Friday, January 10, 2014

Linville's The Moral Poverty of Evolutionary Naturalism

Here. 

96 comments:

frances said...

Linville appears to start from the idea that if morals are not to be completely subjective, then there must be some pre-existing moral truths which we have to discover. I agree that if that is the model, then Darwinism can't account for it.

Moral systems grow from the bottom up, like most concepts. The reason it is (objectively) true to say "An oak is a tree" is not because of some Platonic ideal tree which the oak conforms to but because we humans invented the concept of some of that "stuff" out there being "trees". We did that through noticing real similarities and deciding that we would group them together by calling them by one general name (then dividing down into more precise categories).

Similarly, we saw that some actions/goals had certain things in common and we categorised then as being part of a moral system.

You can't say why anyone "ought" to do good, if the "ought" is used in the moral sense because ought" can only describe/evaluate actions within the moral system and can't be used to describe/evaluate the system itself.

It's true that if somebody is not interested in taking part in the moral "game" then there is not much you can say to them. Just as if someone is playing a game of chess you can advise them that they "ought" to make a particular move. If they ask why, you may say "So that you can take your opponent's piece". If further questions are asked then in the end it will come down to "So that you can win." If the player replies "But I don't want to win" then there's not much you can say to that. But that doesn't mean that your advice to make the move was not objectively right and based on a some truth about the way chess is played. But the truth in that context was created by humans, not discovered by them.

Marcus said...

As Frances pointed out, Linville's only really arguing evolutionary naturalists can't account for "mind-independent moral facts."

However, I don't think "mind-independent moral facts" makes much sense. If morality is "out there" somewhere, how do you find it among competing alternatives and what decision process could you possibly use that is absent of morality to select a moral system?

No matter what decision you make, whether you choose to follow some list you think sacred or become a nihilist, it will be your decision. So, if you think we should follow our moral intuitions because god gave them to us, it would still be true that you are making that decision based on your subjective values.

WMF said...

Linville appears to start from the idea that if morals are not to be completely subjective, then there must be some pre-existing moral truths which we have to discover. I agree that if that is the model, then Darwinism can't account for it.

So, do you agree with that model? The rest of your comment seems to indicate that the answer is "Yes", was that your intention?

However, I don't think "mind-independent moral facts" makes much sense.

What about "mind-indepdendent mathematical facts"?

frances said...

So, do you agree with that model?

No, emphatically not! I thought the rest of my post made it clear that "moral facts" are a product of human minds just as "chess facts" are.

Sorry, I daresay the failure was mine, but I hope it is clear now.

Marcus said...

WMF,

"What about "mind-independent mathematical facts"?"

I don't think mathematical truths depend on minds because they are axiomatic. Given axioms A, B & C, certain truths necessarily follow even if no one knows this (but I don't think it makes sense to call them "facts" in that context). However, while I have an idea as to why you mentioned this, I don't think it's very relevant to morality.

Let me be clear of my position, I think morality depends on values to exist and values depend on minds. To call something a moral fact is to assert something like "given values V, X is the correct decision." (Note, this doesn't mean I am a moral relativist as there can still be correct answers given shared fundamental values).

To me to say there are "mind-independent moral facts" is to say something like "So it is written into the fabric of the universe, X just is the correct decision." What does it even mean to say there are moral facts regardless of values? Does that mean there are decisions which are correct no matter what your goals are? I don't think there are good, or even intelligible, answers to these questions.

frances said...

To me to say there are "mind-independent moral facts" is to say something like "So it is written into the fabric of the universe, X just is the correct decision." What does it even mean to say there are moral facts regardless of values? Does that mean there are decisions which are correct no matter what your goals are? I don't think there are good, or even intelligible, answers to these questions.

Precisely so. How could there be morals without minds? If sentient intelligent beings did not exist, it's not so much that rape could not be wrong, as that rape couldn't even exist!

WMF said...

No, emphatically not! I thought the rest of my post made it clear that "moral facts" are a product of human minds just as "chess facts" are.

But if you think that "moral facts" are a product of human minds, then you also agree with Linville ...?

I don't think mathematical truths depend on minds because they are axiomatic.

What about the axioms themselves?

frances said...

But if you think that "moral facts" are a product of human minds, then you also agree with Linville ...?

I think he is saying the precise opposite:
"And so the Darwinian explanation undercuts whatever reason the naturalist might have for thinking that any of our moral beliefs are true. The result is moral skepticism."

