and energy. Moral absolutes would exist in the same way, prior to the existence of moral agents, as an answer to the question of the best way to harmonize the desires of the human race (including the important caveat of how desires under desirism are defined).

  26. Jordan

    Tom & SteveK,

    I honestly don’t understand where you guys are coming from here. Are you saying that, under atheism, moral realism can’t be true, since every moral proposition would have been false prior to the existence of moral agents? But what about propositions like, “When moral agents exist, it is wrong for one moral agent to kill another without justification”?

    Also, what do you guys think of Michael Martin’s “Ideal Observer” theory?

  27. Tom Gilson

    I think moral propositions without moral agents are meaningless. On atheism, the arrival of moral agents on the scene was completely contingent and accidental. We were not expected, intended, planned or otherwise thought of in advance. We might never have shown up. No moral agent might have ever shown up. So the best possible form of your statement would be,

    When moral agents exist, whatever a moral agent possibly might signify, if any ever exist, it is wrong for one moral agent to kill another without justification, and this statement is true even if there is never any intelligent or moral being ever in the history of all the universes to understand it, reflect on it, or fulfill the conditions to make it true.”

    That’s a charitable view, not pushing toward the further question of how evolution created an agent, much less a moral sort of agent. Of all the numerous discussions I’ve seen on free will, the one most serious sticking point I’ve seen for naturalistic/evolutionary answers is that of agency: how does the person wrest control of him/herself away from all those imperious (and non-moral) physical and chemical processes running him or her?

    You and I both grant that humans are moral agents. We have that as a fact on hand. But you and I both have to account not only for the present fact, but also for how it came to be a fact that we are moral agents: how it originated, given our understanding of how the universe and life originated.

    Here’s another angle on the same issue. Given the truth of “When moral agents exist, it is wrong for one moral agent to kill another without justification,” which I agree is true, does it make sense to speak in those terms under a naturalistic worldview? I don’t see how. I think that proposition and the terms of naturalism are contradictory.

    So I can accept your moral statement. I just can’t accept logically that it is consistent with the rest of your worldview.

    I should probably expand my thinking on this more fully than I am right now, but I’m short on time and I’ll have to come back to it, in case you have further questions.

  28. Tom Gilson

    My guess, by the way, is that Ideal Observer theory only makes sense if an observer can be conceived of. Which was never necessarily the case, on naturalism.

  29. William Bradford

    What happens when a society surrenders to moral relativism? Climate Gate is a case in point. The recent decade witnessed a change in global warming patterns and some scientists took it upon themselves to fudge data to protect the global warming paradigm. They can rationalize what they did. Reminds me of something I read: In those days everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

  30. Thomas Reid

    Hi Jordan,
    (this became longer than I intended, apologies)

    Are you saying that, under atheism, moral realism can’t be true, since every moral proposition would have been false prior to the existence of moral agents? But what about propositions like, “When moral agents exist, it is wrong for one moral agent to kill another without justification”?

    What I’m saying is that there are good reasons to think that if atheism were true, then these propositions would either not have any meaning, or would not exist (and maybe there’s no difference between those two). My previous comments to you were an attempt to understand what you take to be the true nature of these objective propositions. I think I’ve got it, but could be wrong.

    Think about the concept of a moral fact. What are some essential properties of such a thing? The following come to mind:
    1. It is about an agent that is both conscious, and free (these are two independent properties).
    2. It is a command to such conscious and free agents about what they should and should not do.

    The typical atheist I encounter believes in naturalism, which is something a bit stronger than atheism. For on naturalism there is no immaterial realm. Everything that exists can be reduced to a physical phenomenon. Now I think if naturalism is true, not only do objective moral facts not exist, but things like free agents don’t exist either.

    But you seem not to be a naturalist, due to your belief in these objective moral facts that exist irrespective of whether moral agents exist, or could even possibly exist. For if these propositions exist, they must exist in some immaterial realm, because it is possible for moral agents not to exist in the physical realm. The propositions cannot be some kind of emergent property of complex physical systems. You yourself have said that their truth value, their meaning, does not depend on the existence of actual persons.

    At this point we can see that if you are not a naturalist, and believe in an immaterial realm, then you are on the same metaphysical footing as the theist who postulates God (who is an immaterial being) as the source for moral values and duties. Any objection you may have to the existence of God cannot be rooted in the disbelief of immaterial entities.

    Moving on, how is it that the moral facts, with the attendant properties described above, exist without God? What kind of conscious-less process can produce the “consciousness property” of a moral fact? What kind of purposeless process can produce the “command property” of the moral fact? It seems to me that a conscious-less, purposeless process is not the sort of thing that is even capable of producing a thing with the properties of a moral fact. Thus, if there is no God, objective moral facts do not exist.

  31. SteveK

    But what about propositions like, “When moral agents exist, it is wrong for one moral agent to kill another without justification”?

    There’s a reason why the horns of Euthyphro are so deadly to objective morality, and there’s a reason why the God of the bible avoids those horns and mankind as ‘god’ does not.

  32. woodchuck64

    Thomas Reid writes

    Now I think if naturalism is true, not only do objective moral facts not exist, but things like free agents don’t exist either.

    Objective moral facts can exist if naturalism is true in the sense of the example I gave earlier.

    If the free in “free agents” means free from natural processes, that would of course be incompatible with naturalism. But free shouldn’t mean free from what I desire to do. I want my moral decisions to be based on what I want to do or what I want not to do, those wants/desires perhaps altruistic, selfish, both or neither. Under naturalism assumptions, I’m part of the universe so I, as well as my desires, are going to be part of chain of cause and affect that go back to the Big-Bang. I’m not free of the universe, but in a real sense the universe is me if naturalism is true.

  33. Bill

    “In the same way, moral absolutes are the answer to the question: what is the best way to harmonize the desires of the human race”.

    The problem you have there Woodchuck is who defines “the desires of the human race”. You are introducing a subjective result into what must be an objective moral order to make it an “absolute”.

    The desires of the human race have been quite differently perceived by, for instance, Gandhi, Stalin, Jesus of Nazareth, Mao, Mother Theresa, and Ted Bundy. And I didn’t even need to reference Hitler to make my point.

  34. Franklin Mason

    There’s an epistemological worry for the atheist who embraces moral realism. It’s this:

    The atheist cannot think that humans were shaped by a divine agent.
    This seems to leave only natural processes to explain our existence and nature.
    If these processes are natural, then surely they are those described by the theory of evolution.
    On the theory of evolution, we are shaped by our physical environment and by it alone.
    Thus on the theory of evolution, all our powers, all our capacities, are aimed at our physical environment. We were crafted to operate within it and it alone; thus we cannot suppose that we any ability to discern any object or truth outside it.
    But objective moral truth, if such a thing exists, is no part of our physical environment. It is not a physical object; it is not a physical process. Why? Objective moral truth proscribes how things should go whether or not they actually go that way.
    Conclusion: likely, if atheism is true, we could have no ability to discern objective moral truth.

    So my question for Jordan is this: if we are moral realists and atheists too, how can we explain our capacity to discern objective moral truth? It would seem that if atheism is true, there could be no such capacity. I suspect that doctorLogic has the consistent view here. Atheists should be moral relativists.

  35. Bill

    “Atheists should be moral relativists”.

    So true and exactly what Sartre, Nietzsche, Camus, Dostoyevsky and all the prominent atheist philosophers and thinkers have said. Without God, all moral points of view are valid.

    “If there is no God, anything is permissible”.

  36. woodchuck64

    Bill:

    The problem you have there Woodchuck is who defines “the desires of the human race”. You are introducing a subjective result into what must be an objective moral order to make it an “absolute”.

    The desires of the human race have been quite differently perceived by, for instance, Gandhi, Stalin, Jesus of Nazareth, Mao, Mother Theresa, and Ted Bundy. And I didn’t even need to reference Hitler to make my point.

    That subjectivity is not an issue. That people have desires is an objective fact. That people can make their desires known is an objective fact. Moral absolutes (under naturalism) tell us what desires to encourage and what desires to thwart so as to result in a harmonization of all desires.

    For example, I may have a subjective preference for pistachio ice-cream. But I can make that preference objectively known by going out and buying pistachio ice-cream. Therefore, society/government, or in this case the marketplace, knows about my desire.

    In your example, Stalin, Mao, Ted Bundy, Hitler cared very little about the desires of the human race; therefore, they would be classic examples of how not to determine naturalistic morality.

  37. woodchuck64

    Frank Mason:

    Objective moral truth proscribes how things should go whether or not they actually go that way.

    An “objective moral truth” under naturalism is a fact or set of facts that describes how to accomplish a certain goal. That goal is to harmonize the desires of the human race.

    This would make it no different than other facts about reality that can be used to accomplish goals. Are facts incompatible with evolution? I don’t see why.

    Note that a goal itself has no intrinsic value; rather, it is an end we desire, and our desires are the only reason for action. A harmonization of desires of the human race ensures that the most desires are met and is a rational goal for the individual (under naturalism with a desirism flavor).

  38. Franklin Mason

    woodchuck,

    Why ought we seek to harmonize the desires of the whole human race? These seems to presuppose that all human beings count (perhaps count equally) in our deliberations. That, I would think, is an example of an objective moral truth that constrains what in fact we desire and does not itself derive from desire.

    Some hold that the desires of those not in their group (whatever that group is – race, religion, nationality, etc.) count for nothing. The very goal of harmonization would thus seem to require that such prejudicial desire – the prejudiced desire of those who would discount the desires of others – count for nothing. The attempt to harmonize all desire would seem to require that we not include certain sorts of desire in the set to be harmonized, viz. those that seek only the good of a certain select group.

    My point is this: the ideal of desire harmonization already presupposes certain moral truths – in particular that all desire is to count. Thus desire harmonization – or the development of plans to achieve harmonized desire – cannot serve as the source of moral truth.

    I’ll say again: moral truth is independent of how things happen to be or to go. By definition, moral truth specifies how things ought to go whether or not they do go that way. Since this is so, the attempt to ground morality in one or another state of affairs that happens to prevail here and now is bound to fail.

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  40. woodchuck64

    Franklin Mason:

    Why ought we seek to harmonize the desires of the whole human race?

    The whole human race seems to be a good default assumption. That is, there aren’t good reasons for discounting some human beings. For example, if we look at arguments used to justify racism, we do not find anything rational — the colour of one’s skin really has no measured affect on what one can potentially contribute to society. Further, we know that arbitrarily classifying some groups as inhuman has caused a great deal of problems in the past. Finally, we know that all human beings have consciousness, enjoy pleasure and suffer from pain, and since those experiences are most important to me, it stands to reason that all who share them are equal where it matters most.

    (The “ought”, above, is enlightened self-interest under naturalism, of course.)

    Some hold that the desires of those not in their group (whatever that group is – race, religion, nationality, etc.) count for nothing. The very goal of harmonization would thus seem to require that such prejudicial desire – the prejudiced desire of those who would discount the desires of others – count for nothing. The attempt to harmonize all desire would seem to require that we not include certain sorts of desire in the set to be harmonized, viz. those that seek only the good of a certain select group.

    The task of harmonizing desires takes this specifically into account. That is, malleable desires that thwart other desires are considered bad (reason for action to avoid) and malleable desires that fulfil other desires are considered good (reason for action to encourage). Prejudicial desires tend to thwart the desires of those prejudiced against and so would be discouraged. A better state of fulfilled desires would result from no prejudicial desires so the latter are considered bad.

    Thus desire harmonization – or the development of plans to achieve harmonized desire – cannot serve as the source of moral truth.

    I don’t agree as yet, but let me wait to hear if I’ve adequately addressed your points.

    More information on desirism is here.

  41. Richard Wein

    Sorry for butting in on what seems to be a private discussion among moral realists. 😉 I thought I’d add a moral anti-realist perspective.

    It seems to me that both theistic and atheistic moral realists resort to blind faith in an unintelligible concept. Theists quite reasonably challenge Jordan to come up with an intelligible account of moral values. But they have not come up with one of their own, and many of their objections apply equally to their own position. No one has made sense of what it means for a moral value to exist. What does it mean to say, for example, that rape is objectively wrong? The theistic approach seems to be to say that God’s “character” (or “nature”) is the source of moral values. But it’s no help to say that something is the source of moral values if you can’t say what it means for a moral value to exist.

    This seems to be an example of an approach more generally taken by apologists: give an unintelligible solution to a problem while denying atheists the right to give a similarly unintelligible solution. For example, Tom writes above:

    Infinite regress is indeed a huge problem unless it ends in some self-existent being, which is the case with God as understood by Christians.

    But, if the theist can claim that God is self-existent, why can’t the atheist claim that the Universe is self-existent? Similarly, if the theist can say that God’s nature is the source of moral values, why can’t the atheist say that the Universe is the source of moral values? Both are making unintelligible claims.

    Now it must be said that, as far as I can see, neither theist nor atheist has an intelligible answer to the question of first cause. But, in the case of morality, the moral anti-realist does have an intelligible answer: our moral sense is a phenomenon of the mind, arising from our evolutionary, social and personal history. There are no objective moral values to account for, so need to invoke unintelligible explanations. Note that this is not a specifically atheist answer. There’s no reason in principle why a theist shouldn’t be a moral anti-realist. If God exists and lays down moral values for us, then those are God’s subjective moral values–and ours if we accept them.

    Either way, morality is no argument for God.I say it’s unparsimonious and irrational to accept an unnecessary and unintelligible concept of objective morality. But, if you do, then it’s equally unintelligible on both theism and atheism.

  42. SteveK

    Richard,

    It seems to me that both theistic and atheistic moral realists resort to blind faith in an unintelligible concept.

    We (and you) are talking about it, so it must be intelligible at some level. Nobody is taking morality on blind faith, not even you. It’s no more blind to me than my faith in my own consciousness.

    But it’s no help to say that something is the source of moral values if you can’t say what it means for a moral value to exist.

    What does it mean for a proposition to reflect a truth about reality? It means moral values are real.

    Similarly, if the theist can say that God’s nature is the source of moral values, why can’t the atheist say that the Universe is the source of moral values?

    Nobody is saying an atheist can’t make that claim. We are saying it makes no sense to say a physical universe – in part or in whole – has a moral nature. Personal beings have moral natures, whereas space, time, matter and energy do not have that no matter how they are arranged and assembled.

    If God exists and lays down moral values for us, then those are God’s subjective moral values

    You misunderstand Christianity. God is eternal. God is necessary. God is immutable. Morality is grounded in a reality that could not possibly be otherwise.

    I say it’s unparsimonious and irrational to accept an unnecessary and unintelligible concept of objective morality.

    Fortunately, Christianity doesn’t accept this. Christianity accepts a necessary, and intelligible concept of objective morality as explained above. Very parsimonious and very rational.

  43. Tom Gilson

    Richard,

    Moral values don’t “exist” in the sense that they are tangible objects. Rather they are truths about God’s nature and about human relations. God is eternally loving, just, righteous, true, and so on. To say that moral values exist for humans is to say that it is true for humans that God calls us to live consistently with his character and nature, and that (metaphorically of course) the shape of our soul is determined largely by how well we do that. None of us attains to that perfect standard, which is the human problem Jesus came to solve (see “Who Is Jesus, Really?“). But the standard does exist in the sense that God calls us to it, and that the course of our present and future lives is both decided by how well we and others hold to it.

    Why can theists claim that God is self-existent, yet the Universe is not? It is because God is the kind of entity that can be self-existent. The Universe is not. To explain this fully would require a book-length exposition, but the quickest way to show this is simply to note that the Universe has not always existed. A self-existent entity cannot come into existence, as the Universe did at the Big Bang; that would be contradictory to the notion of self-existence. (There is a “bubble universe” response to this that says our own Universe is just one manifestation of some larger and self-existent multiverse, but there is good reason to believe that is both scientifically and philosophically unworkable.)

    There are other reasons to doubt the self-existence of the Universe. One of them is Leibniz’s version of the cosmological argument, of which a contemporary version may be found here.

    The Universe cannot be self-existent for that reason and for others. A personal God with the power to make free decisions can be self-existent and can have existed for all time, past and future; He could even be the creator of time. Again, this is a very large topic, but the short answer is that there is no logical incoherence in this conception of God.

    Does that help?

  44. Tom Gilson

    I didn’t see SteveK’s comment until after I posted my previous one here. I affirm what he said.

    He addressed the question (which I did not), why can’t the atheist say the Universe is the source of moral values? His answer could be re-phrased that the Universe is not the kind of thing that can be the source of real moral values, while God is. I don’t think anybody believes that the Universe at its inception was good, just, righteous, or true. If real moral values and duties exist, they must exist in some kind of relation that has something to do with entities having a moral dimension. Some atheists think that evolution could have produced that and has done so; our argument here has been that this is not logically coherent.

    The Triune God, on the other hand, has eternally been true, righteous, holy, and just within the Godhead, so God is the kind of being that could be the source of real moral values.

  45. Jordan

    Sorry for dropping out of the discussion. “Real life” reared its ugly head.

    God is eternally loving, just, righteous, true, and so on.

    And how do you know these things are good? You start with the premise that God is good, from which it follows that his traits are also good. Right? So, for example, you might say something like, “God is good; God is just; therefore, justice is good”; whereas, atheists who are moral realists take a more direct approach with statements like, “Justice is inherently good.” To me, the inherent goodness of justice, love, truth, etc. is far more obvious than the goodness of God.

    Why can theists claim that God is self-existent, yet the Universe is not? It is because God is the kind of entity that can be self-existent. The Universe is not. To explain this fully would require a book-length exposition, but the quickest way to show this is simply to note that the Universe has not always existed.

    1. The fact that the physical universe began to exist doesn’t imply that existence, per se, had a beginning unless the physical universe is all that exists.
    2. If morality exists independently of the physical universe, then the physical universe is not all that exists.
    3. Morality exists independently of the physical universe.
    4. Therefore, existence did not necessarily have a beginning.

    So existence itself could be the source of morality, couldn’t it? Or perhaps morality, per se, is “self-existent.”

    (There is a “bubble universe” response to this that says our own Universe is just one manifestation of some larger and self-existent multiverse, but there is good reason to believe that is both scientifically and philosophically unworkable.)

    Can you elaborate?

    The Triune God, on the other hand, has eternally been true, righteous, holy, and just within the Godhead, so God is the kind of being that could be the source of real moral values.

    You sure claim to know a lot about God…

  46. Richard Wein

    I wrote:

    Similarly, if the theist can say that God’s nature is the source of moral values, why can’t the atheist say that the Universe is the source of moral values?

    SteveK replied:

    Nobody is saying an atheist can’t make that claim.

    Well, if that claim can (reasonably) be made, then why can’t (objective) moral values exist in a godless universe?

    We are saying it makes no sense to say a physical universe – in part or in whole – has a moral nature. Personal beings have moral natures, whereas space, time, matter and energy do not have that no matter how they are arranged and assembled.

    I don’t have a problem with that. But how is it relevant, unless you’re saying that an entity has to be moral in order to be a source of moral values? But if you’re saying that, then you’re caught in a circularity: moral values can only arise from something that already has moral values.

  47. Richard Wein

    Tom wrote:

    Moral values don’t “exist” in the sense that they are tangible objects. Rather they are truths about God’s nature and about human relations.

    Let’s take a typical moral statement, “rape is wrong”. How is this a truth about God’s nature? It doesn’t refer to God or his nature. As for being a truth about human relations, what does it tell us about human relations?

    You’re conflating facts with values (“is” with “ought”). Recognition of the difference between a fact and a value goes back at least to David Hume:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fact-value_distinction
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is-ought_problem

    I expect you’re already aware of this issue. But your argument ignores it.

  48. Richard Wein

    I’d like to retract the last sentence of my reply to SteveK:

    But if you’re saying that, then you’re caught in a circularity: moral values can only arise from something that already has moral values.

    My bad. I was using “moral values” in two different sense here, the first being the “objective” moral values that we’re discussing, and the second referring to the moral attitudes of an entity. I’d like to replace that sentence with the following one. If Steve’s position is indeed that objective moral values can only arise from the moral nature of some entity (which I take to mean the moral attitudes of the entity), then this is a previously unstated premise of his argument, and an atheist moral realist can reject this premise.

