The Dangerous Concept of Right and Wrong

We cannot explain our moral experiences as purely subjective phenomena. Our moral experience includes the gut-level awareness that some things are really right and some are really wrong. Only a metaphysical commitment to belief in an amoral reality could quell that awareness.

If there are pure moral relativists who do not regard anything as really right or really wrong, it is because they have persuaded themselves that their metaphysics knows more than their moral sense does. Their metaphysical side has gagged their moral side, commanding it to “shut up, you stupid ninny, there is no such thing as right or wrong!”

But the moral side still wants to speak. If it hears of a gay man being murdered for being gay, it tears off the gag and screams, “that’s wrong!” The metaphysical side will be quick or slow to re-apply the gag, depending on how careful the person is to protect his or her metaphysics; for when the moral side screams, “that’s wrong!” that’s when the metaphysical beliefs are most in danger.

Comments

  1. Hank

    Can you please name for me more than one major intellectual figure who believes in total moral relativism?

    I’m not saying there aren’t any, just that I can’t think of any that I’ve come across in all my years of reading.

    If moral experiences are always about other people (even about ourselves as the other), doesn’t that suggest an external, nonsubjective phenomena (ie those other people) that is prompting or restricting the possibility of subjective moral relativism?

  2. doctor(logic)

    But the moral side still wants to speak. If it hears of a gay man being murdered for being gay, it tears off the gag and screams, “that’s wrong!”

    Moral relativism doesn’t imply people won’t say “that’s wrong!”, nor does it imply people are in any way inconsistent when doing so. If you haven’t realized this by now, then I’m not optimistic that you ever will.

    Under moral relativism, “that’s wrong!” means “that makes me feel bad,” or “I feel that this is a bad way to behave.” It’s an expression of moral feelings/outrage/motivation, usually without any metaphysical baggage.

    If someone pushes my friend around, I don’t do a philosophical analysis, and then conclude I ought to feel bad about it. I feel what I feel almost instantly.

    You can ask moral questions of children who don’t even know what metaphysics is, and most of them will to agree “theft is wrong!” without consulting anything but their emotions. Kids don’t need no metaphysical theory to protest immorality.

    Like everyone else, when you say “that’s wrong!” you are expressing emotional content. But unlike some of us, you are trying to tack on the unverifiable metaphysical claim that it’s wrong whether or not anybody feels it’s wrong. But this latter metaphysical belief serves no function in the moral process! The extra baggage doesn’t make you more motivated to follow your moral feelings, or to feel anything in particular.

    That’s EXACTLY like saying “country music stinks!” and adding on the metaphysical claim that “country music stinks no matter what anyone thinks.” The metaphysical baggage you are adding serves no function. It doesn’t make you more or less likely to spend $500 to go and see Bon Jovi in concert.

    That’s why we were doing the thought experiment. If you reverse the polarity on your moral feelings, we find it makes no sense to speak of things being good or evil independent of how we feel. People prefer to be objectively evil than objectively good. To quote Rev. Brown in Coming To America: “If lovin’ the lord is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”

    If there are pure moral relativists who do not regard anything as really right or really wrong, it is because they have persuaded themselves that their metaphysics knows more than their moral sense does.

    This is just misrepresentation, plain and simple. I know your readers love this kind of talk, but it’s intellectual trash. Under moral relativism, right and wrong do not go away. How could this simple concept be so hard to understand?

    If gastronomic taste is found to be relative, will you eat whatever you are served? Of course not! It’s just silly to tell people “you’re not allowed to say anything is ‘delicious’,” or “you’re not allowed to favor one cuisine over another” unless you think that a food is absolutely delicious or absolutely preferable to another. If someone eats a delicious pie and says “that’s delicious!” is their inner gastronomic realist un-gagging itself? That’s crazy.

    We have been over this again and again, and if you’re still going to stick to an absurd straw-man version of relativism, then there’s not much more to say.

  3. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    doctor(logic), you continue to insist,

    But this latter metaphysical belief serves no function in the moral process! The extra baggage doesn’t make you more motivated to follow your moral feelings, or to feel anything in particular.

    That’s not the only “function” in the “moral process.” It’s not just whether it works or how it works, it’s whether it’s true or not.

    Kids don’t need no metaphysical theory to protest immorality.

    What I said in my post was that adults need a metaphysical theory to claim that there is no such thing as real immorality.

    Under moral relativism, right and wrong do not go away. How could this simple concept be so hard to understand?

    You missed a word. Twice. “If there are pure moral relativists who do not regard anything as really right or really wrong…” I was making as clear a reference as I could to, well, real right and real wrong, a.k.a. moral realism.

    if you’re still going to stick to an absurd straw-man version of relativism, then there’s not much more to say.

    Is it an “absurd straw-man version of relativism” that suggests that relativists are not always moral realists? If that’s what you think, then I don’t have much more to say, either.

  4. SteveK

    Moral relativism doesn’t imply people won’t say “that’s wrong!”, nor does it imply people are in any way inconsistent when doing so…

    Under moral relativism, “that’s wrong!” means “that makes me feel bad,” or “I feel that this is a bad way to behave.”

    We get that part. What you don’t understand is scant few are claiming that this is what they actually mean when they say it.

    For the most part, when you scratch a relativist you get a realist. The few that agree with you do so only after they’ve spent some time convincing themselves – training their mind to say that they really meant it that way. I suspect it never comes naturally. I suspect these people have to retrain their mind until the day they die, constantly reminding themselves that it’s a statement of preference they are making even though it doesn’t seem that way.

    Does it come naturally for you?

    In what other areas of life do you do something like that? Seriously, I’d like to know.

  5. Holopupenko

    Tom:

    You spotted another silly assertion of DL’s: he who claims metaphysics is absurd or unknowable or “baggage” is hauling around an awful lot of his own metaphysical baggage… all the time: to decry metaphysics is to do metaphysics.* No wonder: atheism straight-jackets the minds of its adherents… and in DL’s case in particular, he refuses (no reasoning invited) to see that which cannot be seen by the senses but which can be reasoned to from the senses.

    *Clarification: to be technically correct “philosophy” (or in DL’s case, “personal, subjective opinion”) should be used rather than “metaphysics.” Metaphysics is all to often (incorrectly) used as a synonym for “view” or “philosophy” or “interpretation” when, in fact, it is none of these.

  6. bossmanham

    Great post here. I see a parallel between people who deny objective morals and immaterialists. The base assumption both parties have is that their senses in some way cannot be trusted.

  7. SteveK

    Just keep reminding yourself…

    No real peace, only a real preference
    No real justice, only a real preference
    No real hate, only a real preference
    No real altruism, only a real preference
    No real evil, only a real preference
    No real hope, only a real preference
    No real sacrifice, only a real preference
    No real courage, only a real preference
    No real faith, only a real preference
    No real rights, only a real preference
    No real tragedy, only a real preference
    No real joy, only a real preference

  8. SteveK

    Also keep reminding yourself that those preferences were either forced upon you by way of historical events (it only felt like you had a choice), or you chose them completely at random, for no real reason at all – not even a feelings-based reason.

  9. Hank

    It’s always odd to see people crying about moral relativists; I agree with Dr. Logic that people’s perceptions of relativism is usually based off a misreading of the major authors. Rorty even addresses some of the issues you guys are attributing to him in some of his work, and soundly rejects them as anything he believes. I’d go into detail, but why bother if no one seems interested in what those authors had to say?

    No one has yet to give me one author that fits the bill for the extreme moral relativism that is being discussed and “disproved” here. Any takers?

    Dr. Logic,

    Decent summary of the moral relativism position; I hadn’t thought about it in terms of emotional content exclusively.

    OP,

    Thanks for making your blog nicely accessible by phone.

  10. William Bradford

    Hank, is this an accurate depiction of moral relativism in your view?

    Under moral relativism, “that’s wrong!” means “that makes me feel bad,” or “I feel that this is a bad way to behave.” It’s an expression of moral feelings/outrage/motivation, usually without any metaphysical baggage.

  11. woodchuck64

    Tom:

    We cannot explain our moral experiences as purely subjective phenomena.

    Agreed, there are too many moral similarities across diverse peoples and cultures to think that morality is wholely subjective. Naturalism explains this by first observing that humans are social beings and that society can not even exist if people considered only their own feelings. Only if individuals are somehow driven to (occasionally) sacrifice their own needs for the group can societies evolve into existence. In humans, the ability to empathize with another is one component providing the drive to make this work (a drive that evidence shows is also experienced by our evolutionary primate cousins, suggesting that empathy well-predated human beings). Thus, common moral experiences across diverse cultures probably result from a shared sense of empathy, itself an evolutionary heritage.

    Our moral experience includes the gut-level awareness that some things are really right and some are really wrong.

    But gut-level awareness can not be trusted. For example, some people believe at the gut-level that the death penalty for crime is really right, other people believe it is really wrong. Both “gut-levels” can not be right. Therefore, “gut-level” can not be the only thing relied on for morality. Under naturalistic assumptions, the needs and desires of an ever growing and encompassing world society of humankind also figure in to the morality we teach our children.

  12. Hank

    Hank, is this an accurate depiction of moral relativism in your view?

    Like I said, I hadn’t thought about it in terms of emotional content, but only in terms of metaphysics.

    I would change, if Doctor Logic doesn’t mind, the singular to the plural “we” and tact on a historical-social horizon which allows moral sentiment to evolve or for us to further evolve it.

  13. William Bradford

    I would change, if Doctor Logic doesn’t mind, the singular to the plural “we” and tact on a historical-social horizon which allows moral sentiment to evolve or for us to further evolve it.

    What does us evolving right and wrong mean? The most powerful among us get to set the rules?