Why do you think he is saying that moral facts are a product of human minds?

Marcus said...

WMF,

"What about the axioms themselves?"

Yes, I think the axioms need minds to exist but that needs to be qualified. Numerals and our systems of math depend on minds, the real properties these refer to in the real world, numbers (to use an alternative term), do not.

For example, two rocks added to a pile of three rocks will produce five rocks whether or not there are minds there or if any minds understand this (obviously). However, the mathematical statement "2 + 3 = 5" is not true whether or not any minds exist because those symbols don't mean anything unless there are minds around to interpret them.

I get the basis of the analogy from accepting mathematics is attached to the real world to supporting moral realism, I just don't think it holds. I can point to the real properties of the world which we mapped mathematics onto and see they would exist without minds. I can not do the same with morality because it's concerned with decision analysis. Such analysis can only be computed by subjects and is dependent on some mind's goals to exist.

WMF said...

Why do you think he is saying that moral facts are a product of human minds?

I don't. Do you think that chess facts are in any way "objective" and if yes, how?

WMF said...

However, the mathematical statement "2 + 3 = 5" is not true whether or not any minds exist because those symbols don't mean anything unless there are minds around to interpret them.

Does this statement also face such issues because it involves abstract concepts like "mathematical statements"?

Marcus said...

WMF,

Does this statement also face such issues because it involves abstract concepts like "mathematical statements"?

Sure, I'd say all concepts depend on minds to exist.

Whether it be something like beauty or something more simple like the concept of a chair, it doesn't make any sense to say any concept exists without some mind to process it. The facts of reality they refer to, on the other hand, don't depend on minds.

frances said...

WMF

But if you think that "moral facts" are a product of human minds, then you also agree with Linville ...?

I'll deal with your question about chess facts being objective if you can help me with what you do think Linville is saying.

I don't think there's much point in going any further until we've bottomed that out.

WMF said...

I think Linville is saying
"if morals are not to be completely subjective, then there must be some pre-existing moral truths which we have to discover" amd "morality is not completely subjective", while you are saying "if morals are not to be completely subjective, then there must be some pre-existing moral truths which we have to discover" and "morality is completely subjective".

frances said...

WMF

I think Linville i saying
"if morals are not to be completely subjective, then there must be some pre-existing moral truths which we have to discover" amd "morality is not completely subjective"


Agreed. But then why did you say that if I thought that moral facts are the products of human minds I must agree with Linville? It is quite clear that that is NOT what Linville is saying.

I am *not* saying that if morals are not to be completely subjective then there must be some pre-existing moral truths which we have to discover. I am saying the exact opposite of that.

I am also saying that morality is *not* completely subjective.

WMF said...

You said you were going to answer my question?

William said...

Is the existence of minds to make those moral judgments a subjective or objective fact?

WMF said...

What exactly do you mean by that? Because

"there exist people who make moral judgements using their minds"

is objectively true, the same way

"there exist people who make mathematical judgements with their minds"

or

"there exist people who make culinary judgements with their minds"

and

"there exist people who make cinematic judgements with their minds"

are objectively true.

William said...

WMF,

I was referring to the "other minds" problem, that we don't from a certain type of skeptical viewpoint know that some or all other people aren't zombies. We also don't know (from that viewpoint) if other people actually are representing mathematical or moral judgments as objective, with intentionality, or just simulating them like a computer, perhaps.

In both cases the ordinary tendency is to be realist and not skeptical.

WMF said...

Then perhaps you should have used the word "other"?

im-skeptical said...

The way Linville sums it up is quite telling: "The sort of account available to the evolutionary naturalist ends in moral
skepticism. The theist has a more promising story to tell."

He is saying that the naturalist view is less emotionally appealing than the theistic view of morality. And that's true, I think. But emotional is not the same as rational.

WMF said...

He is saying that the naturalist view is less emotionally appealing than the theistic view of morality.

Is that what you think he actually means to say or a condescending remark motivated by armchair mindreading?

im-skeptical said...

WMF,

Whatever the motivation, that IS what he's saying. There's no mindreading involved.

Consider: he's making a contrast of two things, 'moral skepticism' and 'a promising story'. The reader is left with a stark choice. Which one sounds better? Use of the word 'promising' is a direct appeal to emotion. He's not weighing the merits of one against the other. The whole discussion was about where morality comes from, not the functional superiority of one or the other.