  49. Tom Gilson

    Jordan,

    The question I was answering was, why cannot the Universe be self-existent; and related to that was the matter of whether the Universe is the sort of thing that could be the basis for real moral values and duties.

    You say,

    So existence itself could be the source of morality, couldn’t it? Or perhaps morality, per se, is “self-existent.”

    I don’t know how either of those would be possible. I don’t know how morality could exist independently of everything else whatsoever, or in what form it would exist in that case. Do you, and would you mind explaining it if you do? (“Couldn’t it?” and “perhaps” are fine for opening up a topic, but that’s all you’ve done with this so far. There’s no argument there yet; in fact, not even definition, since we need to know just what morality would be if it could exist independently of every other thing whatsoever.)

    Backing up a couple paragraphs,

    Tom: God is eternally loving, just, righteous, true, and so on.

    Jordan: And how do you know these things are good?

    Because they are good, and because it would be absurd to deny or even doubt that they are.

    You start with the premise that God is good, from which it follows that his traits are also good. Right? … To me, the inherent goodness of justice, love, truth, etc. is far more obvious than the goodness of God.

    You’ve answered how we know that these things are good: we just know it, and that it would be absurd to deny it. So how does that fit into my argument here? To answer that question, it is essential to stick with what I actually am arguing here. I was not arguing, because God is good, it follows that his traits are also good. That would be a very defensible statement, for the conclusion does follow from the premise, but it wasn’t what I was saying.

    What I was saying is that God is the sort of being that can be the basis for real moral values. He can be be the basis for real moral values because he is real, he has a moral nature or character, he is the creator of all that exists except himself.

    I prefer not to elaborate on the bubble universe issues unless someone presents a real question about them. That was parenthetical.

    You wonder about this:

    You sure claim to know a lot about God…

    He has revealed a lot about himself. It is a relational expression of his loving and true nature, his moral nature in action. But I can assure you I don’t claim to hold the truth.

  50. Tom Gilson

    Richard (and SteveK)

    SteveK: Nobody is saying an atheist can’t make that claim.
    Richard: Well, if that claim can (reasonably) be made, then why can’t (objective) moral values exist in a godless universe?

    Actually I do make that claim. That is, sure, the atheist can say that the Universe can be the basis of moral values, but then the atheist ought also to say what that actually means and how it could be true, especially in light of where this discussion started, which was Jordan’s claim that there exists an eternal moral reality apart from God.

    This, I take it, was the thrust of what SteveK went on to say with “it makes no sense to say a physical universe … has a moral nature.”

    But if you’re saying that, then you’re caught in a circularity: moral values can only arise from something that already has moral values.

    How is that circular? It’s not an argument. It can’t be circular unless it’s an argument. The argument is:

    1) Eternal moral values, if they are real, must arise from some source that has the ability to give rise to them.
    2) Matter and energy, law and chance have no moral values attached to them.
    3) The Universe as understood by naturalists is entirely matter and energy, law and chance. There is no other substance or causal principle.
    4) Therefore there has been a time in the history of the Universe when nothing existed that had any moral value attached to it.
    5) The Universe itself has not existed eternally.
    6) Therefore moral values are not eternal; eternal moral values do not exist just on the basis of the Universe itself.

    That addresses part of Jordan’s claim. Continuing:

    7) If real moral values exist now, then they began to exist at some time in the finite past (follows from 6).
    8 ) Nothing begins to exist without a sufficient cause of its beginning.
    9) Matter and energy, law and chance, having no moral values attached to them, are insufficient causes for the beginning of real moral values.
    10) But there is no causal principle in the Universe except for law and chance operating on matter and energy (3).
    11) There is nothing in the Universe with the ability to give rise to real moral values (7, 8, 9, and 10).

    The objection that typically gets raised against this is pointed at (9): how do we know that matter, energy, law, and chance are incapable of producing real moral values? My answer is, unless the objector explains how this makes sense, it’s not an argument and certainly not a refutation.

  51. Tom Gilson

    Richard, in response to your comment 47:

    How does “rape is wrong” connect to God’s moral nature? It’s a violation of mutual justice, doing good to another person, and mutual caring and respect. These are essential aspects of God’s character.

    The is/ought distinction is very familiar. In theism, however, there is no move from is to ought. It’s not a case where we are deriving the ought from the is. The ought is just as eternal as the is.

    The logical move (if one wants to call it that) is this: because God is good, therefore we are called to be good. The ought is there in the premise, in the goodness of God. His goodness is a description of his moral nature, and of course a moral nature entails an oughtness, otherwise it wouldn’t have anything to do with morality.

  52. Richard Wein

    Tom,

    Actually I do make that claim. That is, sure, the atheist can say that the Universe can be the basis of moral values, but then the atheist ought also to say what that actually means and how it could be true, especially in light of where this discussion started, which was Jordan’s claim that there exists an eternal moral reality apart from God.

    I think you’ve implicitly accepted my point, which is that you can’t refute the atheist moral realist’s claim. All you can do is point out (correctly) that it’s unintelligible. But then you and he are both in the same boat, because your claim is unintelligible too. I’ll retract this point if you subsequently make your claim intelligible.

    How does “rape is wrong” connect to God’s moral nature? It’s a violation of mutual justice, doing good to another person, and mutual caring and respect. These are essential aspects of God’s character.

    You claimed before that moral values are “truths about” God’s nature. Now you’ve weakened this to “connect[s]” to God’s nature. Are you retracting the claim that moral values are “truths about” God’s nature? If not, what does “rape is wrong” say about God’s nature? If you do retract “truths about”, are you now saying that moral values are truths, but they’re not truths about anything? Or are you saying that they’re not truths at all?

    Introducing the terms “justice” and “good” as explanations of “rape is wrong” is begging the question, because these are just alternative moral terms. Explaining one objective moral term by reference to another doesn’t resolve the question of what objective moral terms (collectively) mean. It doesn’t refute the claim that objective moral terms are unintelligible.

  53. Richard Wein

    P.S. Tom,

    The logical move (if one wants to call it that) is this: because God is good, therefore we are called to be good. The ought is there in the premise, in the goodness of God. His goodness is a description of his moral nature, and of course a moral nature entails an oughtness, otherwise it wouldn’t have anything to do with morality.

    I can’t see any logical move here. You’ve started from the premise that God is good. But you haven’t explained what that means. You’ve introduced the idea of “ought”, but you haven’t explained what that means either.

    You say that God’s goodness is a description of his moral nature. But a description is a type of proposition. What proposition are you referring to? Does it say “God is good”? But that was what you set out to explain. You’re just going round in circles.

  54. William Bradford

    Richard, some premises must be taken as self-evident in any schematic. It is not a matter of insufficient logic. It’s the nature of the territory. You might make more progress by identifying what the respective self-evident premises are for the competing moral claims.

  55. Tom Gilson

    Richard,

    I think you’ve implicitly accepted my point, which is that you can’t refute the atheist moral realist’s claim. All you can do is point out (correctly) that it’s unintelligible.

    That is equivalent to saying that on atheism there is no moral realism claim, which is as good as a refutation. But you go on to say,

    But then you and he are both in the same boat, because your claim is unintelligible too.

    William Bradford has asked you the right question about this already, but I’ll re-phrase it: just what is it about this that’s unintelligible?

    Perhaps you think you’ve offered an answer to that in the rest of your comment, but I don’t think you’ve succeeded. I’ll take it a paragraph at a time.

    You claimed before that moral values are “truths about” God’s nature. Now you’ve weakened this to “connect[s]” to God’s nature. Are you retracting the claim that moral values are “truths about” God’s nature? If not, what does “rape is wrong” say about God’s nature? If you do retract “truths about”, are you now saying that moral values are truths, but they’re not truths about anything? Or are you saying that they’re not truths at all?

    No, there’s no retraction there. Moral values are truths about God’s nature. I was using “connects” in the sense of there being a connection between the moral values and God’s nature. That connection is this: that it is true of God’s nature that he holds the moral values of justice, mutual caring, respect, etc.

    Introducing the terms “justice” and “good” as explanations of “rape is wrong” is begging the question, because these are just alternative moral terms. Explaining one objective moral term by reference to another doesn’t resolve the question of what objective moral terms (collectively) mean. It doesn’t refute the claim that objective moral terms are unintelligible.

    First, this was not meant as a refutation of the claim that objective moral terms are unintelligible, because you didn’t make that claim until after I wrote this.

    Second, I don’t know why you complain that I’m “begging the question” in that “Explaining one objective moral term by reference to another doesn’t resolve the question of what objective moral terms (collectively) mean;” because again, that wasn’t the question I was answering. You hadn’t asked that question. The question was,

    Let’s take a typical moral statement, “rape is wrong”. How is this a truth about God’s nature?

    I answered the question you asked.

    Now, are you also asking me at this point what objective moral terms (collectively) mean? That’s a decent enough question, but the way you keep changing questions on me like this, I don’t intend to proceed in answering anything unless I know you’re really asking it. And if you don’t mind, I’ll have a request for you: that you not charge me with logical failures in my answers, if that “failure” is that I’ve answered the question you’ve asked, rather than answering a question you haven’t asked yet. Thanks.

    Regarding your 10:43 am comment:

    I can’t see any logical move here. You’ve started from the premise that God is good. But you haven’t explained what that means. You’ve introduced the idea of “ought”, but you haven’t explained what that means either.

    If you think the words “good” and “ought” are unintelligible, you’ll have to give me some clue what’s lacking in them. They’re fairly ordinary words, after all.

    You say that God’s goodness is a description of his moral nature. But a description is a type of proposition. What proposition are you referring to? Does it say “God is good”? But that was what you set out to explain. You’re just going round in circles.

    No. That wasn’t what I set out to explain. I set out to explain how theism, and not naturalism, offers an explanation for how there can real eternal moral values and duties. Part of the answer to that question is that theism posits a good God.

    And your question, “what proposition are you referring to?” is strange, considering you had just told me the proposition yourself: “God’s goodness is a description of his moral nature.” What’s missing from that?

    So, could you be a bit more careful, please, about how you parse the logic in your questions, responses, and charges of what I’m succeeding and failing in?

  56. SteveK

    Richard,

    I think you’ve implicitly accepted my point, which is that you can’t refute the atheist moral realist’s claim.

    I guess it depends on what your understanding of ‘refute’ means. One can’t refute the claim that we are all brains-in-vats either. In my book, the atheist moral claim is on par with that. Can both of those claims be justifiably refuted in argument form? I think, yes.

  57. Jordan

    I don’t know how morality could exist independently of everything else whatsoever, or in what form it would exist in that case. Do you, and would you mind explaining it if you do?

    How can God exist independently of everything else and in what “form” does God exist? These questions are pointless when dealing with (purportedly) eternal, immaterial things.

    What I was saying is that God is the sort of being that can be the basis for real moral values. He can be be the basis for real moral values because he is real, he has a moral nature or character, he is the creator of all that exists except himself.

    Again, all you’re doing (as I implied in my previous post) is introducing an unnecessary middle man. If you’re allowed to posit the existence of eternal, immaterial objects (like God), then why can’t I do the same with morality?

    You sure claim to know a lot about God…

    He has revealed a lot about himself. It is a relational expression of his loving and true nature, his moral nature in action. But I can assure you I don’t claim to hold the truth.

    How do you know that God has revealed a lot about himself? i.e., How do you know that what you take to be his revelation is, in fact, his revelation?

  58. Tom Gilson

    In response to Jordan at 11:47 am:

    Tom: I don’t know how morality could exist independently of everything else whatsoever, or in what form it would exist in that case. Do you, and would you mind explaining it if you do?
    Jordan: How can God exist independently of everything else and in what “form” does God exist? These questions are pointless when dealing with (purportedly) eternal, immaterial things.

    I asked a question and you didn’t answer it. The question is about the existence of morality, not about the existence of God, and I still don’t have a clue how you think moral values could exist independently of everything else whatsoever. I think the notion is self-contradictory, because moral values and duties entail a valuer (some entity that holds the value), and/or some entity toward which the moral duty is directed or owed. If you can explain that, then you can perhaps dispense with the “middle man,” but merely asking “Why can’t I do the same with morality?” is not answering the question.

    How do you know that God has revealed a lot about himself? i.e., How do you know that what you take to be his revelation is, in fact, his revelation?

    I can answer on two levels. First, we have two possible sources of real moral values on the table for discussion: one is God, and the other is that they have no source except in themselves. We can discuss the coherence of both views, even though we both know that logically speaking, either one or both is false. To demand that I explain how I know that God has revealed himself is logically equivalent to my demanding how you know that he hasn’t revealed himself. It’s not necessary to the question at hand, because we can discuss the coherence of our two views without making that demand of each other.

    Now, there is another level on which I could answer your question, how do I know God has revealed a lot about himself? Here is my answer on that other level: Please read this entire blog, starting from the beginning in October 2004. A very large proportion of it has been devoted to answering that very question.

    So I invite you to explore that answer, but ask you to bear in mind that we can continue on this current discussion even before you finish with that.

  59. Jordan

    I asked a question and you didn’t answer it.

    Yes I did. I said, “These questions are pointless when dealing with (purportedly) eternal, immaterial things.” You, on the other hand, did not answer my question, and I think it’s because you know any answer you could give would be just as unsatisfying and frustrating to me as mine was to you. That’s the thing about eternal, immaterial objects: They’re philosophically irritating unless you believe in them.

    I still don’t have a clue how you think moral values could exist independently of everything else whatsoever.

    Isn’t that simply a failure of imagination on your part (and an argument from incredulity)? If I told you I didn’t have a clue how God could exist independently of everything whatsoever, how would you respond?

    I think the notion is self-contradictory, because moral values and duties entail a valuer (some entity that holds the value), and/or some entity toward which the moral duty is directed or owed.

    In my view, we’re not talking about values or duties. We’re talking about moral facts. And moral facts don’t depend on the existence of moral agents any more than mathematical facts depend on the existence of mathematicians.

  60. Thomas Reid

    Jordan,

    And how do you know these things are good? You start with the premise that God is good, from which it follows that his traits are also good. Right? So, for example, you might say something like, “God is good; God is just; therefore, justice is good”; whereas, atheists who are moral realists take a more direct approach with statements like, “Justice is inherently good.” To me, the inherent goodness of justice, love, truth, etc. is far more obvious than the goodness of God.

    It doesn’t seem to me that anyone is using a deductive argument to prove what is good. Every moral realist in this conversation takes it as an assumption, in my case a basic belief, that moral facts are real.
    The issue is, what is the best explanation for them? I’ve already stated that a purposeless, consciousless process is not the type of thing that can produce the properties of a moral fact. There is nothing in a consciousless, purposeless universe to produce the properties of a moral fact.
    As near as I can tell, you think questioning the ontology of these facts is pointless. Nevertheless, you offer the following argument:

    1. The fact that the physical universe began to exist doesn’t imply that existence, per se, had a beginning unless the physical universe is all that exists.
    2. If morality exists independently of the physical universe, then the physical universe is not all that exists.
    3. Morality exists independently of the physical universe.
    4. Therefore, existence did not necessarily have a beginning.

    You are using “existence” as a property of a thing (the universe) in the first half of (1), then as an entity itself in the second half of (1). But I’m not even sure what “existence” is, taking it as you do as an object without some referent. Do you have any idea what this means?

    So existence itself could be the source of morality, couldn’t it? Or perhaps morality, per se, is “self-existent.”

    Now that is why you have to change the definition of “existence” in (1), to posit it as something for the basis of morality. Then, you again swap your definition back to “a property of a thing” to conclude that morality is self-existent. Honestly, this seems downright incoherent. Even if it is coherent, you need to fix your argument to not change the meaning of terms within your premises.

    Further, if you are positing morality as independent from the universe (your premise 3), you are working from the same metaphysical assumptions as the theist. Unless you can explain what “existence” is as an object and not a property, then I think it’s warranted to conclude that God is the more coherent explanation for the source of moral facts. If that is true, then you’ll need some arguments against the existence of God to make your case as “existence” for the source of morality.

  61. SteveK

    There you have it, imagination legitimizes a conclusion. I imagine you’re wrong, Jordan.

  62. Tom Gilson

    Jordan, the question I asked was, how can moral realities exist independently of everything else. You responded with a question about my beliefs. That is not an answer that tells me about what you believe. You still haven’t answered my question.

    Isn’t that simply a failure of imagination on your part (and an argument from incredulity)?

    No, it’s not an argument at all, it’s a request for an explanation. If my imagination is failing, then I’m asking for your help with that. In the meantime, however, you cannot use my “failure of imagination” as a positive argument in favor of your view. You need to support your view with something considerably more substantive than that!

    As to your last paragraph, there is finally something there we can work with. You say we are dealing with moral facts, not values or duties. For example, from your comment 6, “It has always been true that it is wrong for one moral agent (i.e., a fully sentient, rational being with moral sense) to kill another without justification.”

    But SteveK said in comment 13,

    A moral fact about what? Moral agents. The term ‘moral agent’ has no connection to reality at the time of the big bang. If a term within the proposition lacks any connection to reality can the proposition be true? No.

    Thomas Reid said in #30,

    Think about the concept of a moral fact. What are some essential properties of such a thing? The following come to mind:
    1. It is about an agent that is both conscious, and free (these are two independent properties).
    2. It is a command to such conscious and free agents about what they should and should not do.

    The existence of a moral fact prior to the existence of moral agents–when even the future appearance of moral agents in the universe was a mere matter of chance–seems meaningless. The conception of freedom that Thomas Reid brought up seems essential to morality, but it’s hard to see how it could have existed eternally (or even how it can exist now, on naturalism). And the idea of a command that he brought up seems to require a command-er.

    You answered SteveK in your comment 16,

    It can when your dealing in the abstract. For example, “the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees,” is true even in the absense of physical triangles. That’s because the idea of triangles doesn’t rely on their existence; likewise, the idea of moral agents does not rely on the existence of moral agents.

    I’d like to see you unpack that more. For an argument from analogy to work, there must be true parallelism, but I don’t think there is here. You are saying something is true of both triangles and moral agents because we can deal with them both in the abstract: there is the idea of triangles and the idea of moral agents. But morality does not apply to abstract objects. It applies to real, genuine moral agents. So the parallelism fails. I remain unconvinced that you have answered SteveK’s objection.

    I don’t see where you’ve responded to Thomas Reid at all. Perhaps this was in the period when, as you say, real life reared its ugly head.

    By the way, as to the question you asked, that I didn’t answer, which was:

    How can God exist independently of everything else and in what “form” does God exist?

    I didn’t answer it partly because you followed it up with something that I did respond to, albeit indirectly. You implied that the difficulty of answering such things meant that we didn’t need to try:

    These questions are pointless when dealing with (purportedly) eternal, immaterial things.

    Here is the rest of my answer:

    God’s independent existence is part of the definition of his being; God is self-existent, and the theistic conception of God is meaningless apart from that. The form in which he exists is the form of God.

    Can I prove that? For these purposes (see the last three paragraphs of my comment 60) it doesn’t require proof, it only requires that it be coherent, not self-contradictory. The eternal self-existence of God is not self-contradictory. The eternal independent existence of moral facts without God, however, is very problematical, for reasons just stated.

  63. Tom Gilson

    Further on this:

    Isn’t that simply a failure of imagination on your part (and an argument from incredulity)? If I told you I didn’t have a clue how God could exist independently of everything whatsoever, how would you respond?

    1. SteveK’s last comment was right on.

    2. If you told me that, I would not say, “Well, God must exist because you have just offered me an argument from incredulity.”

    3. If you told me that, and if I thought it was a serious question and germane to the discussion, I would spend as long as it took to try to help you with that.

  64. SteveK

    Tom,
    Jordan’s statement “That’s because the idea of triangles doesn’t rely on their existence” is false for the same reason his statement about moral agents is false.

    If triangles are not part of reality – meaning they don’t exist – then his claim “the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees” cannot be true. No triangles, no angles of triangles… and therefore, no truth to the statement.

    And if Jordan disagrees, I invite him to comment on the factual truth of this statement in #19.

    “Pink unicorns enjoy eating their cotton candy.”

  65. Jordan

    SteveK wrote: There you have it, imagination legitimizes a conclusion. I imagine you’re wrong, Jordan.