  14. Bars

    The metaphysical side will be quick or slow to re-apply the gag, depending on how careful the person is to protect his or her metaphysics; for when the moral side screams, “that’s wrong!” that’s when the metaphysical beliefs are most in danger.

    Very interesting discussion. This is my first time visiting the blog.
    I think this quote highlights a very important point about human beings, namely that we do have a sort of ‘intuitive’ moral side to us, but that we also have the more ‘careful’ metaphysical side.
    Sometimes these two systems work together, but as the quote above explains, sometimes they seem to work against each other.
    But they are both contained within all of us — this cannot be denied, and our life experiences inform us of this internal ‘duality’ all of the time.
    We have sexual desires, desires to cause pain, desires to heal, desires to be loved, desires to do good, etc…
    But in the end, the only conclusion that we can come to about the truth of our desires is that they can never be anything but desires — no more, no less — they are simply objects of our consciousness.
    The same could be said of the metaphysical side. The metaphysical side, from which I am interpreting to be the more rational, and calculated part of us, is no different. It too is simply an object of consciousness, of our minds.
    When we inhabit the moral mind, we inhabit a mind that does see things in right and wrong. When we inhabit the metaphysical mind, it does not see things in such a way, but rather sees things occurring simply as sequences and events.
    But that’s the point! The two occur within in us simultaneously, and depending upon which mind we choose to inhabit, that is the mind that we will (most likely) take action through.
    We are both, and I think the challenge that we all face is seeing this fact and learning how to recognize this in other people.
    If we can recognize this, we are more at ease. One sees patterns in one way, the other in another way. Two sides perfectly in balance within us all. One part of me says there is absolutely a God, and the other says that God is utterly ridiculous.
    This is our nature.

  15. Wandering Internet Commentator

    If gastronomic taste is found to be relative, will you eat whatever you are served? Of course not! It’s just silly to tell people “you’re not allowed to say anything is ‘delicious’,” or “you’re not allowed to favor one cuisine over another” unless you think that a food is absolutely delicious or absolutely preferable to another. If someone eats a delicious pie and says “that’s delicious!” is their inner gastronomic realist un-gagging itself? That’s crazy.

    The problem is, of course, that while very few, if any, seek to impose their gastronomic tastes on anyone else, most consider their ‘moral tastes’ to be *binding* on others. I have little problem calling pumpkin pie delicious or broccoli disgusting knowing full well my gastronomic taste is relative–if someone else hates pumpkin pie but loves broccoli, that’s no skin off my back. On the other hand, if I call giving to charity morally beautiful and murder morally disgusting, it is not quite as easy for me to say this as a moral relativist. After all, I believe, morally, that other people *ought* to engage in charity and *ought not* to commit murder. On the other hand, gastronomic relativism gives me no problems at all, because I *don’t* believe other people ought to love pumpkin pie and ought to hate broccoli.

    tl;dr: Gastronomic relativism is more tenable than moral relativism, because most people don’t view their personal tastes as binding on others, while most folks believe their personal moral views are what ought to be followed more or less by other people.

    Whether or not people actually *should* think this way is a matter of some debate, of course, but I’m just sayin’ there are problems with moral relativism I don’t think you’ve really addressed.

  16. William Bradford

    Wandering Internet Commentator:

    The problem is, of course, that while very few, if any, seek to impose their gastronomic tastes on anyone else, most consider their ‘moral tastes’ to be *binding* on others.

    I saw an example of this the other day when a television talk show host interviewed a reporter covering the climate conference in Copenhagen. The reporter was particularly interested in the Climate Gate incident and dramatized his inquiring efforts by wearing a polar bear costume. It was probably not a wise choice because it drew attention from demonstrators seeking “climate justice.” He was pelted by a thrown object during the interview.

    The demonstrators adopted the moral position that global warming was caused by big industrialists and that it should be curtailed by strict regulation of them. They believed their moral stance entitled them to not only argue for climate policy instituted by governments but that it afforded them the right to break laws to express their moral outrage. Shades of the Vietnam War and protests from the 60s.

  17. woodchuck64

    WIC writes:

    … most people don’t view their personal tastes as binding on others, while most folks believe their personal moral views are what ought to be followed more or less by other people.

    Consider language as an analogy. People expect sounds/symbols/syntax/semantics to be understood and followed by those around them. However, the exact sound/symbol/syntax/semantic is relative to the culture. There may be considerable overlap of some aspects, like semantic concepts and syntax concepts (such as noun/verb), across very different cultures, but also some considerable differences. Language itself then is both real and relative, depending on how you divide people up into groups. Much like morality appears to be.

  18. Wandering Internet Commentator

    Consider language as an analogy. People expect sounds/symbols/syntax/semantics to be understood and followed by those around them. However, the exact sound/symbol/syntax/semantic is relative to the culture. There may be considerable overlap of some aspects, like semantic concepts and syntax concepts (such as noun/verb), across very different cultures, but also some considerable differences. Language itself then is both real and relative, depending on how you divide people up into groups. Much like morality appears to be.

    Again, the problem here is that nobody considers linguistic rules to be binding across cultures. When I say “I before e, except after c,” I don’t really care if the rule is different in French or German, nor do I care that Swahili might not even have the letters I or E. When I expect that the object follows the verb in English, I do not demand that the same applies to speakers of Japanese.

    The same does not apply to morality. If I say murder is wrong, I expect it to be as wrong for the French, the Germans, and the Japanese as I do for myself, and if I say charity, mercy, compassion, or whatever are good things, I do not expect them to be any less good among the French, the Germans, or the Japanese.

    To use an example that might be offensive (forgive me for invoking Godwin’s Law), it would be perfectly reasonable for me to say, “I am a syntactical relativist. Even though I expect English speakers to place the object of a sentence after the verb, it’s perfectly acceptable for German speakers to place it before the verb.” However, I assume it would be absurd to say “I am an Anti-Semitic relativist. Even though I expect my fellow Americans to tolerate Jews, it’s perfectly acceptable for Germans to put them into camps, Russians to launch pogroms against them, or various other cultures to harangue them in whatever way seems best.”

    Yes, yes, I know, Godwin and all, but that was the most poignant example I could come up with off the top of my head. Comparing moral laws to linguistic laws/rules doesn’t work either, because most people still consider moral laws to be more binding than linguistic ones.

  19. doctor(logic)

    WIC,

    As you say, gastronomic taste is not a taste about what other people eat. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for me to have a taste about what other people do.

    For just about every X, it’s possible for me to have some non-cognitive taste for or against X, strong or mild. X could be a painting, a kind of food, a kind of climate, or a class of action by me or others.

    If I don’t like a painting, I don’t necessarily know why I don’t like it. Yet, my emotions say “this painting is awful.” It’s non-cognitive.

    I think everyone will agree that we have a non-cognitive taste for moral actions. Realists will say we also have a cognitive recognition of moral reality, but I don’t see realists denying the non-cognitive factor.

    In the case of objective facts, we rely on cognitive analyses. If I show you a flawed solution to a math problem, you can be aware of the flaw, describe the flaw with detailed reasons, and yet have little or no emotional response at all. Moreover, it’s not your emotional response (if any) which tells you there’s an error in the solution. Your analysis is cognitive.

    The same goes for objective physical systems. You can know that a physical object is upside-down without having any emotional response to that fact. For example, if you’re assembling an electronic circuit, and arranging the components on the table in front of you, you can be aware that some of your microchips are upside-down on the table without having any emotional reaction to that fact.

    In theory, perceived morality could have been the same as perceived objective reality. There are possible worlds in which we would have cognitive awareness that murder was wrong (not just unlawful), and have no emotional, non-cognitive response when we see or imagine a murder.

    However, that’s not what we see. Moral claims like “murder is wrong” are always established non-cognitively, by way of a visceral emotional reaction.

    I’ll just restate this in a slightly different way. It was logically possible that I could know that abortion was wrong, but either (a) have no emotional care about abortion and its consequences, or (b) have a strong taste/desire for aborting fetuses.

    However, this is not the world we live in. In this world, our moral awareness is in lock step with our moral tastes.

    That being the case, there is no reason to suppose that moral reality exists beyond our subjective, emotional, non-cognitive taste for the acts of others or of ourselves.

    Your argument is based on the assumption that it is impossible or implausible that I should have any tastes or preferences about what you do (as opposed to what I do). There’s no rational basis for this assumption, and every reason to believe that the assumption is false.

  20. Wandering Internet Commentator

    Moral claims like “murder is wrong” are always established non-cognitively, by way of a visceral emotional reaction.

    *Always?* This strikes me as an unsteady assumption. I can think of several moral systems which conclude that murder is wrong based on cognitive analysis, ranging from Kant’s categorical imperative to utilitarians laboriously calculating that net happiness is decreased through the act of murder. If you personally believe murder is wrong simply because you have a visceral emotional reaction to it, that’s certainly your perogative, but there are plenty of folks–not all of them theists, for that matter–who would beg to differ.

    I’ll just restate this in a slightly different way. It was logically possible that I could know that abortion was wrong, but either (a) have no emotional care about abortion and its consequences, or (b) have a strong taste/desire for aborting fetuses.

    However, this is not the world we live in. In this world, our moral awareness is in lock step with our moral tastes.

    It isn’t? Yet again I must question this assumption. In my view there are literally billions of people whose moral awareness clashes with their moral tastes–these people are called ‘hypocrites.’ There are folks who have reasoned themselves into believing it is unethical to eat meat, yet cannot resist indulging in hamburgers and hot dogs. There are folks who believe adultery is wrong, yet cheat on their spouses anyways. Even on the flip side of that coin, there are people who believe adultery is A-OK yet would be infuriated if their significant other cheated on them.