Crude said...

There is nothing wrong, or even particularly emotional, about bluntly stating what the intellectual consequences are of one or another metaphysical view. The only real question is whether the stated consequences are accurate - and no one seems to be disputing that here.

And for the sake of argument - let's say there is an emotional appeal going on. What's the criticism again? And is it ultimately some individual subjective one?

I suppose a good way to cash this out is to say that the naturalist who wants to be something other than a naturalist has no moral or ethical concerns of note to consider in their making the switch. The only thing that could hold them back, on naturalism, is their own subjective desires.

Or, I suppose, a gun to their head.

frances said...

WMF

Do you think that chess facts are in any way "objective" and if yes, how?

2 objective chess facts
1. You cannot make a move which puts your own King in check
2. A Queen is more valuable than a Bishop.

I'm not sure what your "how" question is getting at. The facts are objective because they are not simply matters of personal opinion, if that answers it.

WMF said...

And why are they not simply matters of personal opinion? Is it because that's how people play the game, or the invertor(s) of chess decided that this was the correct way of playing the game or because of something like a platonic form of chess rules that corresponds to exactly these rules?

im-skeptical said...

"What's the criticism again?"

Emotional appeal is not a valid logical argument.

"The only thing that could hold them back, on naturalism, is their own subjective desires."

If you ignore everything about how moralityarises and how it governs human behavior.


WMF said...

The whole discussion was about where morality comes from

Actually, the whole discussion is about "Are our moral beliefs warranted if we assume evolutionary naturalism?" and ""Are our moral beliefs warranted if we assume theism?"

Also, does Linville actually argue that, due to giving warrant to our moral beliefs, we should prefer theism over evolutionary naturalism at any point in the paper? And what exactly is so emotionally appealing about moral realism? I thought theistic morality is an invention by the government to rule the masses through fear?

im-skeptical said...

"Actually, the whole discussion is about "Are our moral beliefs warranted if we assume evolutionary naturalism?" and "Are our moral beliefs warranted if we assume theism?""

Linville claims (after a long discussion of the naturalistic account of the origins of human morality) that moral beliefs are unwarranted because they do not reflect moral truths. He makes the assumption that moral beliefs based on theism are warranted, and his only argument in support of that is his assertion that moral truths are a reflection of the characteristics of God. That's a pretty thin argument, and it isn't based on any supporting evidence.

"Also, does Linville actually argue that, due to giving warrant to our moral beliefs, we should prefer theism over evolutionary naturalism at any point in the paper? And what exactly is so emotionally appealing about moral realism?"

He clearly prefers the latter, describing it as "more hopeful" in comparison to moral skepticism. This is simply an emotional appeal, nothing more.

"I thought theistic morality is an invention by the government to rule the masses through fear?"

Theistic morality is a religious dictate, not a product of the government (at least in our country). Fear is indeed a big part of it. If you don't tow the line, you get to suffer for all eternity. Compare that to a naturalist view of morality, which has no such motivational factor, but emphasizes people living and cooperating together for mutual benefit.

William said...

So all sides agree that moral realism of some sort (Platonic or cognitivistic) is warranted, and it's just the basis that is argued about?

frances said...

WMF

1. You cannot make a move which puts your own King in check
This is objective because it is one of the agreed rules of the game. You cannot have any game without there being at least some agreed rules. Whether they were made by one person, or a committee or whether they evolved over time is of no consequence. Them's the rules and that's a fact.
2. A Queen is more valuable than a Bishop.
This is objective because it follows from the rules of chess. Once the rules are understood it cannot be rationally challenged that the Queen is the more valuable piece.

There is no reason to believe that there is a Platonic form of chess which the earthly game aspires to. If you want to argue that there is, please let's hear it.

William said...

frances,

You seems to be using two different definitions of objective:

1. objective - real and mind independent, existing outside / independent of any one thinking about it

2. objective - mind dependent but agreed upon as valid and independent of just one or a few minds by the community

WMF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WMF said...

This is objective because it is one of the agreed rules of the game.

And what makes it an agreed rule of the game?

HyperEntity111 said...

There are good reasons to think that objective morality in Linville's sense is impossible. There are competing ethical theories which give different results to the same ethical questions. There seem to be no principled method that allows us to select one ethical theory as the 'true theory'. There are no facts that we can appeal to that would force all rational agents to accept one theory over another. This gives good reason to think that there are no moral facts that exist outside a particular theoretical framework. The best we can do is adopt the theory that fits best with our moral intuitions.