    That is not what “failure of imagination” means. It means that our inability to imagine X does not affect the reality of X. If I come home to find that my apartment has been ransacked, and that all the doors & windows are locked from the inside, I’ll have difficulty imagining how such a thing could have happened. Nevertheless, it will still have happened. Likewise, the fact that Tom can’t imagine how morality, per se, can exist doesn’t change the fact that morality exists.

  66. Jordan

    And if Jordan disagrees, I invite him to comment on the factual truth of this statement in #19.

    “Pink unicorns enjoy eating their cotton candy.”

    Would pink unicorns, if they existed, enjoy eating their cotton candy? If so, then that statement is true.

  67. Jordan

    Tom Gilson wrote: You need to support your view with something considerably more substantive than that!

    I’m only supporting atheistic moral realism vis-a-vis theistic moral realism. That’s what makes my questions about God relevant. If you can’t answer them, then you’re not in a position to expect me to answer similar questions about morality.

    The existence of a moral fact prior to the existence of moral agents–when even the future appearance of moral agents in the universe was a mere matter of chance–seems meaningless.

    Are you saying that propositions about a class of things can’t be true until the class has been instantiated? Because I’m still not convinced by that argument (it seems to fly in the face of pretty much any abstract field — e.g., mathematics, logic, etc.).

    The conception of freedom that Thomas Reid brought up seems essential to morality, but it’s hard to see how it could have existed eternally (or even how it can exist now, on naturalism).

    I don’t understand what you’re saying here. Why does freedom need to have existed eternally?

    And the idea of a command that he brought up seems to require a command-er.

    I think morality is prior to any command (after all, why should you obey a command?).

    I’d like to see you unpack that more. For an argument from analogy to work, there must be true parallelism, but I don’t think there is here. You are saying something is true of both triangles and moral agents because we can deal with them both in the abstract: there is the idea of triangles and the idea of moral agents. But morality does not apply to abstract objects.

    Sorry, Tom, but I’m not going to spend my day off splitting hairs over the nature of abstraction. If you like, just assume that the moral propositions I have in mind are of the, “When moral agents exist, they should…” variety.

    God’s independent existence is part of the definition of his being; God is self-existent, and the theistic conception of God is meaningless apart from that. The form in which he exists is the form of God.

    Well, in that case, morality’s independent existence is part of my definition of morality; morality is self-existent, etc., etc.

  68. Jordan

    Thomas Reid wrote: Now that is why you have to change the definition of “existence” in (1), to posit it as something for the basis of morality. Then, you again swap your definition back to “a property of a thing” to conclude that morality is self-existent. Honestly, this seems downright incoherent. Even if it is coherent, you need to fix your argument to not change the meaning of terms within your premises.

    Ok, that’s a legitimate criticism. I’m being too loose with the term “existence.” The point I was trying to make, which I think you’ll agree with, was that the fact that the physical universe had a beginning only counts against moral realism (of the sort we’re discussing) if the physical universe is all that exists; and that, if morality exists (i.e., it is an eternal, immaterial “thing”), then the physical universe is not all that exists. So Tom’s point about the universe having a beginning was irrelevant.

    By the way, I suspect you may want to argue that morality is not a “thing,” but, rather, a property of a thing. If you do take this route, why can’t I reply that morality is simply a property of Reality (Reality being a the top-level thing in which all things exist)?

    I should confess that I’m not really a strongly comitted moral realist. I want & try to be a moral realist (and, to be honest, I’m confused as to why you guys would want to convince atheists to become moral anti-realists), but I acknowledge that there are some pretty compelling arguments against it. However, I don’t think theism esapes those arguments. It merely replaces one immaterial thing (morality) with another (God), and claims the latter as the source of the former. I don’t see the point of doing that.

  69. Jordan

    By the way, I’ll try to read responses, but I may not be able to participate further in the discussion as I have go back to work tomorrow. And while I have the chance, I should apologize for the pontification & bravado. The internet brings out the worst in me…

  70. Tom Gilson

    Jordan,

    I have answered your questions about God. Please see my answer near the end of a prior comment. But your tit-for-tat (“Well, in that case, morality’s independent existence is part of my definition of morality; morality is self-existent, etc., etc.”) is meaningless. I have asked you to describe how morality could exist independently of everything else, and your answers have almost all been:

    1) I don’t have to answer because you won’t explain your position to my satisfaction, or
    2) I think it can exist independently of everything else, and if you don’t see how, then it’s your fault, or
    3) I’m not going to spend my day splitting hairs, or
    4) I’m not convinced by your argument (for unspecified reasons).

    There are a few lonely exceptions to the above, in relation to my support for my claims:

    Are you saying that propositions about a class of things can’t be true until the class has been instantiated? Because I’m still not convinced by that argument (it seems to fly in the face of pretty much any abstract field — e.g., mathematics, logic, etc.).

    No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that propositions about moral agents in particular cannot be true if there are no moral agents. The reasons for this are in my prior comments, so I hope I can leave it at that.

    I don’t understand what you’re saying here. Why does freedom need to have existed eternally?

    Because morality cannot exist without freedom, and you’re saying morality has an eternal existence. You should have also asked me about the corollary to that, but you didn’t: does freedom exist now, and how?

    Anyway, you’ve made a bare claim that morality could have had an eternal existence independent of every other thing, and I’ve asked you to explain how that’s possible. Your response so far has been (1) through (4) above. I still don’t know what you really mean by what you’ve said.

    Note that I agree with you that moral facts have always been true; but I do not see how they could be eternally true (eternally past) where for most of that eternity (pardon the mathematical imprecision there, what is “most” of eternity?) there has been nothing else existing, except for mathematical and logical facts. I’ve made a strong claim that moral facts require something more than abstract relationships, and you brushed that aside as splitting hairs. You haven’t explained anything yet.

  71. Tom Gilson

    Jordan,

    If you do take this route, why can’t I reply that morality is simply a property of Reality (Reality being a the top-level thing in which all things exist)?

    When you ask questions like this, which you have done more than once previously on this thread, here’s what you are asking: “Would you please explain to me what’s wrong with the argument I’m thinking I might make? Would you please think through the implications for me (which is what you must do, of course, if you’re going to refute it)?”

    My response, which I advise Thomas also to take, is, if you’re going to make an argument, please feel free to do so, and then I’ll be glad to respond.

    You asked a good question in the last paragraph. We are not trying to convince atheists to become anti-realists. We are trying to show that moral realism and atheism cannot logically coexist, but the move we’re hoping an atheist would make from that is not away from moral realism!

    It merely replaces one immaterial thing (morality) with another (God), and claims the latter as the source of the former. I don’t see the point of doing that.

    It replaces one incoherent view of an immaterial thing with a coherent one. That’s the point.

  72. Tom Gilson

    I appreciate your note about the bravado, by the way. I hope I’m not coming across as cocky. We Christians really don’t (or shouldn’t!) think we hold the truth. It’s a matter of meeting it in God, and being held by it.

  73. Thomas Reid

    I should confess that I’m not really a strongly comitted moral realist. I want & try to be a moral realist (and, to be honest, I’m confused as to why you guys would want to convince atheists to become moral anti-realists), but I acknowledge that there are some pretty compelling arguments against it.

    Speaking for myself, that is not the goal of the discussion. But you are right, for the moral argument to fail (which I outline here, I hasten to add that none of it is original), one has to explain how objective morality could exist apart from God, or deny the existence of objective morality. Personally, I think the latter is the equivalent of denying the existence of the physical world around us.

    However, I don’t think theism esapes those arguments. It merely replaces one immaterial thing (morality) with another (God), and claims the latter as the source of the former. I don’t see the point of doing that.

    That’s OK. I don’t think we need to re-hash all that’s been said in the original post and the dozens of comments. I simply advise that you re-read everything on the thread, and then let it simmer…

  74. Richard Wein

    Tom,

    First, this was not meant as a refutation of the claim that objective moral terms are unintelligible, because you didn’t make that claim until after I wrote this.

    Actually that was the whole point of my original post! But I can see now I was unclear. I wrote:

    No one has made sense of what it means for a moral value to exist. What does it mean to say, for example, that rape is objectively wrong?

    It seemed to me there was no difference between asking what it means for a moral value to exist and asking what a moral value (like “rape is wrong”) means, since you can’t answer one without answering the other. And I thought my example made it clear what I meant. But you took the question much more narrowly than I meant it, and replied:

    Moral values don’t “exist” in the sense that they are tangible objects. Rather they are truths about God’s nature and about human relations.

    I’d taken it for granted that to say moral values objectively exist is to say they are truths. I wanted to know what those truths mean. I assumed that was the question you were answering when you started telling me what they are truths about, and that’s what I’ve been pressing you to explain, without much success. It seems we’ve been talking at cross purposes from the start.

    Perhaps also when I asked what you mean by “rape is objectively wrong”, you assumed it was obvious what “rape is wrong” means, and were just addressing what the “objectively” means. But it’s far from clear what “rape is wrong” means (philosophers have written endlessly on the subject), and I was looking for an explanation of the whole statement. I should have made that clearer.

    I retract my assertions of circularity and question-begging. I think there was a valid point that I was trying to express, but I expressed it badly. I’m sorry for that.

    To be clearer now, I say that the claims of moral realists are unintelligible, because they’re based on moral terms which cannot be defined except by invoking other moral terms (which in turn can only be defined by invoking other moral terms, ad infinitum).

    In case you ask what alternative there is, a non-cognitivist anti-realist would say that moral utterances are not truth-apt propositions at all, but expressions of the speaker’s attitudes, e.g. when a person says “rape is wrong” he is expressing his disapproval of rape. (I would identify fairly closely with non-cognitivism, but my own position is a bit more complicated than that.)

  75. SteveK

    Richard,

    But it’s far from clear what “rape is wrong” means

    It’s as clear to me as “the sun is rising”. Why is it suddenly difficult to understand what words mean?

  76. Dave

    Hi Richard

    In case you ask what alternative there is, a non-cognitivist anti-realist would say that moral utterances are not truth-apt propositions at all, but expressions of the speaker’s attitudes, e.g. when a person says “rape is wrong” he is expressing his disapproval of rape. (I would identify fairly closely with non-cognitivism, but my own position is a bit more complicated than that.)

    You have, in fact, hit on the nub of the question. On what basis can we make moral claims? The naturalist who believes that all of reality may be explained as the interaction of energy and particles cannot provide a coherent explanation for how we move from material causes to moral (or ethical) precepts.

    The statement “rape is wrong” is a moral/ethical precept. So is its opposite, “rape is not wrong”. We cannot help but think in these terms of right and wrong. Even the assertion that “imposing” moral standards is wrong is, itself, a moral precept which presupposes a moral standard.

    When you suggest that “a non-cognitivist anti-realist would say that moral utterances are not truth-apt propositions” you are, I assume, employing “cognitive” resources to make a “truth-apt proposition” about “reality”. We are, as Aristotle noted so many years ago, rational (cognitive) animals, we cannot help ourselves. Despite all claims to the contrary, we use our minds to discover and evaluate the world in which we live and we assign “value” to particular behaviors. That is to say, in short, we moralize.

    The great philosophical question is, “From whence does this moral sense come?” For it isn’t simply that Christians moralize and naturalists do not, everybody moralizes, everyone attaches a moral assumption to their precriptive advice. When we say that something “ought to be” we are implicitly moral.

  77. Richard Wein

    SteveK,

    It’s as clear to me as “the sun is rising”. Why is it suddenly difficult to understand what words mean?

    “The sun is rising” describes an obvious phenomenon. What phenomenon does “rape is wrong” describe? To put it another way, statements about the world are descriptive. But moral statements are prescriptive. Where does this prescriptiveness come from?

    I appreciate that, if you’ve never seriously asked yourself what moral claims mean, it just seems obvious. But if you try explaining what they mean, you may begin to see the difficulty.

    Dave,

    We cannot help but think in these terms of right and wrong.

    We cannot help having a sense of right and wrong (apart, perhaps, from sociopaths). But we are not forced to understand this sense as a reflection of some moral truth. We can understand it as a subjective mental attitude. The feeling that there is a moral truth is a very powerful one. But it’s possible to see past it.

    When you suggest that “a non-cognitivist anti-realist would say that moral utterances are not truth-apt propositions” you are, I assume, employing “cognitive” resources to make a “truth-apt proposition” about “reality”. We are, as Aristotle noted so many years ago, rational (cognitive) animals, we cannot help ourselves.

    Non-cognitivism is not a denial of all cognitive reasoning. It only relates to our interpretation of moral statements. Perhaps I should have given it its full name of “ethical non-cognitivism”.

  78. William Bradford

    Quoting the OP:

    Moral realism is the view that moral duties and values have an objective reality that does not depend on any person’s or group of persons’ opinions or beliefs about them. Morality has an existence independent of human opinion.

    Moral duties and values have an objective reality, not dependent on individual opinions and beliefs, because they are concepts understood by minds. Thoughts exist even if personal evaluations of them vary.

  79. Dave

    Hi Richard

    We cannot help having a sense of right and wrong (apart, perhaps, from sociopaths).

    I would suggest that even sociopaths have a sense of right and wrong because they generally try to hide their crimes.

    But we are not forced to understand this sense as a reflection of some moral truth.

    A couple of points – the sociopath in your example would agree completely. In fact, the label “sociopath” is, in fact, a reflection of the discrimination against the capacity of some individuals to overcome the strictures of societal moralizing. If there is no objective moral standard there can be no violations of that moral standard, simply one more in a infinite sequence of possible moral standards.

    We can understand it as a subjective mental attitude.

    I love children. They are particularly good spread on toast in the morning.

    The feeling that there is a moral truth is a very powerful one.

    Indeed it is. Which is why even those who view moral truth as a “subjective mental attitude” will conceal their crimes and/or make “moral” arguments to justify themselves.

    But it’s possible to see past it.

    Do ya think?

    “Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”

    “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

    Alice in Wonderland.

    What is on the other side of objective moral truths? As your noted above, it is nothing more than subjective mental attitudes. If it is subjective mental attitudes then there can be no rational argument for any moral standard, and the only arbiter of moral standard becomes force. The force of law or the force of violence (always implicit in law).

    Non-cognitivism is not a denial of all cognitive reasoning. It only relates to our interpretation of moral statements. Perhaps I should have given it its full name of “ethical non-cognitivism”.

    Convenient. I wish to choose my own ethical standard and so I will define the “moral sense” common, apparently, to all people as “subjective mental attitude” which may, with effort and training, be “seen past” and overcome. Just like the alleged “sociopath”.

  80. Richard Wein

    William,

    Moral duties and values have an objective reality, not dependent on individual opinions and beliefs, because they are concepts understood by minds.

    You seem to be taking as your premise that which the ethical non-cognitivist denies: that moral values are cognitive concepts. To the ethical non-cognitivist a moral value is a kind of attitudinal stance, a feeling of approval or disapproval. Hopefully you would agree that our feeling of happiness is subjective, and not an understanding of some objective happy-truth. I’m saying that our feeling of morality is analogous to that.

  81. Richard Wein

    Dave,

    I don’t appreciate your sneering tone. But you raise one good point which deserves a response.

    If it is subjective mental attitudes then there can be no rational argument for any moral standard…

    Even on a realist view there can be no rational arguments for basic moral standards, because you can’t get an “ought” from an “is”. You can argue from agreed moral standards to more specific moral conclusions, but even then you have the problem that people will give different weights to different competing moral criteria, and you can’t justify one set of weights over another. That’s why moral arguments are rarely found compelling by those who don’t already accept their conclusions. I suggest that, even on a realist view, moral arguments are mostly about giving the appearance of justification to values that we hold for non-rational reasons.

    From a non-realist view, I say that moral arguments are entirely about giving the appearance of justification to values that we hold for non-rational reasons. Just as I say that moral statements only take the appearance of factual claims, I say that moral arguments only take the appearance of rational arguments over facts. People engage in such arguments because they’re under the illusion that moral values are matters of fact.

    I engage in moral reasoning myself, because much of the time I share that illusion. And, even if I didn’t, I would want to use moral reasoning to influence other people. I doubt I could entirely escape from the illusion even if I wanted to. But anyway my conscience discourages me from trying. I’m torn between my desire to hold rational beliefs (which pushes me away from the illusion) and my conscience and intuition (which draw me back to it).

  82. William Bradford

    Richard Wein:

    You seem to be taking as your premise that which the ethical non-cognitivist denies: that moral values are cognitive concepts. To the ethical non-cognitivist a moral value is a kind of attitudinal stance, a feeling of approval or disapproval. Hopefully you would agree that our feeling of happiness is subjective, and not an understanding of some objective happy-truth. I’m saying that our feeling of morality is analogous to that.

    Moral values are more than feelings. If it is about feelings there are some I would indulge in that I resist because I believe they are immoral. At times I give in to my selfish feelings and those times are what Christians would label sin. Missing the mark. The fact that moral value systems prohibit some behavior that pleases fleshly desires is evidence that morals are more than happy feeling feedback constructs.

  83. SteveK

    Richard,

    “The sun is rising” describes an obvious phenomenon. What phenomenon does “rape is wrong” describe? To put it another way, statements about the world are descriptive. But moral statements are prescriptive. Where does this prescriptiveness come from?

    If it isn’t obvious to YOU what YOU are saying when YOU say “rape is wrong” then why would YOU ever utter the words? Don’t play games by pretending to not know what the phrase means.

  84. SteveK

    Richard,

    Even on a realist view there can be no rational arguments for basic moral standards, because you can’t get an “ought” from an “is”.

    If the moral realist view is correct then, by definition, that means there are real oughts. Because anything real, is, your statement is not correct. Maybe it’s the way you worded it that’s the problem.

  85. Dave

    Hi Richard

    I don’t appreciate your sneering tone.

    Sorry, it’s a tendency I am trying to overcome – with little success.

    Even on a realist view there can be no rational arguments for basic moral standards, because you can’t get an “ought” from an “is”.

    I think this aphorism, iterated in this form by David Hume if I recall correctly, is based upon a misapprehension of reality. Quite simply, if there “is” a moral dimension to reality then we “ought” to conform our behaviour to that dimension. Just as if there “is” a gravitational component to reality we “ought” not step off the roof of a tall building.

    Hume’s skepticism led him to some rather dubious presuppositions, one of which is that we can never know if what we perceive conforms with what really is. To prove this assumption Hume presumes to know what really is, but his thesis states that we cannot know that very thing.

    Another presuppositon is that, since we cannot perceive a moral dimension then it does not have existence. However, according to his own philosophy, we cannot perceive wht really is so how can we “know” that moral propositions aren’t based upon ontological reality? Again, Hume presumes to know that which he argues we cannot, with confidence, know.

    These assumptions are a form of “special pleading” – in essence Hume is saying “Neither you or I can know with confidence the true nature of reality but I know enough about the true nature of reality to assert with confidence that we cannot know true nature of reality. But if Hume can learn enough about the true nature of reality to make this assertion then, in priciple, so can I and, in principle, from that primodial knowledge we can deduce true knowledge about the true nature of reality.

    I engage in moral reasoning myself, because much of the time I share that illusion.

    Caution! This will sound like I am “sneering” but please consider it “pointing out the obvious” instead.

    I don’t step off tall buildings because, most of the time, I share the illusion that there is a gavitational component to reality.

    And, even if I didn’t, I would want to use moral reasoning to influence other people.

    Why should other people be influenced by arguments from illusion? If it is because they share your “illusion” that sound moral reasoning has ontological reality even if it cannot be measured or weighed then perhaps that is because there really is a moral dimension to reality. Dismissing a perception which is shared by nearly all of humanity as “illusion” seems an unwarranted epistemological leap.

    I doubt I could entirely escape from the illusion even if I wanted to.

    Generally speaking, illusory events are not persistent. It is the things that are “real” which are persistent. If the “illusion” of a moral dimension to reality is persistent within our culture and across the entire spectrum of cultures, then perhaps it is not an illusion.

    Another objection to moral realism is that moral precepts vary from culture to culture. While this is true to a degree, there is a strong argument that, in the broad sense, moral precepts have more similarities than differences. One example is the various “Do unto others..” precepts which can be found in manifold instances.