    To go even further with your example, are there not people who know abortion is wrong–whether because they’ve been taught that or because they’ve reasoned it out themselves–yet found themselves unable to muster up enough energy and/or emotional affront to actually go out there and do something about the problem? I may not have seen much in my relatively short life, but I’ve seen enough to know that one ought never underestimate the power of apathy.

    In all these cases, you have a person’s mind telling them one thing–‘eating meat is bad, adultery is bad/good, abortion is bad’ and their gut instincts, their ‘visceral reactions’ being something completely opposite, or at least different–‘go ahead, eat that burger! Cheat on your wife/get mad if your wife cheats on you! Abortion? Who cares, it’s not worth getting out of bed right now.’

    The fact that people are unable to live up to moral ideals does not, in and of itself, prove that one cannot identify objective moral ideals through cogitation rather than emotion.

    Your argument is based on the assumption that it is impossible or implausible that I should have any tastes or preferences about what you do (as opposed to what I do).

    Oh no, not at all, I do apologize if I gave that impression. You’re perfectly entitled to have tastes or preferences regarding what other people do, as am I. In my opinion, wearing Crocs in public or eating snails at a restaurant is in very bad taste, and I would personally prefer other people not do it. However, it troubles me little if they actually do, because as a stylistic/gastronomic relativist I can accept other people’s different opinions–it would be terribly inappropriate for me to rip the Crocs off someone’s feet or toss their plate of escargot into the trash.

    If I were a moral relativist, though, I might find myself in something of a quandary. I assume, from what I’ve been able to gather, that you believe moral tastes are no more objectively correct than gastronomic tastes–i.e it is not really much more correct to say “murder is objectively wrong” than it is to say “escargot is objectively disgusting.” By this token, if we were to pass by some guy enjoying escargot on the street, it would be perfectly reasonable for us to accept his different taste in food (escargot is delicious) and ignore him. However, if we were to pass by a guy stabbing someone else on the street, would it be perfectly reasonable for us to accept his different taste in morality (murder is okay) and ignore what he’s doing?

    If not, then I must continue to wonder: if one believes it is reasonable to apprehend a murderer based on the visceral emotional reaction of “murder is wrong,” I am curious, would it be reasonable to apprehend a gastronome enjoying escargot based on the visceral emotional reaction of “escargot is gross?”

  21. SteveK

    WIC,
    The canned answer from the relativist is that it’s preferences all the way down. The reason we apprehend a murderer and not a gastronome is because we prefer that. However, this misses the mark as an answer because the realist isn’t making a statement about his preferences.

    The realist is often an unwilling or reluctant participant. The realist is saying, I don’t prefer to apprehend the murderer. I prefer to keep walking along and not complicate my life by getting involved. I just can’t do that because I ought not do that. That is what the realist is saying.

    The relativist is not responding to the actual claim/statement. The relativist is simply asserting that the realist is talking about his preferences, so their answer is a non-answer.

  22. Bars

    The relativist is not responding to the actual claim/statement. The relativist is simply asserting that the realist is talking about his preferences, so their answer is a non-answer.

    Very good point to bring up. Multiple realist ‘observations’ might make up one single ‘observation’ for a relativist.
    For example, the realist chooses to ‘observe’ seeds and fibers and skin and juices, whereas the relativist simply choose to ‘observe’ an entire piece of fruit.
    Both ‘observations’ are correct — a piece of fruit is nothing more than all of the pieces that compose it, and all of the pieces that compose it are nothing more than a piece of fruit. If there was no fruit, there would be no pieces to compose a piece of fruit.
    All things are just pieces of other things, the only difference we come across, as we are coming across here, is that we can choose which pieces to provide interpretations for and which not to.
    We could all walk through life and choose to interpret things simply by their color. Darker colors hold more power than lighter colors. We could structure an entire way of life around this if we chose to because we are all (most of us) able to ‘observe’ colors (via the eye).
    Does this interpretation make it correct, or right? I don’t know. It depends who you talk to.
    As human beings we base a large part of our interpretations of things around how they make us ‘feel.’ When we see the guy on the street eating escargot, we don’t (usually) think so much of it. But when we see a guy murdering someone, we ‘feel’ compelled to want it to stop (usually).
    In both of these situations, we are making two observations:
    1. I am observing a guy doing something.
    2. I am observing whatever internal feeling (which could be none at all) that arises within me when I observe the guy doing something.
    Our entire existence is an observation! One observation after another after another…until death.
    It is our interpretations of the observations we make that can cause disagreements with one another — clearly.
    But the thing is, no one is right because both are entirely dependent upon each other for their existence. The realist exists because the relativist exists, and because of this fact, one can never be more correct than the other. You depend upon each other for your very survival, and because of this, you are able to exist.
    This reminds me of a Buddhist parable (this is what I familiar with). A young monk comes to the Buddha and says, “Master, I will study with you if you can tell me the answer as to whether the universe is finite or infinite. If you can tell me that, then I will know that you are a great teacher and would be worthy of my time.” In response to this man, the Buddha says to him, “If I were to tell you whether or not the universe is finite or infinite, how will that alleviate your suffering here on earth?” The man decides that he is indeed satisfied with this answer, and so he decides to study with the Buddha.
    We are all the person in that parable in a sense, and the reason that I brought it up is to illustrate the fact that had the Buddha answered the question one way (the universe is finite) versus the other (the universe is infinite), it would not have made a difference.
    For all of the relativists, try to change your mind and functions as a realist for a while. For the realists, try to change your mind and function as a relativist for a while.

  23. woodchuck64

    WIC:

    Again, the problem here is that nobody considers linguistic rules to be binding across cultures.

    I demonstrated that language structure has aspects that make it both realist and relativist as an analogy to morality (and the difficulty of calling it all one or the other), but you object to that because language isn’t binding the way morality is binding. What exactly is the difference between being objective and being binding?

    The proposition “the sun is bright” expresses that any sighted person will feel a strong sense of “brightness” if observing the “sun”.

    The proposition “murder is wrong” expresses that any normal person will feel a strong sense of “wrongness” if “murder” occurs. (This wrongness is a generalization of the feelings of horror that result naturally from empathizing with murder victims and their families, and is one step before the proposition that empathy should guide our moral decisions or the proposition that feelings of wrongness mean that a metaphysical moral reality exists.)

    And to contrast with two non-objective statements:

    The proposition “drinking beer on Sunday is wrong” expresses that any person will feel a sense of “wrongness” when “drinking beer on Sunday”.

    The proposition “sauerkraut tastes pleasant” expresses that any person will feel a sense of “pleasant taste” when eating “sauerkraut”.

    These four propositions all refer to perceptions, and in the objective cases probably match all human experience, but in the subjective cases don’t fit everyone. It would be quite wrong to invoke preference in the objective cases, but quite correct in the subjective cases. So this demonstrates that morality is neither all objective or all subjective. The moral relativist position covers both by saying that moral propositions are always relative to society. I guess I’m not sure where the disagreement is.

  24. Wandering Internet Commentator

    woodchuck64, thanks for your response. I think I mostly agree with you, though I would still have a quibble with your question of “what exactly is the difference between being objective and being binding?” Well, I think the two objective statements you provided illustrate the difference. Saying ‘the sun is bright’ is an objective fact–and one that doesn’t imply the person making the observation is actually obligated to/ believes he or she should do anything. “The sun is bright” is a neutral statement of fact, it does not imply we should make the sun more bright or less bright or whatever, it simply states what is.

    When we say ‘murder is wrong,’ however, that’s a little different. Implied in that statement is the belief we should prevent murder, or at least not commit. By the same token, implied in the statement of something like ‘charity is good’ is the belief that we should do charity ourselves, or at least not inhibit it. As you can see, none of this is implicit in the statement “the son is bright”–there is no implied belief that the sun should/shouldn’t be bright, it just states what is. So do you see that there’s at least a shade of difference between something that’s objective and something that’s binding? An objective statement (the sun is bright, grass is green) says nothing about what we should or shouldn’t do. However, binding statements, such as those regarding morality, typically imply we should/should not do things. I hope that clarifies my position somewhat, though I agree with the gist of your comment–I’d just like to make sure we’re on the same page at the moment regarding objectivity/bindingness before addressing your examples, though.

  25. doctor(logic)

    WIC,

    This is the fundamental point I’m going to contest:

    The fact that people are unable to live up to moral ideals does not, in and of itself, prove that one cannot identify objective moral ideals through cogitation rather than emotion.

    I don’t believe that anyone gets to objective moral ideals through pure cogitation. Start from some arbitrary (and bizarre) moral axiom, like “it is always best to seek most material wealth and power.” What’s wrong with such an axiom?

    Of course, just because most people don’t agree with the axiom doesn’t mean it’s wrong. But why don’t most people agree with this axiom?

    They don’t agree with it because the practical application of such an axiom leads to adverse, emotional, non-cognitive reaction.

    I can think of several moral systems which conclude that murder is wrong based on cognitive analysis, ranging from Kant’s categorical imperative to utilitarians laboriously calculating that net happiness is decreased through the act of murder.

    You’re talking about models of moral feelings. How does a person choose between these models? Based on non-cognitive data points. Moral models are fit to data points of the theorist’s feelings.

    The classic case is the utilitarian who proposes that the good is maximizing average happiness. A critic comes along and says that the model justifies killing unhappy people to raise the average. The theorist is forced to reject the theory, but why? Because the theorist feels in his gut that killing unhappy people is unpleasant.

    This is the central problem. Moral theories are models that are fit to data from our feelings, and nothing else.

  26. doctor(logic)

    WIC,

    There are folks who have reasoned themselves into believing it is unethical to eat meat, yet cannot resist indulging in hamburgers and hot dogs.