William said...

Last week my wife and I disagreed over whether a particular shade of salmon was pink or orange.

So can color reasoning never be objective, because we have theories about color that will always disagree between different persons and cultures?

I think people who take Hyperentity's view express a diminished ability to see beyond the many variances at the boundaries of common morality. There is still lots of common ground, on the average.

HyperEntity111 said...

I think colours depend on observers for existence and are not inherent in objects themselves. And beyond pretty basic stufff, I doubt most ethical theories (or ethical agents) share as much moral ground as you think.

Crude said...

Emotional appeal is not a valid logical argument.

These things are necessary, given naturalism?

If you ignore everything about how moralityarises and how it governs human behavior.

Apparently it 'arises' via completely subjective means on naturalism, and therefore saying it 'governs human behavior' is practically equivalent to saying that subjective desires 'govern human behavior.'

That plus the gun to the head.

Crude said...

Hyper,

There are good reasons to think that objective morality in Linville's sense is impossible. There are competing ethical theories which give different results to the same ethical questions. There seem to be no principled method that allows us to select one ethical theory as the 'true theory'. There are no facts that we can appeal to that would force all rational agents to accept one theory over another.

Maybe we're thinner on rational agents than you believe.

But more than that, your criticism seems a little shaky here. 'If we can't be in universal agreement about the 'true theory', then a true objective theory not only doesn't exist, but is impossible'?

HyperEntity111 said...

Nope. Rather, we have no reasons to think one theory is true and another one isn't. It's not that we haven't found such reasons just yet. It's that it seems they cannot be there even in principle. So we have no reason to think there could be moral facts that exist independently of ethical theories.

HyperEntity111 said...

And we have no reason to suppose that a true theory exists for the same reasons.

William said...

Hyper,

Are colors objective? (in my sense of being recognized as having inter-observer validity within the community of normal color seeing people, I would say they are, within broad limits).

If you define colors as purely subjective, moral objectivity is also, I think.

im-skeptical said...

"Apparently it 'arises' via completely subjective means on naturalism, and therefore saying it 'governs human behavior' is practically equivalent to saying that subjective desires 'govern human behavior.'"

If you think theistic morality is objective, then spell it out right now. What are these objective moral facts?

Crude said...

Hyper,

Rather, we have no reasons to think one theory is true and another one isn't.

How do you arrive at this? Because it looks like question begging. It certainly isn't that people don't offer arguments and evidence for their views about objective morality.

You were citing the lack of universal agreement for some reason, so I'm trying to figure out why.

It's that it seems they cannot be there even in principle.

'In principle'? Seems to who? That's the sort of thing that has to be argued - you can't just read it off from the bare existence of disagreement. It's not as if objective morality mandates that there would be universal agreement, etc.

Skep,

If you think theistic morality is objective, then spell it out right now. What are these objective moral facts?

The problem I have with your kind of approach is that it really seems that, once you feel you're in a tight spot, you try to change the topic as soon as possible.

Quote me where, in this thread, I argued for the truth of objective morality. Show me where in my comments I must assume its truth to make the claims I am making.

In lieu of that: one of the popular selling points of atheism, particular atheistic naturalism, is supposed to be the boldness and daringness of brave thinkers looking at the world as is truly is and being honest with themselves. (I think this is ridiculous on a number of levels, but put that aside for now.) But on this topic in particular, it looks like that conviction starts to weaken.

Bad PR, I suppose.

im-skeptical said...

So you don't think morality is objective, then?

WMF said...

So you don't disagree that you are changing the topic, then?

im-skeptical said...

Who's changing the topic? The discussion in this thread WAS about objective morality.

crude: "Apparently it [morality] 'arises' via completely subjective means on naturalism, and therefore saying it 'governs human behavior' is practically equivalent to saying that subjective desires 'govern human behavior.'"

me: "If you think theistic morality is objective, then spell it out right now. What are these objective moral facts?"

crude: "once you feel you're in a tight spot, you try to change the topic as soon as possible. ... Quote me where, in this thread, I argued for the truth of objective morality ... In lieu of that: one of the popular selling points of atheism, particular atheistic naturalism, is supposed to be the boldness and daringness of brave thinkers looking at the world as is truly is and being honest with themselves."

me: "So you don't think morality is objective, then?"

Right. I'm the one who couldn't answer the question and then deftly changed the topic.