    But anyway my conscience discourages me from trying.

    Here is a highly speculative thought experiment which you may wish to consider… What if the conscience is not an internal reflective property but a “sixth sense” through which we perceive the moral dimension of reality – in much the same way our eyesight perceives the distance from the roof of a tall building to the ground?

    I’m torn between my desire to hold rational beliefs (which pushes me away from the illusion) and my conscience and intuition (which draw me back to it).

    I hope that I have demonstrated that “rational” and “moral” are not contradictory. That they may be comlimentary and that “rationalism” (as it is commonly delineated) can be quite irrational.

    Anecdotally – I attended a lecture last year on “Why Evolution and Religion are Compatable”. The lecturer argued that sometimes “reason” needs to be put aside and we must rely on “feeling” using the example that the Nazis were behaving in a perfectly rational manner when they committed mass murder. At this point I started laughing… after apologizing for the outburst I said I didn’t think there was anything “rational” about mass murder.

    I understand what the lecturer meant to communicate in his argument, but he didn’t understand the basics of logic, the means by which we evaluate our capacity to reason correctly. Given the assumptions about reality from which the Nazis reasoned then there actions were perfectly rational. It is the assumptions about reality which were flawed.

    “The least error in the beginning is magnified a thousand-fold at the end.”

  86. doctor(logic)

    Dave,

    Just as if there “is” a gravitational component to reality we “ought” not step off the roof of a tall building.

    Serious question: Why not?

    Keep asking that question, recursively, and you’ll never land on any “ought” claim. That’s Hume’s point.

    Instead, you’ll land on an “is” claim like “I prefer to live than die” and “I can barely help myself from acting to pursue my goals and desires.” However, an ought is nowhere to be found here. There is no “One ought to want to live” here. Instead, there is “I want to live”, and an “I can’t help acting in favor of my wants” both of which are “is” claims, not “oughts”.

    There is certainly an “I feel as if I ought to facilitate my wants.” However, that’s different from there actually being an “ought”. There’s a difference between feeling I ought to do something and there actually being an ought.

    Gravity is real enough, and so is your desire not to die, and your feeling that you ought to act to fulfill your desires. However, an objective ought is completely missing from the analysis. It’s also unnecessary for society.

    People “feel they ought” to achieve their goals. That’s all we need to make (some) moral arguments convincing. Moral arguments work by convincing you that your own goals and desires would be better served by the debater’s policy instead of your own. And, when such a case cannot be made, moral arguments have no resolution.

  87. Thomas Reid

    People “feel they ought” to achieve their goals. That’s all we need to make (some) moral arguments convincing.

    It might be enough to make an argument convincing, but it doesn’t demonstrate that anything is actually wrong. Erecting an argument on feeling is tacit admission that morality is an illusion. History is filled with examples of brutality performed by people who felt they ought to do something different than you or I feel about what they did. Perhaps they were smart enough to see beyond the illusion and do whatever they felt they ought?
    I’ll say it a different way. Once you present your “argument from feeling” to someone, haven’t you actually provided them with the basis to conclude that morality is an illusion? In effect you are merely trying to build an argument demonstrating why particular feelings should require certain behavior. You are right back at the conundrum of trying to reason from “is” to “ought”. Anyone would see this after spending some time with an argument from feeling and considering the nature of a feeling (irrational, fleeting, subject to change and manipulation).

    Moral arguments work by convincing you that your own goals and desires would be better served by the debater’s policy instead of your own.

    No, moral arguments “work” by encouraging your opponent to consider which premise he would be willing to affirm:

    1. Objective moral truths exist even if God does not. Or,
    2. There really is nothing wrong with genocide motivated by xenophobia, torturing babies for pleasure, or other ghastly acts we could imagine but would be uncomfortable typing into the blogosphere.

    If you accept premise 1, you have a tremendously difficult project established for yourself. Still, I find most people who deny the existence of God will work to defend this premise rather than bite the bullet and accept premise 2.

    If you accept premise 2, then I find there is no need to discuss the issue anymore, for I find this quite analogous to affirming solipsism.

  88. doctor(logic)

    Thomas,

    One thing is most certainly an illusion. And that’s the illusion on which your argument is based. You assume that everyone makes deductive arguments about the metaphysics of morality in order to decide what to do. I think that’s patently false. The number of people who consider these issues on a day to day basis is tiny, and the number who are politically swayed by metaphysics is even smaller.

    Suppose that you could prove to me on paper that torturing babies was the objectively, morally right thing to do. Why, in that case, would I want to be good? Wouldn’t I then prefer to be evil? Wouldn’t I rather prevent baby torture than be “good”?

    No one on the planet wants to do right by the universe for the sake of doing right by the universe. People do what they want to satisfy their desires. The complexity arises in deciding whether to satisfy competing short term or long term desires. Should we hold off on eating the whole tub of ice cream in order to feel better about our body shape next month?

    Just look at your comment. You talk about torturing babies as if that should be persuasive to me. But if I liked torturing babies, it wouldn’t be persuasive.

    This argument is so old and tired, I can’t believe it still gets trotted-out. Look, I don’t like the idea of torturing babies, but it’s not because I have some sort of deductive proof. I just don’t like it for evolutionary and cultural reasons. And neither do you. If I were to prove to you that morality is not objective/absolute, are you going to suddenly find the idea of torturing babies appealing? No, you’re not.

    The motivation for your scheme is that you think, if people would only share your metaphysical perspective, they would cease “wrongdoing”. I think that’s nonsense.

  89. woodchuck64

    Thomas Reid:

    1. Objective moral truths exist even if God does not.

    Can objective facts exist without God? Is the distance between Los Angeles and New York a timeless, eternal truth (adjusting for continental drift of course)? If so, I would also say that there are objective moral truths that if followed provide the best means of harmonizing the desires of the human race. The goal of many secular ethical systems seems to be to find those truths and I fail to see a problem with that.

    From a naturalism point of view, morals are a language of social interaction based on biological hardwiring (i.e. empathy), learned by trial and error first from parents, then from other members of society. The brain’s constraints guarantee some moral “sentences” may never make sense, but still permit a vast variety. Defining the optimal morality would be much like defining the optimal written language; certainly a monumental task, possibly a neverending task, but probably not impossible.

  90. Thomas Reid

    woodchuck64,

    Can objective facts exist without God? Is the distance between Los Angeles and New York a timeless, eternal truth (adjusting for continental drift of course)? If so, I would also say that there are objective moral truths that if followed provide the best means of harmonizing the desires of the human race. The goal of many secular ethical systems seems to be to find those truths and I fail to see a problem with that.

    First, I don’t see an equivalence between descriptive statements and prescriptive ones. See my comment #30 for more of an explanation.

    Next, even if certain secular ethical systems help us find or better understand moral truths, what we are really questioning here is their ontology. This discussion is not about how to find out what is it that we ought to do, but rather, how is it that there is anything that we ought to do? You will note that one of the tests for the strength of an ethical theory is how well it corresponds to our moral perceptions (such as, “rape is wrong”). Well, Tom’s original post deals with the question of how is it that we have these moral perceptions to begin with, assuming they reveal actual truth to us?

    You might be interested to read some objections I developed against desirism, beginning here. It led to an exchange with someone who goes by “faithlessgod” that helped illuminate some of the issues with the theory.

    From a naturalism point of view, morals are a language of social interaction based on biological hardwiring (i.e. empathy), learned by trial and error first from parents, then from other members of society.

    Right. On that view, morality consists of behavior that may be effective in achieving desired ends. The process you describe does nothing to reveal whether or not moral statements are true. Indeed if naturalism is true, I am inclined to think that moral statements are either false or, more likely, meaningless.

  91. Richard Wein

    Dave,

    I think this aphorism, iterated in this form by David Hume if I recall correctly, is based upon a misapprehension of reality. Quite simply, if there “is” a moral dimension to reality then we “ought” to conform our behaviour to that dimension. Just as if there “is” a gravitational component to reality we “ought” not step off the roof of a tall building.

    Let me remind you of the context in which I used the aphorism:

    Even on a realist view there can be no rational arguments for basic moral standards, because you can’t get an “ought” from an “is”. You can argue from agreed moral standards to more specific moral conclusions, but even then you have the problem that people will give different weights to different competing moral criteria, and you can’t justify one set of weights over another.

    My point was that, even if moral “oughts” are facts, we can’t derive the most basic ones by rational argument. Rational argument gets us from one fact to another, but it has to start from somewhere. If we sense basic moral facts directly with a moral sense, then we’re not getting them from rational reasoning.

    Something similar is true for non-moral reasoning too. We have to start from the facts which our senses most directly perceive. But the facts we perceive with our physical senses force themselves on us in a much more direct way than our alleged moral sense. That’s why there’s far more agreement over non-moral facts than over moral values. So for non-moral rational arguments we have far more in the way of an agreed starting point and agreed observations against which we can test our claims.

    You may like to note that Tom Gilson seems to recognise that you can’t get an “ought” from an “is”. At least, he doesn’t rely on being able to do so. He wrote above:

    The is/ought distinction is very familiar. In theism, however, there is no move from is to ought. It’s not a case where we are deriving the ought from the is. The ought is just as eternal as the is.

    If you still think it’s possible to derive an “ought” from an “is” (a moral value from purely non-moral facts) by rational argument, then please show me an example of such an argument.

    Why should other people be influenced by arguments from illusion? If it is because they share your “illusion” that sound moral reasoning has ontological reality even if it cannot be measured or weighed then perhaps that is because there really is a moral dimension to reality. Dismissing a perception which is shared by nearly all of humanity as “illusion” seems an unwarranted epistemological leap.

    Some optical illusions are shared by nearly all of humanity. My reason for rejecting moral realism (and concluding that our belief in moral truth is an illusion) is the one I gave in my first post to this thread:

    Either way, morality is no argument for God. I say it’s unparsimonious and irrational to accept an unnecessary and unintelligible concept of objective morality. But, if you do, then it’s equally unintelligible on both theism and atheism.

    I would be willing to replace “unintelligible” with “fundamentally mysterious”. Moral realism requires us to accept a fundamentally mysterious moral dimension to reality that moral anti-realism avoids. So the former explanation is more parsimonious.

    Sure, it would be more parsimonious to take our moral feelings as non-illusory all else being equal. But illusions are a familiar and comprehensible phenomenon. It is more parsimonious to accept the existence of another illusion than to resort to a fundamentally mysterious concept.

  92. Richard Wein

    P.S. Oops, I made an editing error. I wrote:

    Moral realism requires us to accept a fundamentally mysterious moral dimension to reality that moral anti-realism avoids. So the former explanation is more parsimonious.

    Obviously that should have been “the latter explanation”.

  93. Richard Wein

    Hi doctorlogic,

    I agree with most of what you’ve written, but:

    Moral arguments work by convincing you that your own goals and desires would be better served by the debater’s policy instead of your own. And, when such a case cannot be made, moral arguments have no resolution.

    That’s not right, because we also have feelings of approval and disapproval towards various things. Those are what I’m calling moral feelings or attitudes. I may have a desire to steal (or it may be that stealing would fulfill more basic desires) even though I also disapprove of stealing (I feel that stealing is “wrong”). The disapproval may or may not win out over the desire(s). The object of a moral argument is to change these moral feelings in someone, e.g. to create a feeling of disapproval towards stealing.

    Perhaps you are considering disapproval to be a kind of a desire, e.g. a desire that no one will steal. In that case, the object of a moral argument is to change someone’s desires, not their policies.

  94. Thomas Reid

    doctor(logic),
    In my comment #91, which was a response to your comment #90, I unfairly changed the subject away from what I now see you were talking about and then started rebutting what I thought was your position. I see now that you were talking strictly about arguments to convince someone to do a particular thing. You weren’t talking about arguments demonstrating that there were objective “oughts”, or anything of the sort.

    Although I stand by the content of my #91 comment, I realize it had practically nothing to do with what you were saying in #90. I apologize for the misdirected dialogue resulting from my failure of reading comprehension.

    Thomas

  95. Dave

    Hello Richard

    I may be taking advantage of the forum provided by Tom Gilson to express my views, but my views are not necessarily the views of Tom Gilson. The “is/ought” argument has always struck me as doubtful.

    Consider your own argument here…

    My point was that, even if moral “oughts” are facts, we can’t derive the most basic ones by rational argument. Rational argument gets us from one fact to another, but it has to start from somewhere. If we sense basic moral facts directly with a moral sense, then we’re not getting them from rational reasoning.

    Let us then consider the basic facts about the material world and Hume’s (the is/ought man) theories concerning knowledge and reason.

    According to Hume, we cannot prove that there is a necessary connection between a cause and an effect, or between an impression and a corresponding idea. Thus, we cannot prove that any causal relation between constantly conjoined or regularly successive events is logically necessary. We cannot prove that there is a necessary conection between our perceptions and reality. We cannot prove the existence of an objective world, beyond what we can experience by sensory perception.

    http://www.angelfire.com/md2/timewarp/treatise.html

    One of the fundamental assumptions of modern science is that the universe is comprehensible, that it can be understood by the mind of man. This cannot be proved. One of the fundamentals of naturalism/materialism is that the physical world is totality of existence. This cannot be proved. In the Buddhist/Hindu world the opposite holds true. The fundamental nature of reality is mind/consciousness and the our perceived physical manifestations of the world are illusory.

    If you still think it’s possible to derive an “ought” from an “is” (a moral value from purely non-moral facts) by rational argument, then please show me an example of such an argument.

    I don’t recall arguing for moral value derived from non-moral facts. In ‘fact’ I argued for a moral dimension of reality which may be perceived by human minds. My argument draws upon your own consession…

    I engage in moral reasoning myself, because much of the time I share that illusion. And, even if I didn’t, I would want to use moral reasoning to influence other people. I doubt I could entirely escape from the illusion even if I wanted to. But anyway my conscience discourages me from trying. I’m torn between my desire to hold rational beliefs (which pushes me away from the illusion) and my conscience and intuition (which draw me back to it).

    I think that you labour under a false distinction between reason and conscience. “Conscience” is a perception, like vision or hearing. “Reason” is the intellectual tool we use to understand our perceptions.

    According to Hume, reason alone is not sufficent to establish the existence of an object. Sensory perception of an object, either directly or indirectly, is necessary in order to prove the existence of that object. Furthermore, Hume argues that to have the idea of the existence of an object is the same as having the idea of the object itself.
    […]
    Hume argues that perceptions may be of two kinds: 1) impressions, and 2) ideas. Impressions include sensations, passions, and emotions. Sensations are primary or original impressions, while passions and emotions are secondary or reflective impressions. Hume claims that all ideas are originally derived from impressions. Secondary impressions may be derived from primary impressions, and secondary ideas may be derived from primary ideas. Primary ideas are mental images of sensory impressions. The only difference between ideas and impressions is that ideas are ‘weaker’ or ‘less lively’ perceptions, while impressions are ‘stronger’ or ‘more lively’ perceptions.

    http://www.angelfire.com/md2/timewarp/treatise.html

    I do not think that Hume was a particular good philosopher and am here quoting a summary of his philosophy only because his is the modern version of the “is/ought” argument. As you may ‘perceive’, even within the terms of his own philosophy it does not support the moral=illusory distinction commonly believed by his disciples.

    We do, as you readily confess, perceive moral sensations. Those perceptions and sensation may, as in the case with some visual perceptions, occasionally be false perceptions but that, by no means, indicates that they are always false perceptions. “Reason” is the tool by which we evaluate the validity of and determine their truth or falsity.

    If we sense basic moral facts directly with a moral sense, then we’re not getting them from rational reasoning.

    We do not aquire facts by “reasoning”, we aquire “facts” through “perception”. We reason from “facts” to “beliefs about the world” and if we “have moral perceptions” then they are no less factual than visual or tactile perceptions. Only then may we apply “rational reasoning” to evaluate the truth or falsity of our moral perception. I am not arguing here for a universal, infallable, moral sense any more than I would argue for universal, infallable visual sense, nor am I arguing for God, I am merely asserting that there appears to be a moral dimension to reality. The source of that “moral dimension” is another matter altogether.

  96. doctor(logic)

    Richard,

    The disapproval may or may not win out over the desire(s). The object of a moral argument is to change these moral feelings in someone, e.g. to create a feeling of disapproval towards stealing.

    Perhaps you are considering disapproval to be a kind of a desire, e.g. a desire that no one will steal. In that case, the object of a moral argument is to change someone’s desires, not their policies.

    I like the way you put this. However, if an argument changes my policy, isn’t it necessarily changing my approval or disapproval of the policy?

    Here are some examples.

    Example 1: Moral arguments are rarely used to argue that abortion is good. Instead, they argue that the right to an abortion is good, and they argue this point by showing that the alternative policy results in a less desirable outcome. The receiving party may never approve of abortions per se, while still approving of the policy of giving women the choice to have one. In other words, a person might become convinced that abortion rights are acceptable, without changing his desires. This would be because a desire to minimize suffering is more important than a desire to stick to a punitive policy.

    Example 2: When I went to college, I disapproved of homosexuality, and had plenty of rationalizations for my belief that it was wrong. When I found that all my reasons for thinking homosexuality was wrong were unfounded, I changed my policy. However, this did not change my desires or feelings in regard to homosexuality. I did not suddenly feel a desire to have homosexual sex, for example.

    Example 3: I can do a left-brained analysis of moral progress and conclude that I ought to be a vegetarian. However, this doesn’t directly impact my desires. I still desire steaks and fried chicken, and I still desire to reduce suffering. The only thing that changed is that I now have a better recognition of the conflict between the two desires.

  97. woodchuck64

    Thomas Reid:

    This discussion is not about how to find out what is it that we ought to do, but rather, how is it that there is anything that we ought to do?

    I’ve always assumed Christians and atheists were in the same boat on this question. That is, the only thing we know for sure is that we have desires and desires want to be satisfied. Without desires, we’re potted plants, needing nothing, wanting nothing, doing nothing. If we live and breath, then we’re acting on desires, whether Christian or atheist.

    Why ought I to be a Christian? Because it is true. Why ought I to believe things that are true? Because the truth will meet my desires better than things that are false*. Why ought I to meet my desires? Because desires want to be satisfied. That last step seems to be where we all meet regardless of where we start out, Christian or atheist. Is this differently from the way you see it?

    Thanks for the desirism discussion link, I see it goes on quite a ways.

    *We seem to take for granted that beliefs that are true are better at meeting our desires than beliefs that are false. This may be true by definition and/or true by experience and/or it may be because we have hardwired curiosity that can only be satisfied by things that we conclude are not clever illusions.

  98. Dave

    Hello doctor(logic)

    Example 1: Moral arguments are rarely used to argue that abortion is good. Instead, they argue that the right to an abortion is good,

    This is an argument for competing rights.

    In the case of “right to choose” the argument gives primacy to the right of persons to freely choose as the summum bonum, even if that choice destroys a ‘potential’ person. Few would argue (although some do) that the “right to choose” extends to the destruction of an actual person.

    The case of “right to life” argues that life is the summum bonum and that no person should be free to make a choice which will destroy another person, potential or actual.

    Both are “moral” arguments. Both hinge on two equivocations; the definition of “life”, and the definition of “person”. While neither argument, in itself, proves the moral dimension of reality. Competing moral arguments only prove that we think “moral” concepts are legitimate.

  99. doctor(logic)

    Dave,

    Competing moral arguments only prove that we think “moral” concepts are legitimate.

    I don’t think anyone is arguing that moral concepts are illegitimate. Concepts relating to whether I ought to do X or Y are as important as concepts relating to whether I like the taste of C or D. No one would say that concepts relating to taste in food or music were illegitimate.

    My comment wasn’t about legitimacy of the concepts. That legitimacy will remain either way. It was about the nature of moral argumentation. Moral argumentation elucidates the relationships between desires and actions. It can show you that a different action or policy would be better at satisfying your desires. That’s what makes it compelling. It doesn’t have to be objective or absolute to be compelling. It just has to be relevant.

    Also, I disagree with your portrayal of the abortion debate. Christianity is not “pro-life”. Buddhism might be pro-life, but Christianity certainly isn’t. Christian morality (of the right-wing variety) has more to do with moral purity than preserving life.