    Saying that “people reason that X is unethical, yet do X anyway” is being imprecise, IMO. People who reason that X is unethical generally reason that X is unethical under ideal conditions.

    People who “reason” that they ought to be vegetarians come to this belief for two reasons. First, they may believe that if the vast majority of us were vegetarian, this would be better for the environment, and a better environment would reduce the suffering of us in the future (some more than others).

    Second, they may believe that the suffering of animals is significant and ought to be avoided if the cost of that avoidance is not too high.

    However, if only a token few of us switch to vegetarianism, the benefits to the environment won’t be realized. In fact, if we prefer the taste of meat, the situation will be even worse because we suffered for no benefit. Also, most people would say that causing suffering in an animal is wrong unless the alternative is worse, e.g., killing a human or allowing discomfort to come to a human.

    Finally, we generally feel less care for entities that are more distant, less familiar, and less similar to ourselves. I care more about the health of my sister than the health of your brother (sorry!). It’s harder to empathize with people I do not know, and may never see in person.

    So, our moral theories are based on what our feelings would be under ideal conditions. The world is not ideal. Therefore, we don’t act in accordance with our moral ideals.

    By this token, if we were to pass by some guy enjoying escargot on the street, it would be perfectly reasonable for us to accept his different taste in food (escargot is delicious) and ignore him. However, if we were to pass by a guy stabbing someone else on the street, would it be perfectly reasonable for us to accept his different taste in morality (murder is okay) and ignore what he’s doing?

    Suppose I don’t like eating snails (or what I believe are snails), but I love eating pizza. I see a guy eating escargot. If I imagine it was me eating escargot, then I can’t help imagining feeling bad as a consequence. However, this imagining is not all there is to empathizing with the escargot-eater. To more accurately empathize with the escargot-eater, I should imagine myself eating pizza (a food I like as much as the escargot eater likes escargot). The two empathies conflict and largely cancel each other out.

    There’s no such cancellation of empathic feelings in the case of the stabbing. Also, the mental and physical pain felt by the victim is far greater and long lasting than the pain I would feel eating escargot.

    Empathy seems adequate to explain the differences in how we feel in each scenario. I don’t need reason to get to most of my basic moral opinions.

  27. Wandering Internet Commentator

    I don’t believe that anyone gets to objective moral ideals through pure cogitation. Start from some arbitrary (and bizarre) moral axiom, like “it is always best to seek most material wealth and power.” What’s wrong with such an axiom?

    Of course, just because most people don’t agree with the axiom doesn’t mean it’s wrong. But why don’t most people agree with this axiom?

    Is that necessarily so? “Many” people might disagree with that axiom, but most? Looking at Wall Street and the history of big business generally make me wonder if so few people really *don’t* believe it best to seek the most material wealth and power. Still, though, that’s nitpicking, I do see your point.

    The problem is, it would be possible to dispute or refute that axiom through cogitation. Just off the top of my head (I’m no utilitarian philosopher), a utilitarian might say that happiness is the only axiomatic good, material wealth and power are only means to achieve that good, since material wealth and power do not *always* lead to happiness they alone cannot be the proper goals of life, I can logically prove that happiness is the axiomatic good by so and so, and so on.”

    The fact that most people don’t agree with the axiom “it is always best to seek most material wealth and power” simply for emotional reasons doesn’t necessarily mean that one cannot construct an objectively binding cognitive argument against that axiom.

    How does a person choose between these models? Based on non-cognitive data points. Moral models are fit to data points of the theorist’s feelings.

    Really? You’re certain this is true? It’s impossible that people might choose between moral systems on the basis of how internally consistent they are or how accurately they conform to empirical data? The feelings of the theorists are the only data points his morality takes into account?

    The classic case is the utilitarian who proposes that the good is maximizing average happiness. A critic comes along and says that the model justifies killing unhappy people to raise the average. The theorist is forced to reject the theory, but why? Because the theorist feels in his gut that killing unhappy people is unpleasant.

    Again, this is debatable, though I daresay the ‘killing unhappy people’ bit is a delightfully amusing critique of utilitarianism–I believe I shall bring it up to a friend of mine who places great stock in Mills’ theory. However, must our hypothetical utilitarian reject this theory based merely on “the unpleasant feeling in his gut?” He might very well point out that while killing unhappy people might increase happiness in the short run, in the long run it might greatly decrease happiness–perhaps the rest of the society relies on the labor of miserable, unhappy people to keep itself happy, so their deaths result in all the other happy people becoming unhappy, resulting in a net decrease in happiness. This time, I am proud to admit, I’m not pulling this entirely from thin air–the “Daylight Atheism” guy (I think this is him, not 100% sure though) has addressed a question similar to this before:

    http://www.daylightatheism.org/2006/09/the-roots-of-morality-iii.html

    It’s too long to quote here, but our friend the Daylight Atheist might say that the same reasoning that applies to the Doctor with 5 patients applies to the unhappy people–sure, killing them might reduce some suffering, but vastly increase the unhappiness of the rest of the population, leading to a decrease in happiness. No need to rely on “visceral gut reactions,” just some nice cogitation and rational thinking ^_^ Now, you may disagree, of course. But in that case, it might be edifying to take it up with Mr. Daylight, then. Both you and he are untainted by theistic irrationality, after all, if moral relativism truly is the only logical position, I’m sure you’ll be able to convince him that all his longwinded cogitations for universal utilitarianism are merely masks for his emotional biases.

  28. Wandering Internet Commentator

    Now, to reply to your second comment:

    Saying that “people reason that X is unethical, yet do X anyway” is being imprecise, IMO. People who reason that X is unethical generally reason that X is unethical under ideal conditions.

    People who “reason” that they ought to be vegetarians come to this belief for two reasons. First, they may believe that if the vast majority of us were vegetarian, this would be better for the environment, and a better environment would reduce the suffering of us in the future (some more than others).

    Second, they may believe that the suffering of animals is significant and ought to be avoided if the cost of that avoidance is not too high.

    However, if only a token few of us switch to vegetarianism, the benefits to the environment won’t be realized. In fact, if we prefer the taste of meat, the situation will be even worse because we suffered for no benefit. Also, most people would say that causing suffering in an animal is wrong unless the alternative is worse, e.g., killing a human or allowing discomfort to come to a human.

    Very true, indeed. However, even in this case it seems to me our actors are using their reason, not just going with their gut. The wanna-be vegetarian who eats meat anyways because, for instance, he realizes that individual action will do little to help the environment seems to be using his noggin as well as his heart. “I’ve done the research, looked over the data, and yes, as much as I hate to admit it, being a vegetarian, at least by myself, won’t really save the world…Oh, well. It’s a disappointment, but I’ll go have that burger.” Thus, I still question if even in these scenarios personal feelings really are all that’s at the bottom of them.

    There’s no such cancellation of empathic feelings in the case of the stabbing. Also, the mental and physical pain felt by the victim is far greater and long lasting than the pain I would feel eating escargot.

    Empathy seems adequate to explain the differences in how we feel in each scenario. I don’t need reason to get to most of my basic moral opinions.

    This is debatable, but since I personally lean towards this position, good sir, I’ll go along with it. I will state that I agree, with one caveat–one might take the existence of empathy to be indicative of moral realism rather than moral relativism. After all, the old maxim ‘love your neighbor as you love yourself’ would seem to have at least something to do with the sense of empathy you describe, and I needn’t describe how that ignorant, terrible, reactionary, superstitious (insert negative adjective of choice here) book it’s most known for coming from has been so unfortunately associated with moral realism, right?

    The way I see it is this: Why ought empathy and reason be mutually contradictory? Why can’t empathy be taken to reveal objective ‘realities’ in the same way our senses do. For instance, if I take my hands and run them over an ice cube, my sense of touch tell me it’s cold. Objectively so, Mr. Ice Cube is *really* cold. If I take my hands and run them near a fire, then my sense of touch will tell me Mr. Fire is really, genuinely hot.

    Might not the same be said of morality? If I look at some gastronome eating escargot, and my sense of empathy tells me “Eh…it’s not so bad,” then perhaps one might consider that my sense of empathy is telling me a fact–that eating escargot really, genuinely, objectively isn’t so bad–it is a real moral fact escargoteating is okay. On the other hand, if my sense of empathy tells me, “murder is very, very bad, and you should try and stop it,” might it not be plausible to say that my sense of empathy is telling me a fact–that it is a true moral fact that murder is really, genuinely, objectively wrong?

  29. James Gray

    Moral relativism tends to stand for a pretty unsophisticated view, but moral anti-realism is pretty popular including among the experts (Nietzsche, Hare, Mackie).

    I don’t know that anti-realism is just a form of denial as is suggested here. I think we all have doubts from time to time. It is possible to be deluded, and so we have to wonder if moral realism is delusional or not. We then have to take a close look at what “delusional” means. A lot of this hinges on why we say “beauty is to the eye of the beholder.” Is morality like that or not? Is it “subjective” in some delusional way?

    If anyone wants to have a rational belief in moral realism, I suggest you read what actual philosophers say about it on both sides. To hide from intelligent opposition would be irrational.

  30. doctor(logic)

    WIC,

    A couple of points.

    I can use reason in conjunction with a model of my subjective preferences, but that doesn’t mean those preferences aren’t subjective. For example, I could reason that, if I poured ketchup on ice cream, I would be disgusted. Or, I could reason that, if a rat at the ice cream factory knocked a bottle of ketchup into my ice cream carton, I would be disgusted. But the fact I am applying reason to these scenarios doesn’t mean that ketchup on ice cream is objectively disgusting. I’m merely reasoning using a model of my subjective tastes.