Crude said...

Who's changing the topic? The discussion in this thread WAS about objective morality.

The title of the thread is 'the moral poverty of evolutionary naturalism.' I nowhere claimed 'Aha, objective morality is true!', and that claim has exactly zero to do with what I've said about morality on evolutionary naturalism. Call atheism true for the sake of argument. Call materialism true for the sake of argument. Say that a wholly subjective morality is true. The observations and comments remain applicable.

You quoted yourself changing the topic, but I really don't want to get into an extended criticism of your behavior. I'd rather stay on topic and discuss things. But I'm not going to fall for very obvious topic-changing bait. And to be blunt, if you find the conclusions of materialism to be so distasteful that you'd rather not even talk about what logically follows given them, I repeat some great news: you can switch to another belief on a whim. That's one of the upsides of the view: on its own terms, you can ditch it if you like.

It's not like you'd be breaking some objective moral rule by doing so, as far as materialism is concerned.

frances said...

William,

You seems to be using two different definitions of objective:

1. objective - real and mind independent, existing outside / independent of any one thinking about it

2. objective - mind dependent but agreed upon as valid and independent of just one or a few minds by the community


Where have I used it in the first sense?

frances said...

WMF

And what makes it an agreed rule of the game?

You're going to have to be more specific if I'm to be able to answer you.

If you disagree with the statement, please identify the part you disagree with.

If you are trying to make a point about what you consider makes it an agreed rule of the game, please set out your own theory so I can see if I agree or not.

WMF said...

You're going to have to be more specific if I'm to be able to answer you.

Why?

im-skeptical said...

crude:

"It's not like you'd be breaking some objective moral rule by doing so, as far as materialism is concerned."

So, please answer my question (without evading or changing the topic): Do you think morality is objective? If so, exactly what are the objective moral facts that govern your behavior?

WMF said...

The discussion in this thread WAS about objective morality.

Not the discussion you had with Crude.

im-skeptical said...

"Not the discussion you had with Crude."

Huh ??? You must be reading a different thread.

The question of the subjective or objective nature of morality certainly was the topic at hand. crude made his snide remark implying that morality on a naturalist view is inferior or non-existent because it must be purely subjective. Any reasonable person would infer from that that he believes morality is not subjective, but must instead be objective. So I asked him about his objective morality. His response was to evade the question and change the topic, as I showed.

Here's a prediction: He will never give a simple, straight-forward answer, because he doesn't have one.

William said...

frances:

you used the first definition in the chess discussion, while disagreeing with it as applicable to a game, and I did not mean to imply that was your position.

frances said...

WMF

And what makes it an agreed rule of the game?

The reason why this question is not clear is that it could be directed at many aspects of uncertainty. I'm trying to find out what it is about the statement which is unclear to you (or needs to be further explained). Some of the different questions you might be asking could be expressed as follows:

What makes it an agreed rule of the game?

What makes it an agreed rule of the game?

What makes it an agreed rule of the game?

What makes it an agreed rule of the game?

And that's just some.

Until I know what it is about the statement "It is an agreed rule of the game" which is causing you difficulty, I can't focus my answer accordingly.

frances said...

William,

Thank you for clarifying. Yes, what I am saying is that some people use "objective" to mean that which is independent of any human mind. I regard that as too restrictive a definition, especially where the next step is to say that anything falling short of it is "entirely subjective", "simply a matter of personal taste".

William said...

frances,

Agreed. My go-to essay on this remains Sandra LeFave's:

http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/subjective_objective.html

WMF said...

I don't see what's suposed to be so difficult about my question. Finish this sentence: "It's an agreed rule of the game because ..."

WMF said...

crude made his snide remark implying that morality on a naturalist view is inferior or non-existent because it must be purely subjective.

Where?

William said...

Getting back to the target article:

If we take moral reasoning to be objective, it ought to follow that we can be correct and incorrect in our moral judgments.

The problem mentioned in the OP is then one of foundationalism: there seems to be nothing in the world (outside of the community) that makes a community's consensus moral judgment correct, if naturalism is true.

im-skeptical said...

Actually, there seems to be nothing in the world (outside of the community) that makes a community's consensus moral judgment correct, if theism is true. What is the objective standard by which you can say "this moral fact is true"? Does any such standard exist? I think not.

This is (or should be) a key question for anyone who subscribes to the concept that morality is objective in a theistic worldview.