  100. Dave

    Hello doctor(logic)

    It was about the nature of moral argumentation. Moral argumentation elucidates the relationships between desires and actions. It can show you that a different action or policy would be better at satisfying your desires. That’s what makes it compelling.

    moral: of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong; ethical:

    morality: conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct.

    virtue: conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles; uprightness; rectitude.

    desire a strong feeling, worthy or unworthy, that impels to the attainment or possession of something that is (in reality or imagination) within reach:

    Ethics, morals, and virtue are about cultivating “right” desires, not about how to attain your desires. You might “desire” a long and prosperous life, but attaining that desire requires you to perform an “immoral” act. If morals is merely the “best way to satisfy your desires” then, by definition, there can be no “immoral” act.

    However, if someone offered you everything you ever desired if you would just push that button and kill that child… you don’t even have to get your hands dirty… you won’t even see it happen… does the end (satisfaction of desire) justify the means (killing an anonymous child)?

    If you answer that killing the child does not justify achieving your desire then your argument fails.

  101. doctor(logic)

    Dave,

    However, if someone offered you everything you ever desired if you would just push that button and kill that child… you don’t even have to get your hands dirty… you won’t even see it happen… does the end (satisfaction of desire) justify the means (killing an anonymous child)?

    If you answer that killing the child does not justify achieving your desire then your argument fails.

    Unless not killing the child is one of my desires.

    When I say desires, you translate it to mean “immediate urges”. But I have aesthetic and long-term desires, too. I desire that my life story should have various qualities to it (e.g., honor, heroism, achievement, etc.*). I desire that I not give up opportunities in the future in order to satiate fleeting desires in the present. Yet I also don’t want to give up opportunities in the present in order to satiate desires that are unattainable (e.g., because I’ll die before satiating them).

    Most people desire not to harm others because it causes them pain through empathy when they find out someone is harmed, and also because they don’t want the story of their lives to be about hurting other people.

    If I accept a material bribe in order to do something that I find distasteful, I cannot possibly be getting everything I desire, because I desire things that are aesthetic as well as things that are material.

    The point is that if desires include aesthetics of life story, empathy, and preferences that may trade off immediate gains for future gains, then you have all the ingredients for morality as we experience it. We also have all the ingredients to make moral reasoning work.

    If I tell you that your policy will result in a less impressive life story (by your own aesthetic standards), and that you will sacrifice your long-term future for some short-term, immediate desire, you’re probably going to find my moral argument compelling. And yet nothing in this formulation requires anything to be absolutely moral or immoral.

    * I’m not saying my life story actually has those qualities, but I desire that it does.

  102. Dave

    Hello doctor(logic)

    I may have done you a disservice. When I read “It can show you that a different action or policy would be better at satisfying your desires.” I interpreted your meaning as “…would be more expedient at satisfying…. “Better” is an ambiguous term and, upon reflection, it occurred to me that a better reading might be “… would be more moral at satisfying…”

    However, if that is the reading you intended then how do you determine which method is moral? And are some desires more moral than other desires? On what basis do you construct your moral/ethical standard when making these decisions?

  103. Dave

    Hi doctor(logic)

    And yet nothing in this formulation requires anything to be absolutely moral or immoral.

    Yet you desire that you life-story exhibit certain qualities which you consider admirable. Admirable qualities are, I should conjecture, qualities which conform to an ethical standard. I assume you would look askance at someone who thought those qualities which you perceive as admirable were, in his opinion, execrable.

    I suspect that you have a different understanding of the meaning of the term “moral” than I. When I use the terms “moral”, ethical, or virtuous I intend the meaning of “good conduct”, which may or may not include such actions as saying “Thank you”, providing help to someone in need, or not cheating on my wife. There is a laundry list of moral, ethical, viruous qualities which I try, with limited success, to exhibit in my life-story. There are other qualities which I do not try to exhibit in my life-story because I consider them execrable.

    These “value judgments” may be, as you suggest, merely subjective preference – on the same level as “I like cheesecake”, however, if these value judgments are simply subjective preference then how could they be “admirable” that is “worthy of admiration”? “Worthy of admiration” is itself a “value judgment” and it implies a standard value by which you may judge the qualities you exhibit in your life-story. A standard which is not standardized is no standard at all.

  104. Richard Wein

    Dave,

    I don’t recall arguing for moral value derived from non-moral facts.

    You’ve been denying the claim “you can’t get an an ought from an is”, which is the claim that you can’t infer a moral value from purely non-moral facts. It seems you’ve misunderstood what “you can’t get an ought from an is” is intended to mean.

    On the orthodox reading Hume says here that no ought-judgment may be correctly inferred from a set of premises expressed only in terms of ‘is,’ and the vulgar systems of morality commit this logical fallacy. This is usually thought to mean something much more general: that no ethical or indeed evaluative conclusion whatsoever may be validly inferred from any set of purely factual premises.”

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hume-moral/#io

    David Hume seems to have been, in effect, pressing this, point long before Moore, when he argued that no moral conclusion follows non-problematically from nonmoral premises (Hume 1739). No “ought,” he pointed out, followed from an “is” – without the help of another (presupposed) “ought.”

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-realism/

  105. Richard Wein

    doctorlogic,

    I like the way you put this. However, if an argument changes my policy, isn’t it necessarily changing my approval or disapproval of the policy?

    I think a lot of confusion is arising from your use of the word “policy”. From your examples, it seems that you consider attitudes like “abortion is wrong” or “I ought to be a vegetarian” to be “policies”. (Thanks for giving some examples. That always helps.) That seems like a peculiar and confusing usage to me. A policy is a programme of action, and these aren’t programmes of action. Preventing abortion and refraining from eating meat are programmes of action. I think it would help if you reconsider your position, being careful to make the distinction between attitudes and actions.

    If you consider that moral attitudes are matters of choice, you could argue that adopting the attitude “abortion is wrong” is an action, and it might be the action that best serves someone’s goals and desires. But an argument for adopting that attitude would be very different from what would normally be considered a moral argument. For example, the argument might go as follows: “Adopting the attitude that abortion is wrong would increase your popularity, and increasing your popularity would best serve your goals and desires.” I would deny that this is a “moral argument” in anything like the accepted sense of the term. It’s a practical (prudential) argument.

  106. doctor(logic)

    Dave,

    These “value judgments” may be, as you suggest, merely subjective preference – on the same level as “I like cheesecake”, however, if these value judgments are simply subjective preference then how could they be “admirable” that is “worthy of admiration”?

    Why would they not be?

    Admirable qualities are, I should conjecture, qualities which conform to an ethical standard. I assume you would look askance at someone who thought those qualities which you perceive as admirable were, in his opinion, execrable.

    I would not say that admirable qualities conform to an ethical standard because that suggests the ethical standard is prior to what I find admirable. The standard might be prior, but my standard might have been invented to conform to what I find admirable.

    If someone disagrees with my taste in what is admirable, then, yeah, I might be suspicious of that person’s judgments, but not necessarily their rationality. Two people can be completely rational and have different ideas of what is admirable.

    A standard which is not standardized is no standard at all.

    I completely disagree. Standards don’t have to be universal. It is completely sensible for a person to say “my blind date did not meet my standards for a good partner.” No one would say that everyone’s standards for a partner are the same, and yet the expression makes complete sense.

    The issue here is how moral standards can be rationally persuasive to other people. Moral realists are concerned that, if morality doesn’t have an absolute standard, it won’t be possible to convince another person to be “good” through reason. However, as I’ve pointed out above, moral persuasion isn’t primarily philosophical. Neither is an absolute standard required. All that’s required for a harmonious society is that we statistically have similar desires with respect to fairness and the elimination of suffering. Evolution provides that. Reason simply shows that certain policies can satisfy our desires.

    If there was a person who desired chaos and suffering, even for those near to him, it might be impossible to reason to compatible policies. There are very few people like this.

  107. doctor(logic)

    Dave,

    We all feel very strongly about certain moral issues. That’s why the discussion often ends up at homosexuality or rape or torture. However, if we want to overcome our bias, we need to argue by analogy. We need to reverse the polarity of moral experience, and see if our reasoning still functions.

    So, again, I would ask you, if it could be shown that absolute morality entailed doing what you subjectively find to be immoral, would you still want to be absolutely moral?

    If absolute morality entailed torturing people and inflicting suffering on them, I, for one, would not want to be moral. What is the point?

    Indeed, if you ask yourself why you are debating this topic, it will come down to something like “I want to reduce suffering in the world,” or “I want people to lead happier lives.” You assume that your view of morality combined with your moral code will help to achieve those ends. Moral discourse just doesn’t work that way.

  108. SteveK

    My wants, beliefs and desires don’t determine the absolute nature of reality – they operate within it. What DL is suggesting is that we can change the nature of reality by simply changing our desires. How is that absolute?

  109. doctor(logic)

    Richard,

    For example, the argument might go as follows: “Adopting the attitude that abortion is wrong would increase your popularity, and increasing your popularity would best serve your goals and desires.” I would deny that this is a “moral argument” in anything like the accepted sense of the term. It’s a practical (prudential) argument.

    I think the problem with your example is that you make it sound as if my desires and goals are always material in nature. If one of my desires is to reduce suffering, then I might choose to risk my life for a reduction in suffering. Would you consider that to be a prudential argument, too?

    Suppose you are presenting me with a moral argument for vegetarianism. You might say, for example, that vegetarianism provides for better use of the land, and it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and ultimately lead to less suffering. You might also say that, if we could produce meat substitutes that were indistinguishable from the real thing, we would not consider it humane to kill animals for the same product.

    I think that is a pretty good argument. However, it isn’t really changing my desires. I desire to have meals that are pleasurable to eat, and I desire to reduce suffering. Your argument shows that my desires conflict when I eat meat. I don’t see your argument changing my desires, but changing my calculus. Even after I give up meat, I might still desire to have steaks. My vegetarianism would reflect the fact that I have an even stronger desire to reduce suffering.

    In the long term, I could force myself to think of animal suffering whenever I am served meat, and I could thereby condition away my instinctive desire for meat. However, I would not consider this sort of conditioning to be a form of moral argumentation.

  110. Dave

    Hello Richard

    You wrote;

    You’ve been denying the claim “you can’t get an an ought from an is”, which is the claim that you can’t infer a moral value from purely non-moral facts. It seems you’ve misunderstood what “you can’t get an ought from an is” is intended to mean.

    Whereas my argument has been that the “is/ought” distinction reflects a misapprehension of reality as we experience it. It is a failure to acknowledge a perception common to all mankind, as I noted in my first post on the “is/ought” distinction.
    Post #108, above

    I think this aphorism, iterated in this form by David Hume if I recall correctly, is based upon a misapprehension of reality. Quite simply, if there “is” a moral dimension to reality then we “ought” to conform our behaviour to that dimension. Just as if there “is” a gravitational component to reality we “ought” not step off the roof of a tall building.

    Post #99, above

    Your (and Hume’s) argument is that this “moral perception” and the distinctions we all make based upon these perceptions are illusory. Hume’s argument was based upon the assumption of universal skepticism which he adopted in his youth and applied to all his philosophy. This skepticism led Hume to develop some rather absurd propositions such as our incapacity to know the world, the illusion that there exists a self, and the denial of cause and effect. However, Hume has been quite popular as a philsopher because his philosphy panders to the human desire to believe in his own autonomy, although Hume himself denies the very personality which believes it is autonomous as he also denies the possiblity of free will.

    As the saying goes, “Any stigma will do to beat a dogma.”

  111. doctor(logic)

    Dave,

    Hume is my favorite philosopher (not that I would consider myself a true expert on his work). You are trying to devise some sort of psychological explanation for his work, but his work stands on its own merit.

    Moral theories are different from models that explain sensations. Gravity is a model that explains sensations, but gravity does something that no moral model can do: it predicts things about the external world. Moral theories do no such thing. At best, a moral theory may explain why someone (who holds to that particular morality) will feel bad when they see an immoral act. That is, morality only ever predicts something about the subject, not the object. If that were the standard for objectivity, then there would be nothing in the world that was subjective.

    You still haven’t addressed the point Hume was making. You say

    Just as if there “is” a gravitational component to reality we “ought” not step off the roof of a tall building.

    But you only ought not step off a building if you ought not kill yourself. But why ought you not kill yourself? The answer can only ever be in the form of “because one ought not X”. And you’ll get a regress of oughts depending on other oughts until you end up at an assumed axiom that “one ought not Z.” But that final “ought” axiom cannot be proven or even made more likely by any set of “is” facts.

    For example, just because it “is” true that you will feel bad if a person jumps off a building, doesn’t mean they “ought” not jump.

    This means morality has the same status as taste in food or music. An analysis of the “is” facts might tell you why it is that you like one thing and dislike another, but it will never tell you whether you ought to like what you like.

  112. Dave

    Hello doctor(logic)

    You have, again, missed my point, which is that the world, the universe, reality, where we live and breath, has a moral dimension, as evidenced by our human tendency, across all cultures, to perceive that moral dimension and to think and argue and make decisions based upon our understanding of that moral dimension. Your response to that argument, and its evidences is “There is no moral dimension”. I am vanquished, such devastating logic, woe is me, I am undone.

    This means morality has the same status as taste in food or music. An analysis of the “is” facts might tell you why it is that you like one thing and dislike another, but it will never tell you whether you ought to like what you like.

    And if this is true then there is no difference between burning down a forest or planting trees. There is no difference between helping a little old lady across the street and running her down with your car. There is no difference between wanting to do things which improve the lives of others or ripping them off every chance you get. It’s really just a matter of preference.

    Why shouldn’t I steal or kill? Because I might get caught and punished? That’s just you using force to violate “my freedom to define reality in my own terms” (SCUSA paraphrase) and impose your definition of reality upon me. An imposition, by the way, which can not be labeled “just” or “unjust” because “justice” is a moral concept and moral concepts are illusory.

    Ideas have consequences and the consequences of this idea are unconscionable. Essentially it releases the Hobbesian “war of all against all” (anarchy) for which the solution is Leviathan, (the absolutist state). Think about it.

  113. doctor(logic)

    Dave,

    You have, again, missed my point, which is that the world, the universe, reality, where we live and breath, has a moral dimension, as evidenced by our human tendency, across all cultures, to perceive that moral dimension and to think and argue and make decisions based upon our understanding of that moral dimension.

    So, you think nothing can be subjective, right? Nothing can be about how you feel about the world, or about your cultural history or experiences?

    And, presumably, you think music and taste in food are dimensions equally as real as morality, right? They do not relate to shared evolutionary history, culture or personal experience?

    I just don’t think your position is tenable, given what we already know about human biology and culture.

    There is no difference between wanting to do things which improve the lives of others or ripping them off every chance you get. It’s really just a matter of preference.

    But preference makes all the difference in the world. If you’re looking for a preference-independent, consequence-independent difference, you won’t find one.

    Why shouldn’t I steal or kill? Because I might get caught and punished?

    Because you don’t want to (I assume). If killing and stealing weren’t already disgusting to you, why would morality even be an issue for you?

    If I prove to you that morality is subjective, you are not going to want to kill and steal tomorrow. This is for the same reason that, if I prove that taste in music is subjective, you won’t suddenly lose your taste in music. Some abstract proof isn’t going to make you find killing and stealing attractive. The same goes for killers and thieves, btw. An abstract argument isn’t going to change their minds. Their decision is primarily an emotional one.

    Ideas have consequences and the consequences of this idea are unconscionable. Essentially it releases the Hobbesian “war of all against all” (anarchy) for which the solution is Leviathan, (the absolutist state). Think about it.

    I care about the truth. The consequences of the truth don’t make me like truth any less. That you don’t like the consequences of a claim is not an argument that the claim is false.

    Moreover, if morality is subjective, civilized culture would be pretty much the same. First of all, most people want to reduce suffering. Second, people make social contracts to get the most out of life. Looks just like the world we live in.

  114. Dave

    Hi doctor(logic)

    Obviously we will not attain a meeting of the minds… You might like this article.

    […]
    A young man was performing rap songs on evolutionary themes that he had been commissioned to write and perform for the Darwin celebrations in Britain. He told us between his songs that in some species, such as praying mantises and black widows, the females kill their mates after procreating. This is an evolutionary adaptation. The rapper then continued by saying that it is only chance—like the flip of a coin, he said—that our own species does not exhibit such a behavior. He then stated that if we did act this way, our moral systems and religions would revolve around females killing their mates. (Take-home lesson: Morality and religion are contingent products of mindless processes).

    This view may sound bizarre, but it is actually very similar to a statement Darwin made in the Origin of Species, where he mentioned that some species commit infanticide. He then stated that if we as humans had been raised with their instincts, infanticide would then be moral. Darwin’s own moral relativism was even more apparent in Descent of Man, where he argued that sexual morality had evolved over human history. At one point in the human past, he argued, “promiscuous intercourse was once extremely common throughout the world.” Polygamy and monogamy were later evolutionary adaptations, he thought. Similar ideas are commonplace today in sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, both influential movements in intellectual circles.

    At a dinner at the close of the conference, I spoke with a philosophy graduate student who told me that because empathy and thus morality were traits produced by evolution, he was convinced that morality was relative. When I asked him if he then thought Hitler was not evil, he told me that even though he personally finds Hitler repugnant, that repugnance has no objective validity, so, he stated, “Hitler was OK.” He then told me that he doesn’t want his rational belief in relativistic morality to influence his own moral standards, but he still considered his moral standards evolved traits that are purely subjective. I told him that I thought the reason his “instincts” and rationality about morality were at odds was because morality really is objective, but he didn’t see it that way.

    […]

    Full story
    http://www.thechurchreport.com/index.cfm?objectID=17831

  115. Richard Wein

    doctorlogic,

    I think the problem with your example is that you make it sound as if my desires and goals are always material in nature. If one of my desires is to reduce suffering, then I might choose to risk my life for a reduction in suffering. Would you consider that to be a prudential argument, too?

    You haven’t actually stated an argument there. I presume you’re referring to an analysis of the best way to achieve your desires (of which reducing suffering is the most significant in this situation), which leads you to the conclusion “the best way to achieve my desires is to take this risky action”. Then, yes, I call that practical/prudential, because it’s just an analysis of the best way to achieve a set of goals. The fact that the dominant goal involves a benefit to someone else doesn’t stop it being practical/prudential. But let’s not get hung up on these words…

    More important, you didn’t actually say whether you thought my example was a “moral” argument. If you say it is, then you acknowledge that such a selfish argument can be considered a moral one. If you say it isn’t, you seem to be saying that this sort of analysis is only a moral argument if the predominant desires are unselfish ones. But that presupposes that being unselfish is a moral good. Where does that presupposition come from?

    What’s missing in your system is the sense of dis/approval that’s carried by moral statements. This isn’t clear from your example, because it’s a case of you assessing your own actions. Naturally you are going to approve of the action that best achieves your desires. But the problem is clearer when you consider examples that assess other people’s actions, whether individually (“it was wrong for him to commit that rape”) or generally (“rape is wrong”). If you make the first statement, it becomes a claim that committing rape was not the action best calculated to achieve his desires. If you make the latter statement, it becomes a claim that there is no-one whose desires are best achieved by committing rape. These become mere factual claims, without a sense of disapproval, and this is not how they are actually used.

  116. doctor(logic)

    Dave,

    I’m disappointed that you haven’t responded to any of my questions. You haven’t given any reasons for your position except that you think that, under subjectivism, we can’t objectively condemn Hitler*, or that you (incorrectly) think that a lack of objective morality will lead to anarchy. (Hey, not that I’ve been able to get any better answers from any other Christians on this blog.)

    Also, for the record, Hitler’s policies were not scientifically justifiable, and Hitler’s inspiration wasn’t Darwin’s science, it was Christian bigotry against the Jews.

    * We can’t objectively condemn Hitler, but we can still subjectively condemn him, which is all that matters. If I knew that Hitler was objectively wrong (whatever that means), but I subjectively approved of him, isn’t that more of a problem for you than my thinking morality is subjective while subjectively disapproving of him?

  117. Thomas Reid

    doctor(logic),

    * We can’t objectively condemn Hitler, but we can still subjectively condemn him, which is all that matters.