    The real questions is, where does my model of what is disgusting come from? There’s no more reason to think happiness is good than to think ketchup on ice cream is disgusting. It all comes down to gut reactions.

    Just off the top of my head (I’m no utilitarian philosopher), a utilitarian might say that happiness is the only axiomatic good, material wealth and power are only means to achieve that good, since material wealth and power do not *always* lead to happiness they alone cannot be the proper goals of life, I can logically prove that happiness is the axiomatic good by so and so, and so on.”

    Ah, but what I am saying is that you cannot logically prove happiness is the axiomatic good (if you can, that will be extremely interesting!). There’s no possible way of doing it, as far as I can see. Any such effort will eventually rely on the claim that “I like to be happy, and so do you.” That doesn’t make it objective in the way that moral realists are talking about. It might be objectively true that I like happiness, but that doesn’t mean I ought to be happy.

    For instance, if I take my hands and run them over an ice cube, my sense of touch tell me it’s cold. Objectively so, Mr. Ice Cube is *really* cold. If I take my hands and run them near a fire, then my sense of touch will tell me Mr. Fire is really, genuinely hot.

    What makes temperature objective is that heat and cold affect entities that lack subjectivity. Temperature predicts more than how I feel.

    I’ll take a metal plate, and upon it I will sit either an ice cube or a hot coal for one minute. Then I’ll remove the item, flip the plate over, and ask you to tell me which item was on the plate. You’ll succeed because the ice or hot coal will change the temperature of the metal plate, and you’ll feel that heat or cold. That is, there is a physics of heat that takes place whether or not you are looking at it. The metal plate has no subjectivity, yet it picks up the temperature of the ice or the coal.

    This never happens with morality. You can’t sense evil in a room or on an article. You can’t tell the difference between a knife used for murder and a knife used to save a life in surgery. Morality bears all the hallmarks of something subjective, like taste in food or taste in art.

  31. woodchuck64

    WIC:

    When we say ‘murder is wrong,’ however, that’s a little different. Implied in that statement is the belief we should prevent murder, or at least not commit.

    Okay, yes, I’m leaving out the intrinsic desire that others(*) in society follow correct social behavior (however “correct” is learned). So in my example, the “wrongness” expressed by the proposition “drinking beer on Sunday is wrong” (for someone for which this is true) comes from an innate desire that others follow the rules, not necessarily from empathizing. The proposition “murder is wrong”, however, combines a “wrongness” felt by empathizing with the victim with a “wrongness” felt by the worst kind of social contract breaking.

    So I’m adding another innate desire/perception to the mix. However, I shouldn’t refer to moral sense as a simple perception like taste or sight, but rather a combination of desires. Empathy is a perception in a sense, but it seems more correct to call it a desire; likewise for our desire that others follow the rules.

    However, we can expect these intrinsic desires to be just as common across the human spectrum as perceptions sight or taste. They are objective in the sense that we can expect them to exist and shape morality. Some of them can be expected to align so strongly (“murder is wrong”) that all cultures share them. Others may be strongly dependent on cultural traditions (blue laws). Which seems consistent with moral relativism (and reality) as far as I understand it.

    * I used “others in society” rather than “I” since I think the former is intrinsic, and the latter emerges only after being taught by parents and taught by effects of shame and guilt. “Why do you think the rules don’t apply to you?” is a common question asked children, yet children seem to be adept at applying the rules to others.

  32. SteveK

    DL,

    I’ll take a metal plate, and upon it I will sit either an ice cube or a hot coal for one minute. Then I’ll remove the item, flip the plate over, and ask you to tell me which item was on the plate. You’ll succeed because the ice or hot coal will change the temperature of the metal plate, and you’ll feel that heat or cold. That is, there is a physics of heat that takes place whether or not you are looking at it. The metal plate has no subjectivity, yet it picks up the temperature of the ice or the coal.

    I’ll play along even though we both know that the plate knows nothing about getting hotter or colder. We both also know that a machine that collects data about the plate knows nothing about it getting hotter or colder either. Your mind does all the interpretation there.

    To use your flawed argument, draw a line around the plate and you will find no hotness or coldness in the plate – only an altered molecular structure.

    – Do I need to run a Bayesian statistical analysis to know hot from cold? No.
    – Do I need to repeatedly touch something to know hot is hot and cold is cold. No.
    – Do I need to see the molecular structure in order to know hot from cold? No.
    – Is your mental perception of hotness/coldness, 100% subjective? No.

    Since statistics, repeated experiments and molecular details are not required to know hotness from coldness, answer your own question, DL, “where does my model of what is hot come from?”

    Can you answer it?

    This never happens with morality. You can’t sense evil in a room or on an article.

    Sure you can. It may not be 100% objective, or as strongly objective as perceiving hotness, but it’s certainly not 100% subjective as you claim it to be.

    You can’t tell the difference between a knife used for murder and a knife used to save a life in surgery. Morality bears all the hallmarks of something subjective, like taste in food or taste in art.

    I have no idea what to make of this flawed argument you keep trying to peddle. Of course you can’t tell the difference by looking at the knife. So what? Nobody is saying you ought to be able to do that. You can’t tell the difference between a puddle of water used to heat a plate and a puddle of water used to cool it — therefore, what? Red herring, anyone?

  33. Thomas Reid

    I agree with the thrust of Tom’s original post. As evidenced by some courageous members of this community, there are some who will refuse to accept (at least publicly) that there are any true moral propositions. Sometimes they will be unsure as to whether all moral propositions are false, or whether they are meaningless.
    But nevertheless some will affirm that the following propositions are not true:
    1. Not true: “The Holocaust was wrong.”
    2. Not true: “The Rwandan massacre was wrong.”
    3. Not true: “Torture for fun is wrong.”
    4. Not true: “Rape is wrong.”

    For anyone to defend such a position, it seems to me they need to pursue one of two paths.

    First, they could try to maintain that propositions can somehow be subjectively true. Evidences of this position are the defense that morality is “relative to the culture”, or “true for me”, for example. But this is an untenable position as I’ve attempted to show here.

    Second, they could try to maintain that values and duties simply don’t exist. That is, they are a metaphysical impossibility. In my opinion, and in Tom’s evidently, I think this is where the fruitful discussion will take place.

    I think it’s pretty clear that discussions with doctor(logic) or woodchuck64 about the phenomenon of moral behavior are exercises in futility for a moral realist. Anyone who cannot permit the existence of values or duties will of course explain our behavior in terms of a different worldview. So be it.

    The indispensability of our use of moral language I think is evidence that we can rely on our perceptions of these values and duties. For examples of indispensability, see woodchuck64’s comment #32 on this thread, or reflect on doctor(logic)’s maladroit insistence that those who claim moral knowledge actually are not claiming knowledge at all. Personally, I conceive of these things as abstracta, bearing an ontological status similar to that as say the number “2”, or the property of “yellowness”. As there is nothing inherently contradictory in this position (at least that I can see, of course I could be wrong), and since this view does explain our strong perceptions and the indispensability of our modes of expressing these perceptions, I think this is solid ground.

    I gently recommend to other posters to hold back on discussions centering around the phenomenon of moral behavior, and instead wait to tackle metaphysical issues. Otherwise you may end up feeling like a hummingbird at the end of the day: tired from the flapping, but amazed you haven’t moved very far.

  34. SteveK

    More on hot/cold… In the summertime, a 70F room feels nice and cool, whereas in the wintertime it feels warm. Is a 70F warm or cool? Well, obviously it can be both.

    Does that mean hotness and coolness is 100% subjective such that “hotness is a preference or an emotional, gut reaction” is an accurate statment about what is going on here? No.

    The statement “that is hot” isn’t rooted in emotion or feeling, nor it is intended to be a statement of preference. We all know that to be the case. You must distort the meaning of emotion/feeling/preference beyond recognition if you want to make your statement actually mean that. Equivocation. That is how moral relativism stays alive.

  35. woodchuck64

    Thomas Reid:

    I think it’s pretty clear that discussions with doctor(logic) or woodchuck64 about the phenomenon of moral behavior are exercises in futility for a moral realist.

    Just to clarify, I’m engaging here to understand your(*) position, to understand how you(*) see my position, to better understand my own position, and finally to better understand reality. To claim any communication is “futility” is to deeply underestimate how difficult real communication is.

    (*) generic “you” represented by Tom and Christian commentators such as yourself

  36. Thomas Reid

    woodchuck64,

    To claim any communication is “futility” is to deeply underestimate how difficult real communication is.

    You are a metaphysical naturalist, are you not? That is what I understood by your comments here. Forgive me if I misrepresented your position, and please clarify it if I have. I’ll also make clear that it is just as futile for a moral anti-realist to make headway with a moral realist in explaining the relevant phenomena. The metaphysics have to be dealt with first, it seems to me.

    A moral realist, one who thinks moral reality is not reducible to physical reality, will by necessity explain moral phenomena in a different way than a naturalist.

  37. Wandering Internet Commentator

    Hi doctorlogic,

    Ah, but what I am saying is that you cannot logically prove happiness is the axiomatic good (if you can, that will be extremely interesting!). There’s no possible way of doing it, as far as I can see. Any such effort will eventually rely on the claim that “I like to be happy, and so do you.” That doesn’t make it objective in the way that moral realists are talking about. It might be objectively true that I like happiness, but that doesn’t mean I ought to be happy.

    I’m not a utilitarian, so I agree with you somewhat there, but from what I’ve gathered utilitarians believe happiness is the axiomatic good simply because the vast, vast majority of people want to be happy. Again, plenty of rational, non-theistic philosophers have attempted to prove logically that happiness is the axiomatic good–Bentham and Mill, the guys who came up with utilitarianism in the first place, the Daylight Atheism dude, and Luke at Common Sense Atheism (he’s a follower of I think Alonzo Fyfe’s “desire utilitarianism” ethic.