HyperEntity111 said...

Crude: 'Seems to who?'

Seems to me. I'm here expressing my own judgement on this issue. And it's shared by quite a lot of other people actually. I'm a philosophy student and I have yet to meet anyone (student or professor) who is a moral realist (in the sense of believing that moral facts exist independently of particular ethical theories). I've met people who accept particular ethical theories but none of them think these theories can be demonstrated to be true beyond arguments that, ultimately, boil down to accepting certain intuitions. Principle's like 'We should accept an ethical theory as true just if it is entailed by an argument that is sound and valid and reject it if all arguments in its favour are false' sound extremely hollow when you've realised that ethical theories depend on premises that are not rationally coercive and actually not that hard to reject. Not saying the full blooded moral realists don't exist-just that I've never actually met one so far.

Try specifying a method that would allow us to select between competing ethical theories that is truly convincing. When philosophers want to show a rival ethical theory is wrong they usually try to show it entails morally absurd consequences. Then other philosopher's try and fix the theory with amendments here and there. What's a morally absurd consequence? Something that contradicts your own ethical theory? That's just question begging. Something that we all recognise to be immoral? That's just an appeal to intuition. If certain consequences are truly logically entailed by a certain ethical theory there is absolutely no inconsistency in accepting them. Then what? Argue that ethics is by definition a field where our moral intuitions count as evidence? Different people have different (often very deep seated) intuitions about morally controversial questions. How do you pick the right intuitions? If there is a non question begging, sound argument in response to these questions I have yet to see it. This, in conjunction with the fact that there has existed irresolvable moral disagreement for over 2000 years among very smart well informed people gives us good reason to think that we simply have no grounds for thinking that our ethical theory is 'the true theory'. (More detailed accounts of the role systematic ethical disagreement has in the kind of arguments are in Mackie's argument from relativity and the Railton-Gibbard-Darwall version of the open question argument). The best we can do is pick the theory that makes most sense to us.

Crude said...

So, please answer my question (without evading or changing the topic): Do you think morality is objective?

I'm strongly inclined towards the view, yep.

If so, exactly what are the objective moral facts that govern your behavior?

What exactly are you asking me? What are the rules I live by that I regard as objective? What are the 'objective facts' that determine what rules there are to live by?

And once again - why do you feel the need to change the topic whenever you experience difficult questions?

crude made his snide remark implying that morality on a naturalist view is inferior or non-existent because it must be purely subjective.

As WMF said - where? Maybe if by 'implying' you mean 'pointed out that morality comes down entirely to subjective judgments on naturalism'. But where was my claim that it's 'inferior or non-existent'? Are you saying that wholly subjective morality means morality is non-existent?

Any reasonable person would infer from that that he believes morality is not subjective, but must instead be objective.

No, any reasonable person would not infer from that. Moral nihilists, for example - another view entirely compatible with naturalism.

So I asked him about his objective morality. His response was to evade the question and change the topic, as I showed.

The only thing you showed was you changing the topic when I asked a question. If you truly believe otherwise - if this isn't a poorly thought out rhetorical move, but something you honestly feel - I have only one response: I feel sorry for you.

Crude said...

Hyper,

I'm a philosophy student and I have yet to meet anyone (student or professor) who is a moral realist (in the sense of believing that moral facts exist independently of particular ethical theories).

Meet more people.

Principle's like 'We should accept an ethical theory as true just if it is entailed by an argument that is sound and valid and reject it if all arguments in its favour are false' sound extremely hollow when you've realised that ethical theories depend on premises that are not rationally coercive and actually not that hard to reject.

I can only regard the latter half of your sentence with a glum expression. 'Your argument depends on premises that I can reject!' makes sense in certain contexts, but unrestrained it's an absolute atom bomb. I run into people who reject premises like 'things that begin to exist need a cause' and 'the law of non-contradiction is true' and otherwise. Past a certain point, I really don't care about convincing such people. They can just embrace solipsism, which I suppose would suffice to render far and away the lion's share of moral and ethical questions moot anyway.

This, in conjunction with the fact that there has existed irresolvable moral disagreement for over 2000 years among very smart well informed people

Once again, I see no reason to regard that as evidence for your particular conclusion. 'Lots of people have disagreed about various details of X' doesn't get me at all to 'X does not exist.' Maybe X is hard to understand.