    Well just to be clear, what you are claiming on this thread is that subjective condemnation, which is identical to proncouncing a difference of taste or preference (this is what Richard Wein has been pointing out), is all that matters to organizing and living in a society. This might be true, but no one should be confused that this is somehow an argument for the subjectivity of moral duties and values. This may not be your position, but I confess it is difficult to know precisely for what you are arguing.

    If I knew that Hitler was objectively wrong (whatever that means), but I subjectively approved of him, isn’t that more of a problem for you than my thinking morality is subjective while subjectively disapproving of him?

    You use this reasoning frequently on this thread, to try and demonstrate that people merely need similar opinions to get society to “function” (for lack of a better term). But I invite you to contemplate why you think this reasoning will be effective. I submit that it is because you are relying on your interlocutor to acknowledge that he thinks his opinion of this moral issue is true. You are counting on your interlocutor to supply a premise to your argument that you yourself deny.

  118. Dave

    Hello doctor(logic)

    I’m disappointed that you haven’t responded to any of my questions.

    It appears to me that your ‘questions’ are less than lucid. Generally, unless I misapprehend completely, you are asking, “What difference does it make since ‘most people’ behave ‘morally’ anyway?” If I misconstrue please enlighten me.

    You haven’t given any reasons for your position except that you think that, under subjectivism, we can’t objectively condemn Hitler*, or that you (incorrectly) think that a lack of objective morality will lead to anarchy.

    Actually, there is nothing to condemn. Questions fo ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are nothing more than preference. You prefer apple pie and I prefer cheesecake. The concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are a category mistake – assigning value to ations which are essentially value-free.

    If you prefer to think that theft is wrong then that is your prerogative, but it has no bearing upon my preference for theft as a means of achieving my own interests. Should I steal from you (and I was once a thief), I have done nothing ‘wrong’, I have merely pursued my own interests according to my own preference. Should you call the police and have me arrested for theft that is not ‘right’ or ‘just’
    because ‘right’ and ‘justice’ are equally illusory concepts. We are reduced to the use of force to achieve our ends and in that case it is a matter of the stronger or better organized dominating the weaker.

    Hobbes solution to the dilemma was “Leviathan” – the absolute state. So also was Rousseau’s although Rousseau couched his in gentler language as the “general will”, but it too is absolute as may be seen in the following;

    In order then that the social compact may not be an empty formula, it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all personal dependence. In this lies the key to the working of the political machine; this alone legitimises civil undertakings, which, without it, would be absurd, tyrannical, and liable to the most frightful abuses.

    http://www.constitution.org/jjr/socon_01.htm

    But who detemines the “general will”? During the French Revolution it was the “mob” and the demagogues with the rhetorical skills to sway their emotions. After all, moral sentiments are nothing more than feelings. Once anarchy had run its course they got Napoleon, the “Leviathan” with his “whiff of grapeshot” to soothe the savage breast of the mob.

    * We can’t objectively condemn Hitler, but we can still subjectively condemn him, which is all that matters.

    For what? You don’t like the silly toothbrush mustache he wore? Without an objective moral standard your condemnation carries no more weight than your preference for apple pie. To condemn him presupposes som moral benchmark by which you can measure his actions. If there is no moral benchmark then ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are null terms, content free ejaculations expressing subjective feeling on the order of “Ooops!” and “Ouch!”.

    If I knew that Hitler was objectively wrong (whatever that means), but I subjectively approved of him, isn’t that more of a problem for you than my thinking morality is subjective while subjectively disapproving of him?

    “Objectively wrong” means that we recognize a standard which says, for example, killing entire groups of people because you think they are sub-human is wrong for all people at all times. It is an objective standard which transcends time and place. This doesn’t mean that every person, at all times, and in all places will act according to this standard. In fact, it is honored more in the breach than the observance, but it is the only reason for the existence of the “war crimes commission” in Brussels. Are they prosecuting war ‘criminals’ (a moral assessment) because they ‘feel’ that what these people did was distasteful? Or are they prosecuting these ‘crimes’ (another moral assessment) because the believe that they are objectively ‘evil’ (another moral assessment) acts?

    Also, for the record, Hitler’s policies were not scientifically justifiable, and Hitler’s inspiration wasn’t Darwin’s science, it was Christian bigotry against the Jews.

    When I was a young lad, and evolution was secure in its position as the unquestioned dogma of science, we were taught that Hitler’s racial policies were a depraved form of Darwinism. While the holocaust is famously described as a primarily Jewish phenomena, it included, without distinction, the handicapped, the elderly, the insane, the Poles, the Slavs, and the Gypsies as equally sub-human people groups destined for slave labour and extinction. They all had to be cleared out to make lebensraum for the favored Aryan German race. Hmm…. now what was the name of that book that Darwin wrote? Oh yes… “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” could that be the source of Hitler’s racial policies? Nahhh, must be a coincidence…

    Of course, the racial policies of there Third Reich were not only practiced in Germany, but were, to a lesser degree, practiced in the USA, Canada, and the UK, and many of the eugenicists in these countries applauded Hitler’s efforts… at least until the allies reached the death camps. Oddly enough, the all too obvious “moral” implications of their ideas silenced the public voice of the eugenics movement. Of course, eugenicists are still promoting their despicable (oops, there I go with the moral assessments again) philosophy under cover of different names. You see, the idea is implicit in the Darwinian narrative, the strong (Oh, is that Hobbes again?) survive and the weak are food for the predators. No right, no wrong, just blind pitiless indifference.

  119. doctor(logic)

    Thomas,

    But I invite you to contemplate why you think this reasoning will be effective. I submit that it is because you are relying on your interlocutor to acknowledge that he thinks his opinion of this moral issue is true. You are counting on your interlocutor to supply a premise to your argument that you yourself deny.

    First, effectiveness is irrelevant to the truth. Just because you don’t like subjective morality or you don’t think it would be effective doesn’t make it incorrect.

    That said, it is effective.

    I’ll ask this question again: if I prove to you that morality is purely subjective, what will change for you?

    Please answer this. It’s important. I won’t ask again.

    The reason you are here debating is, presumably, to prevent what you believe to be moral transgressions. You want less crime, rape, murder, etc. Furthermore, I believe that you actually desire less crime, rape, murder, etc, and you’re not trying to prevent these things from happening simply because of some abstract argument.

    So any argument that satisfies your desires for less suffering will be effective for you, even if you think that our mutual desire for less suffering is arbitrary in the objective sense.

  120. doctor(logic)

    Dave,

    It appears to me that your ‘questions’ are less than lucid. Generally, unless I misapprehend completely, you are asking, “What difference does it make since ‘most people’ behave ‘morally’ anyway?” If I misconstrue please enlighten me.

    No, that wasn’t my point. Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

    My point is that moral argumentation is futile where basic desires conflict.

    You suggest in your comment that we can know Hitler was absolutely wrong. Well, you’ve given no argument at all for that belief in absolute morality. All you have done is to suggest that the world would be worse off if we could not say that Hitler was absolutely wrong, but could only offer our subjective opinion that Hitler was wrong. But even that weaker claim doesn’t work. What did it matter to Hitler whether the Allies said he was objectively or subjectively wrong? It didn’t matter at all. What mattered was that Hitler was looking down the barrel of a Howitzer, and even then, that didn’t count for much. WWII was not won by both sides assuming absolute morality, and subsequently making rational arguments. It was won by force. Subjective morality looks exactly the same.

    Whereas I haven’t seen an argument from you, my argument is clear and simple.

    1) Whereas physics predicts interactions between objects, AND between objects and subjects, morality predicts only the reaction of subjects to objects. In that regard, morality is exactly like aesthetics, or like taste in music and food. That is, unlike in physics, there’s no positive evidence for the objectivity of morality.

    2) Psychology and biology suggest positive evidence for the subjectivity of morality.

    There’s no positive evidence for the objectivity of morality, but there is positive evidence that morality is subjective.

    Are they prosecuting war ‘criminals’ (a moral assessment) because they ‘feel’ that what these people did was distasteful? Or are they prosecuting these ‘crimes’ (another moral assessment) because the believe that they are objectively ‘evil’ (another moral assessment) acts?

    I’ve been asking you to think about the alternative numerous times, now. Please, just for a minute, imagine that there is no objective morality. Do you still want a war crimes commission or not? Do you want to stop prosecuting murderers just because it’s not objectively wrong? Serious question. As I said to Thomas, I won’t ask again.

    As for the Nazis, their plan was not scientific. On what grounds were Poles, Jews and Gypsies inferior? Their plan made no sense. Furthermore, just because it “is” Nature’s way for only the physically strongest to survive doesn’t mean we “ought” to implement a parallel practice in our society. Hume realized this.

    On the Jews and Their Lies is a 65,000-word treatise written by German Reformation leader Martin Luther in 1543.

    The prevailing scholarly view since the Second World War is that the treatise exercised a major and persistent influence on Germany’s attitude toward its Jewish citizens in the centuries between the Reformation and the Holocaust. Four hundred years after it was written, the National Socialists displayed On the Jews and Their Lies during Nuremberg rallies, and the city of Nuremberg presented a first edition to Julius Streicher, editor of the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer, the newspaper describing it as the most radically antisemitic tract ever published

  121. Thomas Reid

    doctor(logic),

    First, effectiveness is irrelevant to the truth. Just because you don’t like subjective morality or you don’t think it would be effective doesn’t make it incorrect.

    Agreed. I was asking you what makes you think your argument is effective. That is, why do you think it would be a real “problem” for someone if you didn’t disapprove of Hitler’s actions.

    I’ll ask this question again: if I prove to you that morality is purely subjective, what will change for you?

    Please answer this. It’s important. I won’t ask again.

    I think you are proposing a contradiction of terms, so I would not accept your hypothetical. I think the argument is DOA, so nothing changes for me. Bear in mind that I don’t think you could “prove” morality to be purely objective either.

    Finally, what I was trying to make clear to you is this: you are relying on your opponent’s opinion that a certain moral statement is true (genocide is wrong), to demonstrate that nothing would change for him given your hypothetical. But if you don’t believe that there are objective moral truths (that is, it is not true that genocide is wrong), why are you relying on your opponent to believe it?

  122. Tom Gilson

    doctor(logic)

    I’d sure like you to show some logical as well as research-based support for

    2) Psychology and biology suggest positive evidence for the subjectivity of morality.

    Instead, though, I really think you might want instead to amend that to something like this:
    Psychology and biology suggest positive evidence that humans experience moral feelings, sensations, etc.

    And then you would have to show us how that provides evidence that this experience is subjective as opposed to objective, which in this context specifically means that it is an experience unconnected to (as opposed to connected to) some moral reality existing apart from human perception or experience. I don’t think biology and psychology have a thing to say about that whatsoever.

    Now to some things you have said earlier. Your argument is that we need not postulate an objective morality because it is sufficient to postulate a subjective morality; that if there were or were not any objective morality, we would all act the same. There would be no difference in human behavior. You have said that before on previous discussion threads as well as this one. That is tantamount to saying that the truth in this discussion is to be decided according to how it affects human behavior: if the truth is one thing, what effect would it have; if it is another, what effect would that have?

    You have also said that you think morality serves a purpose in holding human society together, and that this is consistent with an evolutionary view of its purpose. (Though I think “evolutionary” and “purpose” really ought never to go in the same sentence together.)

    So it seems you are saying a subjective view of morality is the true view because it works, it’s a view that works more parsimoniously than an objective view, and it works for the purpose of holding human society together.

    And then you say,

    First, effectiveness is irrelevant to the truth.

    I find this strangely inconsistent.

    A theistic view has a number of advantages over yours:
    1) If you want to speak of truth, theism knows what “truth” means in this sphere.
    2) Theism provides a very parsimonious explanation for why persons have moral sensations and experiences.
    3) It provides a good explanation for why society works better when we follow what we generally sense to be the good.
    4) It provides a good explanation for why we actually do experience the feeling that the wrong is wrong and the right is right; with emphasis on the verb is.
    5) It makes it possible for the statements “That is right” and “That is wrong” actually to be true (or false, if applied inappropriately, of course).
    6) And in spite of your objection above, we do know that the Holocaust was wrong, and the Killing Fields were wrong, and the Rwandan massacre was wrong, and that enslaving Africans in America was wrong, and … (I could go on and on). And we do know that what Martin Luther King, Jr. did was (generally; I’m not saying he was perfect in every way) the right thing to do, and that it was right to free the slaves, and it was right to give women the vote, and …

  123. Tom Gilson

    You didn’t ask it of me, but I’ll answer anyway:

    I’ll ask this question again: if I prove to you that morality is purely subjective, what will change for you?

    Please answer this. It’s important. I won’t ask again.

    It would mean that I could no longer say it is true that it was wrong for someone to enter the home of a friend of mine a few weeks ago and kick him to death (the third murder of someone close to me in my life). I could only say that it feels wrong.

    It would mean that I could no longer have believe that one choice, one course of action, is actually better than another one I might make. All choices I might make would lose the possibility of being actually better than all other choices I might make.

    It would mean that I could no longer believe that the movement Martin Luther King, Jr. led has made the world a truly, actually better place.

    It would mean I could no longer believe that aspiring to make better choices, or to be more like Martin Luther King, Jr. (as opposed to Hannibal Lechter, for example) would actually be worth personal effort and sacrifice on the grounds that these are actually good aspirations.

    It would mean that I would have to conclude the universe in general is amoral, uncaring, impersonal, unloving, indifferent toward good and evil; and that my sensations of morality, caring, personality, loving, etc., are out of step with reality and therefore baseless, contingent, and frankly odd.

    It would mean that I would have no sense of transcendent good to reach toward.

    It would mean that I would have no sense of ultimate reward or punishment to guide my actions.

    If taken widely, as the set of beliefs held by an entire society, it would mean that the door would be open for any demagogue’s twisting of morality. Has that ever happened? Of course it has. (It was only under Christianity, by the way, that kings and rulers were recognized to be under the law rather than able to create their own versions of law.)

    That’s some of what it would mean. Now, you can continue to argue that all I’ve spoken about are changes in beliefs. So my question to you is twofold:

    1) Does the truth of one’s beliefs matter?
    2) Do beliefs affect actions?

  124. doctor(logic)

    Thomas,

    Finally, what I was trying to make clear to you is this: you are relying on your opponent’s opinion that a certain moral statement is true (genocide is wrong), to demonstrate that nothing would change for him given your hypothetical.

    Sorry you weren’t able to take a shot at the question.

    There’s a difference between believing:

    (a) “genocide is absolutely wrong” (moral realism)

    and

    (b)”I don’t like genocide, and I want to take action to prevent it.” (a factual statement about your subjective feelings)

    Presumably, you currently believe both (a) and (b). You feel that genocide is wrong AND you think genocide is absolutely wrong.

    I’m saying that if (a) were disproved for you, you would still believe (b), and would still act to oppose genocide.

    You might retort that, while you would act the same in the absence of a belief in absolute morality, others may not. Let’s see if that holds water.

    Suppose there is a conflict between (a) and (b), e.g.,

    (a) “genocide is absolutely wrong”

    and

    (b)”I want and like genocide, and want to take action to assist it.”

    Will this genocidal realist follow (a) or (b)?

    Well, what would you do?

    Imagine that something you thought was subjectively “good” were actually absolutely evil, e.g.,

    (a) “NOT torturing children is absolutely wrong”

    and

    (b)”I don’t like torturing children, and want to take action to prevent such torture.”

    Do you choose to be “absolutely good” and “subjectively evil” and follow (a)?
    Or do you choose to be “absolutely evil” and “subjectively good” and follow (b)?

    I put it to you that you would follow (b).

    Hence, belief in moral realism is largely irrelevant. In every case, the agent follows his heart.

  125. doctor(logic)

    Tom,

    Thanks for attempting to answer my question. You didn’t quite get at what I was after, however.

    The first four paragraphs of your answer really just say that you would not be able to believe that things you think are subjectively good are good in an absolute sense. This is just a restatement of my premise, and doesn’t really answer my question. I was really looking for an answer like “I would still think murder was disgusting and distasteful, and I would take actions to prevent murder.”

    Your other responses are more interesting…

    It would mean that I would have to conclude the universe in general is amoral, uncaring, impersonal, unloving, indifferent toward good and evil; and that my sensations of morality, caring, personality, loving, etc., are out of step with reality and therefore baseless, contingent, and frankly odd.

    The universe is certainly uncaring, but that is how the universe actually looks, isn’t it?

    Also, I don’t feel my moral feelings are out of step with reality. I don’t think they have anything to say about the universe in general, but that doesn’t make my feelings any less important to me.

    It would mean that I would have no sense of transcendent good to reach toward.

    When you say transcendent, do you simply mean beyond your current degree of goodness? If so, I don’t see any conflict. On the other hand, if you mean metaphysically transcendent, then, yes, you would have to give that up.

    It would mean that I would have no sense of ultimate reward or punishment to guide my actions.

    That’s true. Would it make any difference?

    If taken widely, as the set of beliefs held by an entire society, it would mean that the door would be open for any demagogue’s twisting of morality. Has that ever happened? Of course it has.

    The door is (and has always been) open. The only reason that people don’t walk through is because they don’t want to. Those who do want to walk through it, do so.

    BTW, my response to Thomas is probably the best way I have ever phrased my point of view regarding this question.

  126. doctor(logic)

    Tom,

    1) Does the truth of one’s beliefs matter?

    It does to me, and most frequently it does make a material difference. However, as I indicated in my comment #128, beliefs about moral realism rarely matter.

    2) Do beliefs affect actions?

    Yes, they do, in general. But, again, as I say in #128, I think feelings are the overriding factor in moral decision-making.

    Of course, you might all surprise me. You might tell me that if you thought torturing children to death was an absolute moral good, you would do so in spite of your feelings to the contrary. That you would prefer to be absolutely good at any cost. I just doubt that.

  127. Dave

    Hi doctor(logic)

    I’ll ask this question again: if I prove to you that morality is purely subjective, what will change for you?

    Amoklauf in Finnland

    Human life is not sacred. Humans are just a species among other animals and world does not exist only for humans. Death is not a tragedy, it happens in nature all the time between all species. Not all human lives are important or worth saving. Sometimes I feel like no one is really worth of life at all.

    Due to long process of existential thinking, observing the society I live and some other things happened in my life… I have come to the point where I feel nothing but hate against humanity and human race.

    There are no other universal laws than the laws of nature and the laws of physics.

    Trust no one… and rely on your instincts.

    I am the law, judge and executioner. There is no higher authority than me.

    Justice renders to everyone his due.

    http://www.google.com/search?q=Jokela+High+School+Massacre&rls=com.microsoft:en-us:IE-SearchBox&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=ie7&rlz=1I7GGLR_en

    As the attorney for the families of six of the students killed at Columbine, I read through every single page of Eric Harris’ jounals; I listened to all of the audio tapes and watched the videotapes, including the infamous “basement tapes.” There cannot be the slightest doubt that Harris was a worshiper of Darwin and saw himself as acting on Darwinian principles. For example, he wrote: “YOU KNOW WHAT I LOVE??? Natural SELECTION! It’s the best thing that ever happened to the Earth. Getting rid of all the stupid and weak organisms . . . but it’s all natural! YES!”

    Elsewhere he wrote: “NATURAL SELECTION. Kill the retards.” I could multiply examples, but you get the picture.

    It was no coincidence that on the day of the shootings Harris wore a shirt with two words written on it: “Natural Selection.”

    I am not suggesting that Auvinen’s and Harris’ actions are the inevitable consequences of believing in Darwinism. It is, however, clear that at least some of Darwin’s followers understand “survival of the fittest” and the attendant amorality at the bottom of Darwinism as a license to kill those whom they consider “inferior.” Nothing could be more obvious.

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/darwin-at-columbine/

    I’ll ask this question again: if I prove to you that morality is purely subjective, what will change for you?

  128. Tom Gilson

    doctor(logic),

    Apparently when you want my opinion you’ll give it to me:

    Thanks for attempting to answer my question. You didn’t quite get at what I was after, however.

    I was really looking for an answer like “I would still think murder was disgusting and distasteful, and I would take actions to prevent murder.”

    Apparently when you ask the question,

    if I prove to you that morality is purely subjective, what will change for you?

    The answer you are looking for is, what will stay the same for you? I apologize abjectly for not recognizing that was the intent of the question.