    Again, not being a utilitarian, I can’t really argue that point too strongly, but the tension between ‘objectively real’ utilitarianism (and a variety of other moral theories I’ve found atheists often like) and your moral relativism does exist, and those folks might be able to contest it with logic rather than gut feeling.

    This never happens with morality. You can’t sense evil in a room or on an article. You can’t tell the difference between a knife used for murder and a knife used to save a life in surgery.

    Is that necessarily true, though? You couldn’t tell whether a pan was hot or cold just by looking at it (unless it was actually burning or frozen, of course), but you could tell easily by touching it–i.e using one of your senses. You couldn’t tell a knife was used for a surgery or a murder, but you could discern that either through logic (if the knife was found at a crime scene rather than a hospital, it was probably for murder) or heck, even through forensic analysis (as they show on CSI or whatever, there are probably microscopic differences between a knife used for murder and a surgeon’s knife–a murdering knife would be more likely to be chipped and damaged, for instance).

    Empathy is a perception in a sense, but it seems more correct to call it a desire; likewise for our desire that others follow the rules.

    A desire? Hmm…well, I’m no expert on the subject, but even if the description of empathy as a perception is problematic, I’m not sure I’d call it a desire. I mean, if I feel hot, do I ‘desire’ anything, except maybe being less hot if it’s *too* hot? By the same token, if I feel empathy for someone in pain, what do I desire except them feeling less pain? If empathy is a desire, it seems to me closer to ‘sensate’ desires, i.e desiring to be cooler when it’s too hot or desiring to be warmer when it’s too cold. And since those sensations do reflect objective realities…

    However, we can expect these intrinsic desires to be just as common across the human spectrum as perceptions sight or taste. They are objective in the sense that we can expect them to exist and shape morality. Some of them can be expected to align so strongly (”murder is wrong”) that all cultures share them. Others may be strongly dependent on cultural traditions (blue laws). Which seems consistent with moral relativism (and reality) as far as I understand it.

    Hmm. This sounds reasonable enough, but I suppose the only reason a moral realist might disagree is a perhaps semantic definition of what ‘true’ morality is. In my view, morality deals with matters relating to our sense of moral perception–i.e morality. For instance, murder is objectively and morally ‘real; (and wrong) because everyone with a moral sense will discern it to be so. However, at least as far as I can tell, customs and matters of taste like eating escargot or drinking beer on Sundays don’t involve the moral sense at all. In the escargot case, as was mentioned above empathic feelings would cancel each other out, and in the blue laws case, as far I can tell, our sense of empathy isn’t excited. We can discuss why the laws/customs exist (perhaps for either tradition or practical considerations) but if someone sells beer on Sunday, even in a state where it’s illegal, we won’t really feel anything out of empathy, though we may tell the shopkeeper “well, you may not want to do that, you could get in trouble.”

    Thus, I remain a moral realist–in my view, seeming moral customs that tend to differ across cultures, ranging from blue laws to whatever, are actually not matters of morality but matters of culture, tradition, legality, etc.

  38. doctor(logic)

    Thomas,

    First, they could try to maintain that propositions can somehow be subjectively true. Evidences of this position are the defense that morality is “relative to the culture”, or “true for me”, for example. But this is an untenable position as I’ve attempted to show here.

    Is anything at all subjective? Are hamburgers delicious?

    Your supposed refutation of subjective truth doesn’t seem to distinguish between moral reality and, say, gastronomic reality.

    Here’s what moral subjectivism is basically saying. When person X sees moral event Y, person X reacts adversely, and states this condition as “Y is wrong.”

    This is basically the same relationship we have with taste in food, or the same relationship we have with allergies. The difference is only in the linguistics of expression. I can say “hamburgers are disgusting”, and often interchange this with “I think hamburgers are disgusting”.

    By your analysis, it seems that you completely ignore the possibility of subjective values. If a man believes hamburgers are disgusting, then his belief must be right or wrong. I think this is patently absurd because it would prohibit the possibility of us having any subjectivity at all. We would, in fact, be unable to say anything about ourselves.

    Suppose that I was attacked by a dog as a child. Consequently, I have a strong dislike of dogs. “Dogs are horrid,” I’ll say. By your logic, I can’t actually dislike dogs. Dogs are either horrid or they’re not, and if I think not, then I must be mistaken. But why can’t my like or dislike of dogs be about me, and not about dogs themselves?

    If you’re wrong, then then I can say “murder is wrong” and be describing an interaction or relationship between myself and murder, and not be saying something about murder itself. That description of my interaction with murder can be equal in emotional and motivational content to yours. It just lacks the metaphysical baggage of saying the badness of murder is in murder itself.

  39. doctor(logic)

    WIC,

    You couldn’t tell whether a pan was hot or cold just by looking at it (unless it was actually burning or frozen, of course), but you could tell easily by touching it–i.e using one of your senses.

    Sure, but the important part is that the heat of the pan is objective because it is (1) in the pan itself, not just my feelings about the pan, and (2) we know that because the heat is predictive of the pan’s effects on other non-subjective entities. Throw butter into the pan, and the butter melts if the pan is hot. Yet the butter has no subjectivity. The hotness of the pan affects the butter, and we can use butter to test for a hot pan. We don’t need to know the history of the pan. The hotness is in the pan itself, whether we measure it or not.

    Not so for moral situations.

    You couldn’t tell a knife was used for a surgery or a murder, but you could discern that either through logic (if the knife was found at a crime scene rather than a hospital, it was probably for murder) or heck, even through forensic analysis (as they show on CSI or whatever, there are probably microscopic differences between a knife used for murder and a surgeon’s knife–a murdering knife would be more likely to be chipped and damaged, for instance).

    I’m not saying there’s nothing objective about someone using a knife to stab another person. There are lots of objective facts. What I am saying is that the rightness or wrongness of the stabbing is not part of that set of objective facts. When we see rightness, we FIRST see the non-moral objective facts of a case, and THEN our brains decorate those objective facts with SUBJECTIVE moral feelings. If the morality of the act was objective, it ought to have effects on other non-subjective entities (e.g., knives, rooms, rocks, etc), but it doesn’t.

    In the above, you are talking about ways to reason to the objective facts about the use of the knife. I’m all for that, but what I’m saying is that the morality of those objective facts can never be determined because they are nowhere to be found in the history of the knives. The alleged moral facts predict nothing at all apart from personal feelings. If the only thing predicted by your moral claim is how you feel about act X, it is reasonable to believe that the claim is about you and not X itself.

    Your general position seems to be that morality is objective because the vast majority of people agree on certain basics. However, that’s not objectivity. It’s human universality. You’re basically saying that all normal humans find murder wrong, where normal = part of the majority. I doubt any philosophers would use that definition.

    I’ll put it another way. You have some methodology for determining that an act, X, is wrong. That methodology will include ways to choose your moral axioms. Write down what that methodology is.

    Now, imagine an alien race that grew up under different conditions than we did. This alien race subjectively experiences pleasure when seeing or committing murder, and this race subjectively considers our morality to be distasteful.

    I ask you, if the aliens use your methodology, will they come to the same conclusions you do? Will the aliens also choose the same moral axioms? I don’t believe they will.

    Note that this is very different from an aliens perception of hot and cold. Hot and cold can be defined by their effects on other entities. Heat energy diffuses to cold areas (e.g., Newton’s law of cooling). In other words, heat is a scientific concept discoverable by any alien race with rational thinking ability. The aliens may not use the same words, and their subjective experience may be different, but they will agree on the predictive nature of heat. Even if they experience heat as cold, and cold as heat, they will agree with us on their predictions. However, morality has no predictions apart from our feelings, and so there can’t be any basis for objectivity.

  40. Wandering Internet Commentator

    The hotness of the pan affects the butter, and we can use butter to test for a hot pan. We don’t need to know the history of the pan. The hotness is in the pan itself, whether we measure it or not. Not so for moral situations…when we see rightness, we FIRST see the non-moral objective facts of a case, and THEN our brains decorate those objective facts with SUBJECTIVE moral feelings. If the morality of the act was objective, it ought to have effects on other non-subjective entities (e.g., knives, rooms, rocks, etc), but it doesn’t.

    It doesn’t? That too is debateable. Scientific utilitarians, for instance, are convinced that happiness objectively exists and can even be measured. The ‘wrongness’ of murder lies in the fact that the act decreases happiness (they even have a measuring unit for happiness or utility, called ‘utils,’ IIRC), just like the ‘heat’ of fire lies in the fact that it increases the temperature of things around it, like butter.

    And to go on with ‘scientific’ predictions of moral claims, again, utilitarians (to take the example) claim that their moral theory does make testable predictions (which are typically right–thus why they subscribe to the theory). They predict that immoral actions (like murder) reduce net happiness while moral actions (like charity) increase net happiness. To them, these predictions might be like the prediction that lowering the temperature of water will cause it to freeze and increasing the temperature will cause it to boil.

    You have some methodology for determining that an act, X, is wrong. That methodology will include ways to choose your moral axioms. Write down what that methodology is.

    Well, the Daylight Atheism guy did have a rough methodology–“X is wrong if it increases net actual and potential suffering.” So on this note…

    Now, imagine an alien race that grew up under different conditions than we did. This alien race subjectively experiences pleasure when seeing or committing murder, and this race subjectively considers our morality to be distasteful.

    I ask you, if the aliens use your methodology, will they come to the same conclusions you do? Will the aliens also choose the same moral axioms? I don’t believe they will.