    The first four paragraphs of your answer really just say that you would not be able to believe that things you think are subjectively good are good in an absolute sense. This is just a restatement of my premise, and doesn’t really answer my question.

    It doesn’t answer the question I was supposed to realize you were asking (what will stay the same for you?) but it does answer the question you wrote (what will change for you?) What will change for me are a series of crucial core beliefs. That’s not peanuts.

    The universe is certainly uncaring, but that is how the universe actually looks, isn’t it?

    No, it isn’t, is it? I find it quite personal and moral, because I know God is behind it and through it everywhere. I think ethics matter, for instance because ethics actually matter.

    Me: It would mean that I would have no sense of ultimate reward or punishment to guide my actions.
    You: That’s true. Would it make any difference?

    Of course!

    The door is (and has always been) open. The only reason that people don’t walk through is because they don’t want to. Those who do want to walk through it, do so.

    Why don’t they want to? In many cases, because they know it’s wrong, and that there is a God who supports what is right and rejects what is wrong. If you can’t think of any examples, then I suggest you study the Magna Carta (a minor document in our history) or the Declaration of Independence (another one), both of which made appeals to God as the source of right above demagoguery.

    Dave:

    If you don’t want to answer the question, just say so.

    Remember (see the top of my comment here) “What will change for you?” means, “What will stay the same for you?” And your answer has already been helpfully provided by doctor(logic), which will ease the burden of your answering. He wants your opinion, and he’s johnny-on-the-spot to give it to you.

  129. doctor(logic)

    Tom,

    Tom: Apparently when you want my opinion you’ll give it to me:

    Me: Thanks for attempting to answer my question. You didn’t quite get at what I was after, however.

    I was really looking for an answer like “I would still think murder was disgusting and distasteful, and I would take actions to prevent murder.”

    Well, I did say “like”. You could have said you love theft and violence, and your worldview is the only thing preventing you from staging a heist down at the local bank. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so presumptuous. 😉

    Sorry that you found my question so confusing. I’m not going to go back and explain why I think my meaning was pretty clear (or psychoanalyze why none of you saw it). But you finally teased the intended meaning of my question out of me.

    Curiously, however, I didn’t actually see an explicit answer from you. Maybe your answer was implicit. I assume that how you feel about murder, rape, theft, euthanasia, etc., would not change, and you would continue to oppose them. And, I assume this because, if it would change, just saying so would have been an obvious response to my questions all along.

    Why don’t they want to? In many cases, because they know it’s wrong, and that there is a God who supports what is right and rejects what is wrong. If you can’t think of any examples, then I suggest you study the Magna Carta (a minor document in our history) or the Declaration of Independence (another one), both of which made appeals to God as the source of right above demagoguery.

    Mmmhm. So the American revolutionaries did not feel that what the British were doing was wrong? But then they read the Declaration of Independence, and suddenly the deduced the fact that the King was wrong? But didn’t God have as much to say about the rights of the King as the rights of the colonists? Did the British think they were fighting against God?

    I’ve looked at the Magna Carta, and God doesn’t make much of an appearance. Not in any relevant way.

    People create God in their own image. God represents the extrapolation of each person’s subjective good. For those who oppose homosexuality, God opposes homosexuality. For those who hate gays, God hates gays. For those who want war, God wants war. For those who want women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, God wants the same. God is a rationalization for pre-existing moral positions, not the source.

  130. Dave

    Hello doctor(logic)

    Might I recommend a book? “Socratic Logic by Peterr Kreeft. “Logic” is not synonymous with “don’t believe in God”, it is an act of the mind, and it require a little bit of cognitive capacity for it to work well. Perhaps after reading it you will understand the difference between “subjective” and “objective”.

  131. Tom Gilson

    doctor(logic),

    Thank you for this heartfelt apology:

    Sorry that you found my question so confusing.

    Now instead of giving me my opinion as you were earlier, you are expressing my regrets for my feelings of being confused. Thank you for doing that for me. So now that you have supplied my apology on my behalf, I will echo it: I’m sorry I found your question so confusing. I express to you my deepest regrets for finding it to be that way.

    And now in return I will do what you so graciously did for me: I’ll state your apology on your behalf: I’m sorry you wrote such a confusing question. I’m sorry you wrote “what would change?” when what you were looking for was “what would remain the same?”

    And now I will return to speaking on my own behalf, saying to you, “apology accepted, and thank you for expressing it so eloquently.”

    Curiously, however, I didn’t actually see an explicit answer from you.

    You didn’t? Well, let’s think about what counts as an answer, then.

    I assume that how you feel about murder, rape, theft, euthanasia, etc., would not change, and you would continue to oppose them.

    Oh, the answer has to be in terms of
    a) How I would feel, which determines
    b) How I would act.

    The answer I gave, which was (quite explicitly!) in terms of what I believe did not count as an answer. Strange. Apparently you don’t think there’s much of a connection between ethical beliefs and actions; the only connection you count as relevant (count as being an answer) is the one between ethical feelings and actions. I think it’s rather odd that you didn’t see my explicit answer about beliefs as being an explicit answer, though.

    Okay, then, here’s my answer. This was an actual thought process I went through before I was a theist. If there is no true and objective basis for ethics, then I would do whatever I thought was in my best interests to meet my desires, whether it was regarded by others as ethical or not, to the extent that I thought I could get away with it or live with the foreseeable consequences. My actions actually would, like yours, be informed by my feelings alone, and I would do what felt most desirable, weighing my desires for pleasure against my desire to avoid negative consequences.

    Those negative consequences to be avoided might include things like feeling bad about myself, or looking bad in others’ eyes, so I might be able to convince myself that I had a sound ethical basis for doing what seemed to be good; but in reality I would just be managing my feelings and my desires on the principle, do what makes me feel best and achieve what I want. That would be my “ethical” principle.

    That, by the way, would be a feelings-based principle (just what you’re looking for!), but one that is founded on a belief, the belief that there is no other ethical principle.

    Mmmhm. So the American revolutionaries did not feel that what the British were doing was wrong? But then they read the Declaration of Independence, and suddenly the deduced the fact that the King was wrong?

    The American revolutionaries believed what the British were doing was wrong, and they wrote that belief down and pledged “our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor” to the cause. Feelings? Sure. They felt it was wrong. Did I say they didn’t? But did feelings drive them to give up everything for the cause? No. Convictions did–convictions regarding what was true. (They weren’t postmodernists, by the way.)

    But didn’t God have as much to say about the rights of the King as the rights of the colonists? Did the British think they were fighting against God?

    Yes, God did have something to say about the rights of the King: that he was subject to God’s laws, too. The divine right of kings was gradually swept away, beginning with Ambrose in the 4th century, gradually gaining momentum, reaching a new high point in the Magna Carta, and then especially with the American Declaration of Independence, all of it based on the biblical view that ethics do not come from power but from a transcendent law founded in a transcendent Lawgiver.

    People create God in their own image.

    Frequently, yes. It’s called idolatry. It happens all the time. The real God doesn’t think much of it when we do that. For instance, if I were to adopt the “ethical” principle I spoke of above, then I would be putting myself in the place of God, really making my god in my own image. That would not be in accordance with the truth at all.

    For those who oppose homosexuality, God opposes homosexuality. For those who hate gays, God hates gays. For those who want war, God wants war. For those who want women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, God wants the same. God is a rationalization for pre-existing moral positions, not the source.

    Wrong. Sure, there are idolaters who do this as I have already agreed. But there is also a standard. For those who accept the standard, God opposes homosexual practice and other forms of sexual immorality. For those who accept the standard, God loves gays as much as every other sinner (every other person, that is). For those who accept the standard, there is unjust war and there is just war. The practical application of the principles of just war is sometimes difficult to sort out in truth, but that doesn’t obviate the reality of the principles. Those principles are biblically based.

    You continue to sweep aside beliefs as if only feelings were relevant. You couldn’t do that unless you believed only feelings are relevant.

  132. SteveK

    DL has been arguing for either for the equivocation of terms or for the inability of a person to know that he/she is equivocating. The equivocation comes when DL tries to say moral statements are really statements of preference – and if you don’t know that then he’s here to remind you that that is what you really mean.

    “Rape is evil” is the same as “I don’t prefer rape” which is closely related to “I don’t prefer chocolate”. By that standard, “Chocolate is evil” should make all the sense in the world because it’s obvious that it means “I don’t prefer chocolate”.

  133. Thomas Reid

    doctor(logic),

    There’s a difference between believing:

    (a) “genocide is absolutely wrong” (moral realism)

    and

    (b)”I don’t like genocide, and I want to take action to prevent it.” (a factual statement about your subjective feelings)

    Presumably, you currently believe both (a) and (b). You feel that genocide is wrong AND you think genocide is absolutely wrong.

    I hold the belief that genocide is wrong, period. Frankly I haven’t the foggiest idea what it means to feel something is morally wrong. If you pondered it a while I think you’d arrive at the same conclusion. A feeling is not a belief.

    By the way, I hold this belief about genocide at the same epistemic level as the belief that there is a computer in front of me. Such belief informs my actions regarding genocide. Do you believe genocide is wrong? If you do, then you believe there is at least one objective moral value. It really is as simple as that.

    I’m saying that if (a) were disproved for you, you would still believe (b), and would still act to oppose genocide.

    You might retort that, while you would act the same in the absence of a belief in absolute morality, others may not.

    No, I would retort that you cannot disprove “genocide is wrong” just as you cannot disprove the existence of the external world.

    Suppose there is a conflict between (a) and (b), e.g.,

    (a) “genocide is absolutely wrong”

    and

    (b)”I want and like genocide, and want to take action to assist it.”

    Will this genocidal realist follow (a) or (b)?

    Well, what would you do?

    Do you not see that believing (a) would have some bearing on whether or not (b) follows?

    Imagine that something you thought was subjectively “good” were actually absolutely evil, e.g.,

    (a) “NOT torturing children is absolutely wrong”

    and

    (b)”I don’t like torturing children, and want to take action to prevent such torture.”

    Do you not see that believing the negation of (a) precedes (b)?

    Do you choose to be “absolutely good” and “subjectively evil” and follow (a)?
    Or do you choose to be “absolutely evil” and “subjectively good” and follow (b)?

    I put it to you that you would follow (b).

    Do you still not see the implied claims in your argument here? You are relying on the fact that I believe genocide is wrong in an attempt to demonstrate that I would not act to commit genocide in the face of “disproving” genocide as wrong. You are incredibly confident that I would still believe genocide is wrong in spite of some supposed “disproval” – why? It’s because you believe it’s wrong too, correct? Indeed you and I both believe genocide is wrong, which is identical to us both affirming that moral absolutes exist.

    If you try and maintain the claim that we just “felt” genocide was wrong (whatever that is supposed to mean), but that we didn’t actually believe it, then our attitude about genocide could sway in the breeze as easily as our preference for apple pie one day and cheesecake the next. You are counting on that not being the case to provide force to your argument. Just think that over for a minute.

    Hence, belief in moral realism is largely irrelevant. In every case, the agent follows his heart.

    Now it’s very interesting that you maintain moral realism is “irrelevant” instead of claiming that there are no true moral propositions (that is, moral realism is false). Would you just like to avoid that question altogether?

  134. SteveK

    Those who utter the statement “X is evil” know it’s not a statement about their preferences or desires. It is a statement about what really IS. As I said to Jacob on the other thread, all the terms in a propositional statement must be grounded in reality, or it cannot be said to be true. I think that makes logical sense.

    So what about the truth value of this statement, does subjectivity change anything? Proposing that “rape is evil”, even if thought to be a subjective perception of what IS (because that is what the person saying it MEANS), requires that all of the terms point to some aspect of reality in order for it to be true. If evil is not something real then that statement makes as much sense as “this is a unicorn” and we can all dismiss it as false nonsense.

    So, DL’s red herring argument about subjectivity doesn’t change the fact that the statement as it is intended is either true or false.

  135. doctor(logic)

    Tom,

    Apparently you don’t think there’s much of a connection between ethical beliefs and actions; the only connection you count as relevant (count as being an answer) is the one between ethical feelings and actions.

    Do you have any ethical beliefs that conflict with ethical feelings?

    (Obviously, there will be cases of akrasia, like “I desire to eat this apple pie, but tomorrow, I will wish I hadn’t.” Or “I would like to date my best friend’s daughter, but I value my friend’s long-term friendship more.” That is, there will be conflicts between short term desires and long term desires.)

    My point is that conflicts between ethical beliefs and ethical feelings are marginal. This is because ethical beliefs are inferred from ethical feelings. If a man doesn’t like his church’s ethical belief system, he changes his affiliation. Christians who believe homosexuality is wrong also feel homosexuality is wrong, and the arrow of causation isn’t from belief to feeling, but from feeling to belief.

    My actions actually would, like yours, be informed by my feelings alone, and I would do what felt most desirable, weighing my desires for pleasure against my desire to avoid negative consequences.

    Those negative consequences to be avoided might include things like feeling bad about myself, or looking bad in others’ eyes, so I might be able to convince myself that I had a sound ethical basis for doing what seemed to be good; but in reality I would just be managing my feelings and my desires on the principle, do what makes me feel best and achieve what I want. That would be my “ethical” principle.

    This sounds perfectly fine to me.

    Yes, of course, some of your beliefs would be different, but you won’t become a “monster” if you give up a belief in moral realism. Your ethical feelings will remain fixed, e.g., I quite expect you will still like to give gifts to friends and family, and you will still be opposed to homosexuality.

    You continue to sweep aside beliefs as if only feelings were relevant. You couldn’t do that unless you believed only feelings are relevant.

    It’s not just a case of a self-propagating belief. If beliefs were the key to morality instead of feelings, then I would expect to see large tracts of the population to be extremely frustrated, because their beliefs and feelings would be in conflict.

    For example, if beliefs were the critical factor, you might be telling me how you want to go out and rape and pillage, and that the only reason you don’t is your abstract belief in a moral realist theory in which raping and pillaging are absolutely wrong. I don’t know anybody who is frustrated in this way. (Maybe I just lead a sheltered life.)

    Just look at Thomas. He can’t even see a distinction between his moral beliefs and his moral feelings.

  136. Tom Gilson

    doctor(logic),

    My point is that conflicts between ethical beliefs and ethical feelings are marginal. This is because ethical beliefs are inferred from ethical feelings. If a man doesn’t like his church’s ethical belief system, he changes his affiliation. Christians who believe homosexuality is wrong also feel homosexuality is wrong, and the arrow of causation isn’t from belief to feeling, but from feeling to belief.

    From where does your arrow of causation flow to produce your belief that the arrow of ethical causation flows from feelings toward beliefs?

    My point is this: you are exactly wrong on this point. Not wrong for every person, for there are those for whom truth is of no importance. But wrong for those who know there is a source of truth, that it is real, and that it rules over feelings, rather than vice-versa.

    My “ethical principle,” you say, “sounds perfectly fine to me.” To me, it sounds like something not very ethical at all. It’s just maneuvering for self-interest and fulfillment of my own desires.

    For example, if beliefs were the critical factor, you might be telling me how you want to go out and rape and pillage, and that the only reason you don’t is your abstract belief in a moral realist theory in which raping and pillaging are absolutely wrong. I don’t know anybody who is frustrated in this way. (Maybe I just lead a sheltered life.)

    I think you lead a sheltered life. I think you have exaggerated the issue (just a little, not much) by going to the extremes of raping and pillaging; but in fact there are things I am sometimes inclined to do that I choose not to do because they are wrong, and sometimes it causes a crisis of decision-making within me. The experience can be difficult. Maybe you’ve heard of such a psychological phenomenon, maybe you haven’t. Wikipedia’s page on it is not very satisfactory, but it will at least perhaps remind you of a concept you have encountered sometime in your life.

    I think there must be some reason you cannot understand all these things, for you certainly do seem unable to do so. I’m sorry about that for you.

  137. doctor(logic)

    Thomas,

    Jesus appears to you, produces some bread and wine out of nowhere, and walks across your outdoor swimming pool for good measure. Then he asks you to torture your cat to death. Since Jesus tells you to do this, you know it is absolutely right to torture your cat to death. Does torturing your cat feel right just because you’ve been told it’s right by someone in authority?

    What if it wasn’t your cat, but a human? Does the act feel right to you even if you believe it to be right? What if he asks you to commit genocide?

    Moral feelings and moral beliefs are not the same thing. (I mean, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? God tells you what is absolutely right despite your moral feelings to the contrary.)

  138. Tom Gilson

    In other words, your question to Thomas is, “Would you still believe in God if everything about you and God and the world were true, except that God wants us to be wantonly cruel to animals?” The answer is, there is no such possible world, so the question is meaningless.

  139. doctor(logic)

    Tom,

    Jesus doesn’t ask us to torture cats to death.

    Hee hee! Sometimes, I think the concept of a thought experiment is wasted on you guys.

    Look, let’s suppose Horace is a rapist. He likes raping for lots of reasons, including the feeling of power he gets. He thinks that girls who dress in revealing clothes deserve it. He’s integrated his rape behavior into his personal identity. Jesus comes along and says that rape is objectively evil. If Horace believes Jesus is real, tells the truth, and is an authority on morality, wouldn’t Horace then be in some sort of conflict? Isn’t Jesus’s request to Horace (the rapist) like the cat torture request to Thomas (the pet friend)?

    Good point, though. God doesn’t ask you to do anything you don’t actually want to do. He only asks other people to do what they don’t want to do.

  140. SteveK

    Isn’t realism about the facts of the matter, and not about someones beliefs, preferences and desires? I think it is.

  141. doctor(logic)

    Steve,

    Are you saying that there are no facts of the matter about what I prefer or how I feel? It is not a fact of reality that I prefer chocolate to vanilla?

    You have to draw a line around the object and the subject. When you say a thing has an objective property, you mean that the property exists within the object line, outside of the subject boundary. A property that is subjective is a property that depends on the interaction of the subject with the object.

    So, if the subject is me, and the object is chocolate ice cream, we will find that my preference for chocolate is not in the chocolate itself, but in my and my interaction with chocolate.

    However, if we draw the object line around me and my ice cream, and the subject line around you, then you will find that my preference for chocolate is objectively in the DL-ice cream system, and not just in your interaction with me and my ice cream.

    What do I mean when I say morality is subjective? I mean that if I draw a line around the mugger and his victim, morality is nowhere to be found there. But if I draw the line around you (as observer), the mugger and his victim, then morality is objectively in your preferences. It will be an objective fact that you will disapprove or feel bad about the mugging you are observing. However, the immorality will not be in the mugging itself.

  142. Tom Gilson

    doctor(logic), you’re not paying attention. A thought experiment in which you change nothing about the world except twisting who God is, is no thought experiment at all. There is no possible world in which God is like that, so there is no point in a thought experiment like that.

    If Horace believes Jesus is real, tells the truth, and is an authority on morality, wouldn’t Horace then be in some sort of conflict?

    Of course he would! And then he would realize he needs to change in order to come into alignment with truth and with the God of truth, and that he needs help with that change because he cannot make that change on his own, and that he needs Jesus not only to tell him what is true but to give him the life of God to enable him to live according to what is true. It’s called conversion.

    Isn’t Jesus’s request to Horace (the rapist) like the cat torture request to Thomas (the pet friend)?

    No. Jesus’s word to Horace the rapist is not a request. It is a call for him to align himself with truth or else face true consequences. The supposed cat torture “request” is a contradiction to the name and reality of Jesus–and by the way, also an extremely offensive one, to those of us who know his goodness. I didn’t say “feel” his goodness, by the way, though I do feel it; I said “know” his goodness, because it is not just a feeling.

    Good point, though. God doesn’t ask you to do anything you don’t actually want to do. He only asks other people to do what they don’t want to do.

    What do I mean when I say morality is subjective? I mean that if I draw a line around the mugger and his victim, morality is nowhere to be found there…. the immorality will not be in the mugging itself.

    You are more confused, and your understanding of Christianity is more twisted, than I had ever thought before.

    If some people said what you are saying here I would respond with a sense of failure; that we Christians have not communicated the reality of Jesus Christ clearly enough. But you, doctor(logic), have been on this forum and many others often enough that I cannot conclude that your failure to understand is due to a lack of our communicating. You are simply determined to twist the truth. It’s perverse, and it’s going to land you in a long, long eternity of personal regret. It’s not too late to change your mind.

  143. Dave

    Hello doctor(illogic)

    Good point, though. God doesn’t ask you to do anything you don’t actually want to do. He only asks other people to do what they don’t want to do.

    You are possessed of a stunningly simple opinion of theology. Which, I might add, perfectly compliments you opinions on philosophy and logic. “A mind is like a door, it must open if it is to be of any use.”

  144. SteveK

    DL,

    Are you saying that there are no facts of the matter about what I prefer or how I feel? It is not a fact of reality that I prefer chocolate to vanilla?

    See here and here. Your failure to accept the claim that God and Christian’s (realists) are actually making is simply astounding. Nobody is claiming that moral statements are statements of preference. Get it?

    What do I mean when I say morality is subjective? I mean that if I draw a line around the mugger and his victim, morality is nowhere to be found there. But if I draw the line around you (as observer), the mugger and his victim, then morality is objectively in your preferences. It will be an objective fact that you will disapprove or feel bad about the mugging you are observing. However, the immorality will not be in the mugging itself.

    Holo has figuratively beat you over the head about this repeatedly, yet you keep coming back to this misplaced ‘argument’.

    If you draw a line around the ink blots forming this pattern “I am a real person”, meaning is nowhere to be found. If I include you or me in that circle then meaning suddenly appears – presto! Is the meaning ‘in’ the ink and paper like morality is ‘in’ the mugger and victim? No. Is either one subjective? No.

  145. Tom Gilson

    Here’s another take on the cat torture vs. Horace examples. You said,

    Jesus appears to you, produces some bread and wine out of nowhere, and walks across your outdoor swimming pool for good measure. Then he asks you to torture your cat to death. Since Jesus tells you to do this, you know it is absolutely right to torture your cat to death. Does torturing your cat feel right just because you’ve been told it’s right by someone in authority?

    and then

    Look, let’s suppose Horace is a rapist. He likes raping for lots of reasons, including the feeling of power he gets. He thinks that girls who dress in revealing clothes deserve it. He’s integrated his rape behavior into his personal identity. Jesus comes along and says that rape is objectively evil. If Horace believes Jesus is real, tells the truth, and is an authority on morality, wouldn’t Horace then be in some sort of conflict?

    The difference between the “you” of the first and Horace of the second example is that “you” are objectively wrong to think that this was Jesus. This is not the way Jesus is. Horace’s conclusions, on the other hand, are objectively right: this is very consistent with who Jesus is. Horace’s conflict I have already addressed below.

    Note that there is an objective right and wrong here at the very basis of reality: the existence and identity of Jesus; and that this flows directly into an objective moral right and wrong.

    If you thought there was some logical problem to theism in these two examples you have put forth, then you have not tried hard enough to understand theism. There’s no problem at all there.

  146. Thomas Reid

    A “belief” is an enduring mental attitude about a proposition (like “genocide is wrong”, or “two plus two is four”). As such, a belief has the property of being about something, it has the property of “aboutness”. The proposition can be either true or false, and so can the belief to which the proposition corresponds.

    A feeling is a temporary state of sensory, subjective experience. It has different properties than a belief. It is not possible for a feeling to be true or false (my “happiness” is not false).

    So we see that a feeling is not a belief, and therefore it is impossible for one to have a feeling of a moral proposition. This is not to say that feelings cannot have beliefs as their causual antecedents, of course.

  147. doctor(logic)

    Tom,

    There is no possible world in which God is like that, so there is no point in a thought experiment like that.

    You always say this, but never give a reason for saying so. There’s nothing problematic about the concept of a god who seems subjectively evil to us. Sure, it may not be the god of the NT, but you wouldn’t say alternatives to the NT are not logically possible, would you?

    To Horace, God is subjectively evil, even if he believed God was objectively good.

    If my space ship approaches yours, and relatively, our ships are inverted, I could say you were subjectively upside down. If the universe had an objective “up” direction, we might agree that you were right-side-up, but you would still be subjectively upside down to me.

    I’m saying that, to Horace, God’s directive for him not to rape is like the fictitious evil god’s directive to torture the cat. You can’t just hide from the analogy by saying that God isn’t possibly like that, when clearly a hypothetical god could possibly be like that.

    If that’s too difficult for you to contemplate, let’s instead imagine there’s no God, no heaven, no hell. Suppose there is an oracle which informs you about absolute moral truths. You go to the oracle, and it says rape is an absolute moral duty. I put it to you that you would rather be absolutely evil and not rape, then be subjectively evil and absolutely good.

    Seriously, why be good at all? Why would you be good if it entailed doing things you thought were subjectively evil? You all talk to me of standards, but your standards make no sense. What is the point of conforming to an arbitrary standard? Is the point to avoid punishment or gain reward? You just got through telling me that isn’t what morality is about. So what is it about?

    The difference between the “you” of the first and Horace of the second example is that “you” are objectively wrong to think that this was Jesus. This is not the way Jesus is. Horace’s conclusions, on the other hand, are objectively right: this is very consistent with who Jesus is.

    Um, God commanded Abraham to kill his son. Torturing a cat seems far less nasty. You’ve got an impossible case to make, there.

  148. Tom Gilson

    dl,

    You insist on treating it all subjectively, so you are bound to come up with a subjective answer. You insist on treating it all as relative (your space ship example), so you are bound to come up with a relativistic answer. You apparently think that Horace ought to weight his own feelings about morality equally with God’s commands about morality, so you are bound to come up with an answer in which God’s morality is worth about as much as Horace’s, or your own.

    It’s not difficult for me to imagine, with John Lennon, that there’s no God, no heaven, no hell. That’s not the problem. The problem is that I can’t think of a good reason for me to do that. It would be like me asking you to imagine there’s no such thing as moral opinions. You already know there are, so why should you bother with a thought experiment like that?

    There is no oracle with the ability to pronounce objectively that rape is a moral duty, because God is ruler of all possible worlds, and God has already decreed otherwise. We don’t need to play what-if games like that. I would no more play that game than play the game of “what if your mathematics teacher was shaped like a square circle, and asked you to sum the three obtuse angles forming his pentagonal perimeter?”

    God’s command for Abraham to kill his son was not quite that simple, and not the contradiction to God’s morality that you it seems if considered apart from context. It was not set forth as a principle of life, so it does not express God’s principles for living. It was exceptional, it was for the purpose of testing Abraham’s faith, and God himself provided the way out of it in the end.

    There’s nothing problematic about the concept of a god who seems subjectively evil to us. Sure, it may not be the [G]od of the NT, but you wouldn’t say alternatives to the NT are not logically possible, would you?

    Of course they are, if one already knows that the God of the NT exists. Of course the God of the NT did and does seem objectively evil to those who are determined to resist him, to set themselves up as their own gods; that’s not news. But here’s the story on those people: they are wrong.

    You always say this, but never give a reason for saying so.

    You’ve been reading this blog for years, dl. You know that I have reasons for believing what I believe about God, and you know that I’ve put them forth here hundreds of times.

  149. Tom Gilson

    Why be good at all? Because it is an appropriate relational response of faith and love toward the God who is good. To seek the reward that is in God is not unethical; to avoid the punishment that attaches to running away from God is not unethical (pardon the multiple negatives).

    The standard is not arbitrary, though. The standard is in the character of the One who is the source of everything that exists. It’s silly to call that “arbitrary.”

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  151. Dave

    I prefer Chesterton when it comes to torturing cats…

    But I think this book may well start where our argument started –in the neighbourhood of the mad-house. Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin — a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. Some followers of the Reverend R.J.Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street. The strongest saints and the strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.

  152. doctor(logic)

    Tom,

    You accuse me of living in some sort of bubble, yet I’m not the one who is refusing to reason about the issues. You say it’s not difficult for you to imagine no God, heaven or hell, but you simply refuse to do so. You’ve long since decided that God exists, morality is absolute, and so it’s not worth considering the alternatives or questioning your beliefs.

    Your belief in God is like a table that rests on three legs. There’s philosophy, history, and personal experience. Whenever the debate gets deep to the point of knocking-down a leg, you say the other two legs keep the table from falling down. And around we go again.

    Morality is part of the personal experience leg. You’re invoking philosophy (the Ontological Argument is my guess) to claim God is a necessary being, so you don’t have to consider any alternate explanations for human experiences.

    I can just imagine the lashing I would be in for if I claimed that the evidence for evolution meant I didn’t have to consider your arguments for moral realism.

    God’s command for Abraham to kill his son was not that, in fact. It was not set forth as a principle of life, so it does not express God’s principles for living. It was exceptional, it was for the purpose of testing Abraham’s faith, and God himself provided the way out of it in the end.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s an exception or a test of faith. You just said that Thomas shouldn’t believe that it was Jesus telling him to torture his cat because Jesus wouldn’t do that. What if this was an exceptional test of faith? You can’t dismiss this so easily.

    Of course [alternatives to the Christian view of the NT are logically impossible], if one already knows that the God of the NT exists.

    Oh yeah?! Well everything you say is logically impossible if I’m right!!

    Does that sort of argument really work for anyone?

  153. Tom Gilson

    doctor(logic),

    As I said in the first paragraph, this post was not addressed as an argument for the existence of God, but as a commentary on moral relativism in the context of the reality of God.

    But it was pointed at you, so it would not be fair for me not to respond. My belief in God rests on more than three legs; or if there are three legs, they are each one of them broad enough to support the whole.

    There is more to the philosophical side of it than the Ontological Argument. There is the argument from reason, the evolutionary argument against naturalism, the argument from free will and agency, the contingency cosmological argument, the Kalam cosmological argument, the teleological argument in multiple forms, and the moral argument, to start with.

    There is a lot to the historical argument. The various aspects of it don’t have such compact names as the philosophical arguments, but there are multiple different approaches represented by N.T. Wright, W.L. Craig, Gary Habermas, and the research compiled by Josh McDowell.

    My personal experience is also convincing to me, though I do not present it as an argument for you to be convinced by.

    Morality is part of both personal experience and philosophy. From personal experience I am thoroughly persuaded that it is accurate to say mugging, rape, pillage, and child torture (all examples you gave in the other thread) are wrong in themselves, and that it is not the observer’s attitude that makes them wrong. I am convinced that the only way you could come to the perverse conclusion that you have come to is that your theology forces you to it. The plain fact is that these things are wrong, but they cannot be wrong in themselves unless there is something about deep reality that makes “wrong” a meaningful word in that sense; but that deep reality is something you reject, so a fortiori you reject what should be plain to you a priori.

    I can just imagine the lashing I would be in for if I claimed that the evidence for evolution meant I didn’t have to consider your arguments for moral realism.

    I would just say you’re wrong, for the evidence for evolution, even if it were rock solid with no ID or creationist challenge, would not put a dent in my reasons for belief in God. It doesn’t even touch on any of them except the teleological argument, and that is still supported by the signs of teleology in the cosmos and in the origin of the first life.

    The “lashing” I delivered this time, by the way, was not for your being wrong on arguments for the existence of God. You know from experience that I don’t respond that way. I wrote what I did not because you argued against God, or because you argued for moral relativism. I’m not even sure you did argue for moral relativism, in the sense of showing that it is logically or evidentially superior to the realist view. You tried once, but Thomas Reid pointed out that you missed it, and so did I. The rest of your case stands on your persistence in saying that moral feelings can explain morality, but all that does is re-define morality in a question-begging way (“Morality is only feelings by definition, therefore moral realism is false.”)

    Now, I admit I have not re-read the thread to see if there is any exception to the above, any actual argument you have brought forth. I invite you to remind me of it if you have done so, in case I have forgotten it.

    Regardless of that, that’s not what the “lashing” here and on the other post was about. It was not for your being wrong (in my strong opinion) about moral realism. It was for the perverse moral system you propose, in which you are your own king of morality and you can decide for yourself what is right and wrong, which is to set yourself idolatrously in the place of God, and to expose yourself to the corruption that flows from idolatry.

    You said,

    It doesn’t matter if it’s an exception or a test of faith. You just said that Thomas shouldn’t believe that it was Jesus telling him to torture his cat because Jesus wouldn’t do that. What if this was an exceptional test of faith? You can’t dismiss this so easily.

    That’s not how you intended the question when you set it forth. If you want to nuance it that way, by all means give it a try. But before you do that, I suggest you study the full nuances of the Abraham incident. Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling is a good source, but you ought also consider the typology of Christ that’s present in Genesis 22 also. You should also take into account the connections that it has to the Passover, the Old Testament sacrificial system, and the fulfilling and end of that sacrificial system by Christ as described at length in the book of Hebrews. In other words, if you make this test of faith for Thomas a simple one-off ad hoc kind of thing, you’ll fall considerably short of any parallel to the Abraham incident. But go ahead and try, as I said, if that’s what you want to do.

    Oh yeah?! Well everything you say is logically impossible if I’m right!!
    Does that sort of argument really work for anyone?

    Examine your own arguments, my friend, not that you’ve made any (unless I’ve forgotten it, see above). As far as I can see, there’s only one basis on which anyone could conclude that moral relativism is true. It can’t flow from experience, because in experience we all take it that some things are objectively wrong, and other things actually, objectively right. So it could only come from:

    A) There is no God.
    B) Therefore moral relativism.

    My argument, which you just scoffed at, was:

    A’) There is a good God, who has revealed the reality of morals.
    B’) Therefore moral realism.

    Both arguments are valid (or at least they could be expanded from this highly compressed form here into logically valid arguments). The question is which premise is true, A or A’. Since neither of us has tried in this thread to put forth an argument for our positions on A and A1, my argument in this case is as strong as yours has been all along. The only difference is that I made the form of the argument more plain to see.

    But mine has also been:

    C) We know from experience that moral realism exists.
    D) Therefore moral realism.

    and also

    E) Moral relativism entails absurd conclusions like “mugging, rape, pillage, and child torture are not immoral in themselves.”
    F) Therefore moral realism.

    Your argument has been,

    G) Morality is defined in terms of one’s feelings.
    H) Therefore morality is only a matter of feelings.

    and also something like this,

    I) I could imagine alternatives to the NT God.
    J) Those alternatives are not necessarily good.
    K) Therefore moral relativism.

    Does that sort of argument really work for anyone?

  154. James Gray

    Moral realism is in no way a settled debate and philosophers who answer today “Yes, moral realism is true” do not say “because God exists.” That tends not to be a satisfying answer to theists or atheists. Theism itself does not say that God makes moral realism true anymore than God makes the universe true. (God might be required for everything including laws of science, math and logic, but that isn’t the kind of explanation we really want to hear.)

    I have been studying moral realism for about a year and certainly don’t know everything I would like, but it seems like common sense. It’s part of our experience in such an ordinary way that God doesn’t seem helpful. “I gave him an aspirin because pain is bad” doesn’t require, “Oh yeah, God made sure of it. That’s how I know.” The experience of pain being bad seems good enough here.

    * What is a moral value or duty; specifically, to whom or what is it a value, and to whom or what is the duty directed, owed, or pointed?

    Intrinsic value. Somethings are good, and others are bad no matter what anyone believes.

    * To whom or what was it directed, owed, or pointed when there was no person in the universe toward whom it could have been so pointed?

    Not sure what that means. The badness of pain points at the badness of the experience of pain I suppose. The goodness of existence might point at the existence itself.

    * Who or what held any responsibility for these moral values or duties before there was any intelligent life?

    Idiots might not be held responsible. Intelligent people hold themselves responsible. It’s a choice isn’t it? And punishment doesn’t exactly explain morality very well. It’s wrong to do something immoral even if you never get punished.

    * In what did these values or duties inhere, or in other words, where did they exist?

    When you realize how horrible it is to cause pain, torture, and kill, you might as well call it a “duty” to refrain from such actions. Other than that ask moral theorists. Duties might not exist the way some people think they do.

    Obligations are promises. You commit yourself. Morality is forced upon us all, and not necessarily the same thing as obligation-promises. We are forced into morality once we realize that so much value is at stake.

    * Was there such a thing as evil while the stars and planets were forming? What was it?

    No. I don’t know if evil exists even when people do, but as soon as something of value exists, moral implications exist. If you can cause pain, that is a moral implication.

    * Was killing immoral for the first 3 billion or so years of evolution, before humans arrived? Jordan says yes; but animals killing animals certainly wasn’t immoral then, nor is it now. There was no immoral killing until humans came, as far as I know.

    Animals killing animals has implications for intrinsic value, but animals don’t know anything about it. Animals don’t have duties insofar as they are incapable of them. Greater apes might be capable.

    * When humans arrived, what was it about us that made it (frequently) immoral for us to kill? Note that we take it that it’s not just about killing each other; we often consider it immoral to kill animals, too.

    Human existence might have intrinsic value. If so, taking away life would cause non-existence and destroy something of value. If we have an afterlife, it is much more confusing why death is bad. It might be good to kill innocents before they have a chance to sin and deserve going to hell. Martyrs are also not afraid to die because they will be rewarded in the afterlife, which sometimes leads to suicide bombing and so forth.

    * Moral standards have changed over time, and in fact have oscillated back and forth on some issues (abortion, infanticide, homosexual relationships, for example). Jordan seems to take it that this moment in history represents the “right” moment on abortion, I think; he definitely takes it that this is the “right” moment on homosexuality. So where we’re heading as a culture on homosexual rights is in the direction of what has been eternally morally true. How can he be sure of this? What is the measuring stick? Is this not possibly chronological/cultural chauvinism?

    The question is, “Why is homosexuality wrong?” If it’s because of an irrational bias, then we have no reason to believe it’s wrong. Sometimes religions say that there are strange facts that cause bias, such as the idea that wives should do whatever their husband wants. There is some kind of inferior essence of women that supposedly makes this appropriate, but it’s metaphysical garbage.

    * And to tie together two of the previous bullets, does Jordan think that seven billion years ago it was morally that same-sex couples should have the right to unite and call it marriage?

    That question would simply not apply without intelligent life. There are contingent moral facts that arise out of the situation. The situation at that time was probably an amoral one.

  155. Toad

    “God didn’t “do” moral values. He didn’t make them up or invent them. They are an eternal aspect of his own character and nature. God has eternally been the ultimate instantiation and expression of love, justice, holiness, and so on; and since the universe he created is an expression of himself, those moral values apply in all of creation.”

    -an eternal aspect of his own character .

    You are so wise when it comes to revelations – it seems , on the character of God… So these… moral values were then , innate ( could that be exchanged for eternal)? How does one possess what he has no purpose to , reason to … experience of ? How do you create something which you have no parts for ? If indeed they were not arbitrarily decided upon, how did they come to be eternal aspects of God ? I’ve always said Christians are best finding answers between the lines of scripture, like a magic scripture only they can read.

    To not to covet ? Not to have sex with goats ? To no kill ( I won’t even get into that.) ….What is the purpose of God having these eternal morals without experience to make them relevant? Where are they exampled in his existence , for having a need …Man wasn’t always existent according to creation theories…. so then god was here- always … so why did he have these eternal values always – if they were solely for his creation ; which then he needed them not eternally …. unless God has always had creation ; other life forms and etc to instill …

    So either God has experienced need for these morals , or they are arbitrary.

    In any-case – my humble , ignorant … obviously not as intuitive as to the nature of God – mostly because I don’t sit around presuming … and instilling my own morals and etc into an empty cookie jar of my massive religious ego…

    If God were an actual , coherent ( a lot of incoherency in the multitude of faiths) – this discussion wouldn’t be taking place. There would be no need for theologians , scholars , variations of religions and etc. I believe it wouldn’t be a case of knowing God- I believe it would be a case of innate knowledge of my creator. I would have no need of books, and church … or dry long entries on philosophy as to the nature of God.

    I don’t believe for a moment , that man , or woman ; would deny an actual God. It’d be a very extraordinary event in lives of all , witnessed by all, felt by all …

    If I have to event , such as you ” intellectuals” do , aspects for God, natures of God … answers for God … books for God and etc…

    Then… there is no God.

    There’s just people like you. I meet people like you all day . I’m not kissing your feet though or eating stale crackers. Well .. maybe if you did some cool parlor tricks.

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