    Again, I’m not so sure. First off, I’m assuming these aliens are rational and sentient–if they’re the mental equivalent of wild animals, I don’t see how they could even use my methodology, or anything else for that matter. However, if they are sentient and rational (and assumedly atheistic, so as not to be troubled by any of those nasty illogical theistic delusions), you could prove to them that murder was wrong anyways. First off, unless they got some weird masochistic pleasure out of being murdered themselves, if they derived pleasure out of murdering someone else that would likely be offset by the pain the murdered person felt, resulting in a net decrease in actual happiness.

    Secondly, even if we were to say they were masochists who enjoyed being murdered (or if the pleasure of murdering far, far outweighed the pain of being murdered) it still decreases potential happiness. Someone who is murdered cannot enjoy any more happiness, being dead. Therefore, in the long run, murdering people reduces happiness, because even if both you and they enjoy happiness in the short run, in the long run nobody is going to be happy if everybody’s dead. Thus, even our chestbursting alien friends can logically discern that despite their proclivities towards murder, logically, utilitarianism proves they should refrain from it. ^_^

  41. Thomas Reid

    doctor(logic),

    Is anything at all subjective? Are hamburgers delicious?

    Yes, many things are subjective, such as:
    1. My happiness
    2. Our enjoyment of hamburgers
    3. Your dislike of genocide

    These represent the subject’s feelings, tastes, and opinions – they belong to the subject. I agree with you that the generalized statement “hamburgers are delicious” is simply shorthand for “I like hamburgers”. Most people talk about their tastes this way, I sure do.

    But I maintain that in the formal sense (not shorthand), the veracity of propositions is not subjective. The truth of the proposition “doctor(logic) likes hamburgers” is not a function of who believes the proposition. It is contingently true, but not subjectively true.

    Moving on, you say:

    Here’s what moral subjectivism is basically saying. When person X sees moral event Y, person X reacts adversely, and states this condition as “Y is wrong.”

    As a working definition, I agree with this. On this view the subjectivist essentially uses “Y is wrong” as shorthand to express his dislike of Y.

    This is basically the same relationship we have with taste in food, or the same relationship we have with allergies. The difference is only in the linguistics of expression. I can say “hamburgers are disgusting”, and often interchange this with “I think hamburgers are disgusting”.

    Right, here’s where we disagree. Just because some propositions of the form “Y is wrong” are shorthand, or that some people express their opinions this way, that doesn’t mean all propositions of that form are therefore merely expressions of taste or opinion. Although you analogize this way frequently, hopefully you wouldn’t argue this way, since it’s fallacious.

    Vast numbers of people are expressing what they take to be knowledge when they say “genocide is wrong” (a true proposition), they do not understand themselves to be expressing merely an opinion. It’s simply arrogance to tell them they don’t mean what they say. So if you disagree with the claim, you need to engage it at the theory of what is real, or perhaps the theory of knowledge.

  42. woodchuck64

    Thomas Reid:

    You are a metaphysical naturalist, are you not? That is what I understood by your comments here. Forgive me if I misrepresented your position, and please clarify it if I have. I’ll also make clear that it is just as futile for a moral anti-realist to make headway with a moral realist in explaining the relevant phenomena. The metaphysics have to be dealt with first, it seems to me.

    I don’t think you’re misrepresenting my position, but no one is so committed to a moral-“ist” position that discussion is necessarily futile. There can be things said that may trigger a reexamination of principles, a rethinking of assumptions. I know that’s true for me so I expect to be true for others.

    In this particular thread with WIC, I’m not intending to describe morality as a naturalist (comment #12 is not part of this thread), but rather in terms that anyone, regardless of philosophy can share (and if not, I want to determine why not). For example, in comment #24, I said this:

    The proposition “murder is wrong” expresses that any normal person will feel a strong sense of “wrongness” if “murder” occurs. (This wrongness is a generalization of the feelings of horror that result naturally from empathizing with murder victims and their families, and is one step before the proposition that empathy should guide our moral decisions or the proposition that feelings of wrongness mean that a metaphysical moral reality exists.)

    Isn’t the sense of wrongness a common ground between naturalist or theist? Let me also refer you to a comment I made to you in another, deeply overloaded thread. Don’t we at least start with what we see from the inside?

    Empathy is a sense like sight that humans can have to varying degrees, but it reliable transmits some important experience of those empathized with: pain, happiness. Therefore events that involve human suffering, etc, trigger empathy in (normal) human beings, much the way light triggers sight.

    One we experience the wrongness from our sense of empathy (like experiencing light from our sense of sight), we can then interpret the wrongness in a larger context of what it means to reality. But at this point I think, we’re exactly the same, Christian or atheist: we experience the wrongness deep inside where it matters. We know beings are suffering (or have suffered) and we want that to stop (or to have never happened).

    After we experience the wrongness, we go our separate ways in interpreting where it comes from, but that does not change the fact that at the most basic level we are the same. Further, this basic level can be consistent with either naturalism or Christianity, if we know nothing else of reality. Do you agree?

  43. doctor(logic)

    WIC,

    Your response assumes that increasing happiness is good. Why is that good?

    Yeah, sure, we both probably subjectively agree that happiness is pretty good, but just because we subjectively want happiness doesn’t make it good.

    And, yes, happiness does objectively exist. Chemical changes in our body could be used to tell if we were happy. People report when they are happy, etc. But that’s just a physical fact, not a moral fact.

    If we were drugged so that lying, stealing, violence, and random sexual affairs made us happy (even when we were sometimes the victim), then would all those things would be good too? I don’t think anybody would agree with that.

    And, yes, you can predict which actions will make the most people happy (statistically speaking), but then you get a “happiness map” telling you how to maximize happiness in the population. This is just a bunch of “is” facts. I could invert the map and create a “sadness map”. Why should we live by the happiness map instead of the sadness map? That’s the question you’re not answering. The only answer to the question is “because we want to – because we like to be happy.”

  44. doctor(logic)

    Thomas,

    Just because some propositions of the form “Y is wrong” are shorthand, or that some people express their opinions this way, that doesn’t mean all propositions of that form are therefore merely expressions of taste or opinion. Although you analogize this way frequently, hopefully you wouldn’t argue this way, since it’s fallacious.

    Ah, but that’s not the sum of my argument. My argument is that, unlike the objective sciences, morality has no more basis for objectivity than the things we regard as subjective (food, music, etc). In particular, there is no formal evidence that moral opinions are objective facts because the only thing predicted by morality is how members of our species feel about certain acts. Meanwhile, there is plenty of evidence that they are in fact mere opinions, contingent upon our cultural and evolutionary history.

    Your argument seems to be that since most people (non-philosophers at least) believe statements about morality are more than personal opinions, human moral opinions are more than just opinions. Yet, that is fallacious, also.

    Why should folk psychology should trump all other forms of inquiry?

  45. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    I know I’ve been AWOL from this discussion for a while. My schedule has a strange rhythm to it, such that there are days when I have plenty of time for blogging, and then sometimes days in a row when I don’t. Reading through here, I noted this from woodchuck64 that raised a question for me:

    The proposition “murder is wrong” expresses that any normal person will feel a strong sense of “wrongness” if “murder” occurs. (This wrongness is a generalization of the feelings of horror that result naturally from empathizing with murder victims and their families, and is one step before the proposition that empathy should guide our moral decisions or the proposition that feelings of wrongness mean that a metaphysical moral reality exists.)

    I take it you are not a moral realist, so my question is whether that one proposition, “empathy should guide our moral decisions,” is a true proposition, and if so, in what way is it true? What is the correspondence relationship by which it is true?

    doctor(logic), you’ve said things like,

    There’s no more reason to think happiness is good than to think ketchup on ice cream is disgusting. It all comes down to gut reactions.

    Sure there’s a reason to think happiness is good. Everybody in the world knows that it is good, and that is a sufficient reason. I still maintain, as I wrote in my previous post, that it requires a gargantuan effort of metaphysical will to deny that that is a true statement.

    But of course since you can only admit reasons that can be tied to natural realities, and since you don’t take the universal opinion of all humans to count as evidence of that sort, then Thomas Reid is right:

    Anyone who cannot permit the existence of values or duties will of course explain our behavior in terms of a different worldview. So be it.

    Just recognize the role your worldview (your view of reality or of ontology) plays in this. It determines what you will or will not count as evidence, and it is what allows you to discount the common experience of billions upon billions of people, and to disallow evidence such as Thomas spoke of,

    The indispensability of our use of moral language I think is evidence that we can rely on our perceptions of these values and duties.

    Don’t rush too quickly by that word “indispensability.” A moment’s reflection will show you what great force it has.

    You have responded,

    Your general position seems to be that morality is objective because the vast majority of people agree on certain basics. However, that’s not objectivity. It’s human universality. You’re basically saying that all normal humans find murder wrong, where normal = part of the majority. I doubt any philosophers would use that definition.

    The majority here is not just vast, it’s overwhelming. It’s virtually everyone. I do like your use of the word “find,” though: it implies (correctly though I’m sure unintentionally on your part) that there is something actually there to find. And many philosophers do speak of the moral sense as being validated in its virtual universality.

  46. woodchuck64

    Tom:

    I wrote:

    The proposition “murder is wrong” expresses that any normal person will feel a strong sense of “wrongness” if “murder” occurs. (This wrongness is a generalization of the feelings of horror that result naturally from empathizing with murder victims and their families, and is one step before the proposition that empathy should guide our moral decisions or the proposition that feelings of wrongness mean that a metaphysical moral reality exists.)

    I take it you are not a moral realist, so my question is whether that one proposition, “empathy should guide our moral decisions,” is a true proposition, and if so, in what way is it true? What is the correspondence relationship by which it is true?

    From a naturalism perspective, there is a goal to every “ought/should”, so the question might be whether using empathy as the sole guide to moral rules would best accomplish the goals of an ever-encompassing world-wide society. If it can be rationally and factually shown to do so, then the proposition “empathy should guide our moral decisions” would be a true proposition. (But the problem with using empathy exclusively as a guide is that it would prevent suffering of another person that is good for them.)

  47. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    On the other thread you abandoned the word “should” completely. Here you retain it. But you sneak in there the assumption that the word “should” properly applies toward accomplishing the goals of an ever-encompassing human society. Intuitively of course we see that there is a tie there; I think this is because God has placed that connection in our hearts. I don’t know how an evolutionary pathway gets you there, though. I don’t know where “should” comes from by evolution. Do you?

  48. Holopupenko

    Tom:

    DL’s position makes perfect sense within the narrow-minded confines of his scientism (the MESs are the arbiter of all knowledge), naturalism (“natural” causes supposedly explain everything… even they fail or present rain checks), reductionism (humans are merely material mechanisms), positivism (there is only direct sensory-verifiable knowledge), idealism (the only thing he knows are his ideas of things) and hatred of religious faith (you want a book of examples?).

    Given this, I again wonder why so much time is wasted on addressing the nonsense of equivocating gastric tastes with moral convictions—with an entire blog post, no less. Why dignify disorder with ordered reasoning? If DL intentionally and unscientifically (huge straw men and outright ignorance) refuses God and the Gospel message because he wants to be in control, isn’t it just a little presumptuous to not wipe the dust from one’s feet… or are DL’s incessant errors a subconscious plea?

    There’s a wonderful exchange in the movie Moonstruck that parallels DL’s (actually, any atheist’s) problem: the fear of death. (Why do men chase women? Because, they fear death… Why do atheists avoid God? Because, they fear the inescapable fact of death.) I love the futile appeal to “standing bravely” in the face of impending death without God—as if “bravely” (a moral virtue, by the way) ultimately means anything. I love the vain mental gymnastics of claiming society is the basis for morality to avoid the term “relativism.”

    Of course, DL will not admit to a fear of death, but his fear manifests itself in the plethora of pseudo-intellectual defense mechanisms (some noted above) that critical thinkers must suffer through. He needs to be in control of things—always pushing death away: the idiocy of transhumanism, statistics to validate all knowledge, predictability to maintain control over what will happen, etc., etc.

    The driver is, at a psychological level, that all this is lost at his own death: nothing DL says ultimately means anything if his worldview is correct—including his own worldview. DL is trying to cheat death: permitting himself moral relativism so as to express absolutist moral rage at objective morality. He’s trying to cheat death: if we’re merely material mechanisms (dehumanizing himself and others), then maybe our minds… oops, I mean data content of our brains… can be transferred to other matter to gain immortality and control over reality in the hideously disordered Kurzweilian nonsense. He’s trying to cheat death (repugnantly) by approving the death of unborn children or harvesting of body parts so that the strong may be more “beautiful” and live longer… all while leveling false charges of “camps” at others.

    Will to power: Lucifer becomes Satan.

    When the rubber hits the road, when DL and other atheists ask (in the face of admittedly difficult issues and questions) “why?”, that’s the point when they can’t obtain the “answers” they demand of God… and miss the point that their ultimate lack of control is facing them square in the face. That’s when they reject God… because He can’t be fit within the narrow confines of their understanding. That’s why the view of God condescending to become the poorest of children born in a stable is extraordinarily impossible and absurd: God should be “fixing” the mess per their vision, not joining us in the mess we ourselves created… and being crucified for not being what we want Him to be. Talk about God as an “idea” or “projection” of our own deification… sheesh!

  49. Thomas Reid

    doctor(logic),
    I admire your persistence. In response to my demonstration that your analogies were a poor way to reason for your position, you offered this:

    Ah, but that’s not the sum of my argument. My argument is that, unlike the objective sciences, morality has no more basis for objectivity than the things we regard as subjective (food, music, etc). In particular, there is no formal evidence that moral opinions are objective facts because the only thing predicted by morality is how members of our species feel about certain acts. Meanwhile, there is plenty of evidence that they are in fact mere opinions, contingent upon our cultural and evolutionary history.

    Honestly this seems nothing more to me than defining moral knowledge out of existence and then explaining the phenomenon of moral behavior in terms of what you will accept really exists. This is illustrative of my point in comment #34 above. You must redefine people’s claim to knowledge by first trivializing it as “folk psychology” (whatever that is supposed to mean), and then insisting that it is reducible to emotions, or a non-rational physical response.

    Now it’s understandable to attempt to be consistent with your larger worldview. But I must say that your metaphysics and epistemology seem quite odd. For example, you will no doubt claim that you have knowledge of the computer in front of you because you have particular sense perceptions. But reflect on this: do you or do you not have knowledge of your perception of the computer? That is, are you aware that you are perceiving a computer in front of you? This is quite a different type of knowledge than sensory perception, and is not able to fit, as knowledge, into a positivist epistemology or a naturalist metaphysic.

    You don’t have to post answers to these questions, as it has the potential to veer the discussion off-topic from Tom’s post. Or if you prefer, and to prevent the thread from rambling on, I’ll let you have the last word.

    Your argument seems to be that since most people (non-philosophers at least) believe statements about morality are more than personal opinions, human moral opinions are more than just opinions. Yet, that is fallacious, also.

    No, my argument is evidential, as I alluded to here. I’m inclined towards a particularist position on epistemology, and don’t define true moral propositions out of existence simply because I can’t deduce them from something else. I know that certain of these are true (“love is a virtue”, for instance), and infer a worldview from this that can explain the existence of abstracta, or maybe a necessary being, to ground these propositions. Christian theism fits quite well, but it is broadly possible that others do too.

  50. doctor(logic)

    Thomas,

    First, my core position on the evidence for moral realism is summed up here. I think that you’re arguing for something that looks like bias, and when we try to eliminate that bias, moral realism disappears. I think that, if I use your methodology, I get to believe whatever I want to believe in, and indulge my biases as if they are truths. I’m not cool with that.

    For example, you will no doubt claim that you have knowledge of the computer in front of you because you have particular sense perceptions. But reflect on this: do you or do you not have knowledge of your perception of the computer? That is, are you aware that you are perceiving a computer in front of you? This is quite a different type of knowledge than sensory perception, and is not able to fit, as knowledge, into a positivist epistemology or a naturalist metaphysic.

    There’s a very clear and obvious difference between physical reality and moral reality. Physical reality is predictive, and physical things which lack subjectivity interact with physical entities, no matter whether or not I think they ought to.

    We can do double-blind testing to confirm physical properties. In contrast, it’s impossible to test moral claims with blind testing. This is what I was trying to illustrate when I brought up the possibility of detecting evil in a room, or the possibility that stolen gasoline would burn differently from fairly-acquired gasoline. If those sorts of things were possible, you would have an excellent case for the objectivity of morality because blind testing would reveal that morality goes beyond subjective bias. Yet, you don’t advocate for this sort of realism. You advocate for a kind of realism that is fundamentally unverifiable. It’s like a 9/11 conspiracy theory – lack of evidence for the conspiracy is put down to the brilliant deviousness of powerful, unseen conspirators.

  51. doctor(logic)

    Holopupenko,

    Er, got anything apart from your personal bias to offer us? Anything we can test? I didn’t think so.

    You’re the one with the wish-fulfillment fantasy. You believe you’ll never die, but will instead ascend into an afterlife designed just for you (or the other way around, makes no difference) where your personal morality reigns supreme. Yeah, that sounds just like a man committed to seeking out the truth of reality. Sigh.

  52. Post
    Author
    Tom Gilson

    Er, got anything apart from your personal bias to offer us? Anything we can test? I didn’t think so.

    This from the atheist who makes his moral decisions completely without bias relating to any personal impact on his own life, especially without regard to the fact that if he entertains the possibility of moral realism, he will also have to entertain the possibility of God. And the possibility that there could be something he has done, or something he is doing or might do, that is really, actually wrong (or that there could be accountability for them). Apparently, to protect himself from that, he is also willing to give up that many things he has done, is doing, or will do, are really, actually right; for by his accounting there is nothing actually, really wrong or right. It’s a lot to sacrifice, but he’s willing to give it up for the cause of atheism and never having to be wrong.

    As for our personal morality reigning supreme, I do wish, doctor(logic), that you would read the source documents. I recommended them some time ago in another post. Try Romans 2, Romans 3, and Romans 7; try also Matthew 5, Matthew 6, and Matthew 7. We do not hold the truth, as I say at the top of every blog page I’ve ever written. The truth holds us. It’s not our truth, it’s not our personal morality. We submit to that which is given to us. We submit, or else fail to submit, that is. Either way, it’s not ours, it’s God’s.

  53. woodchuck64

    Tom:

    On the other thread you abandoned the word “should” completely. Here you retain it. But you sneak in there the assumption that the word “should” properly applies toward accomplishing the goals of an ever-encompassing human society. Intuitively of course we see that there is a tie there; I think this is because God has placed that connection in our hearts. I don’t know how an evolutionary pathway gets you there, though. I don’t know where “should” comes from by evolution. Do you?

    In this thread, I explicitly added “should” because I was referring to naturalism in the phrase (I didn’t “sneak” it in). Although I’m not certain of the problem you have with it.

    Under naturalism, desires are intrinsic to organisms, hunger for example. When it is possible to have many possible pathways to achieving desires, and some paths are better than others, “should” would be an appropriate term to use for the better paths (for an evolved species capable of simulating different paths and capable of communicating and persuading others of its kind). We “should” grow crops because we can store them and eat them during winter, we “should” give up hunting over the winter and possibly starving, for example.

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