Likewise, I actually reject the claim that 'people have gravely different intuitions about morality' in any meaningful sense. At the very least, I think something else happens frightfully often: people bullshit about their intuitions. Among other things.

And finally, there is a gulf between 'being skeptical that our moral theory is the true theory' and 'denying that there exists an objective morality'. Humanity has a long history of argument and doubt about what 'the external world' is metaphysically speaking, and that hasn't been resolved either. You can argue that that should undercut people's confidence, to some degree, in their metaphysical views about the world. Arguing that therefore there is no external world? I suppose you can do that if you like, and you're willing to reject all the right premises an intuitions. Go for it, I suppose.

William said...

Hyper,

If almost all the theories that disagree among themselves about ethics are realist theories, then why call them relativist? Rather call them competing versions of moral realism. perhaps you are drawing a meta-conclusion about moral realism the theories themselves would not draw?
Note the 2009 survey results:

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2009/12/so-what-do-philosophers-believe.html

William said...

skep:

you said " Actually, there seems to be nothing in the world (outside of the community) that makes a community's consensus moral judgment correct, if theism is true."

What makes you say that?

Actually, a sufficiently wise and powerful world designer might have some form of superhuman judgment on how to shape the world so as to guide the moral judgments of a community in the right direction, couldn't they?

Or are you assuming some kind of error theory of morality?

HyperEntity111 said...

Crude

1. Don't be obtuse.

2. I don't think there is an ethical theory with premises that are as well supported as those principles.

3. Not what I said.

4. You think people are generally being dishonest about their ethical intuitions? I'm not sure how to take this.

5. Perhaps it rationally should but we don't do it because doubting the external world is psychological impossible and undesirable for those who wish stay alive. Doubting the existence of moral facts is neither.
5.1 There is no analogy between our sensory experience of world which coheres with the picture of other agents around us and the absurd levels of disagreement we see in ethical discourse.
5.2 There is an increasingly annoying bullshit move I see made around these parts where, taking a leaf from Plantinga, you pick your favourite belief and, if backed into a corner about it's evidence, you respond "But I don't need evidence because global skepticism see?" Of course, this is a cheater's move that can be used to justify any absurd belief...

William

1. For me, if the moral statements are entailed by the axioms of a particular moral theory that's all it takes for them to be objective.

2. Seen that link before. I've already explained my view on moral realism so I'll make two quick points. You'd be surprised how many people hold meta ethical views of the sort I'm espousing here (or views many theists would call subjective) and call themselves moral realists. I also think a good explanation for that data is that philosophers who work on ethics aren't likely to be people who think all ethical statements are false or meaningless.

im-skeptical said...

"Actually, a sufficiently wise and powerful world designer might have some form of superhuman judgment on how to shape the world so as to guide the moral judgments of a community in the right direction, couldn't they?"

If so, we ought to have a pretty good understanding of what that judgment is. But we don't. Our morality is shaped by inborn propensities and societal norms (which tend to change over time). In biblical times, things were generally accepted by society that today are considered abhorrent. That fact is inconsistent with the theistic view you espouse. Could it be that God's morality changes along with human society?

Crude said...

Hyper,

1. Don't be obtuse.

I thought it was apt.

2. I don't think there is an ethical theory with premises that are as well supported as those principles.

I disagree. And how are they 'supported'? They're axioms. And regardless, I've seen people ditch them when the going got tough - explicitly, no less. So the mere fact that someone's premises or axioms can be rejected doesn't move me much.

3. Not what I said.

What part? You did seem to pretty bluntly argue that there was no objective morality. Not merely 'we can't be totally sure if we're right' but 'there is no such thing as objective rights and wrongs'.

4. You think people are generally being dishonest about their ethical intuitions? I'm not sure how to take this.

I don't know about 'generally'. Often enough that it's worth taking into account? Yep. People are complicated beings.

5. Perhaps it rationally should but we don't do it because doubting the external world is psychological impossible and undesirable for those who wish stay alive.

'Psychologically impossible'? According to what argument or evidence? (Fun trick: Try to give me some that doesn't assume what you're trying to prove or, better yet, disprove.)

I don't think you can get off free on that one.

5.1 There is no analogy between our sensory experience of world which coheres with the picture of other agents around us and the absurd levels of disagreement we see in ethical discourse.

Coheres with what other agents? The ones we assume exist again? Nor do I think the levels of disagreement we see are particularly absurd.

And frankly, you get about as much bullshit elsewhere. Cue Dennett's introspection comments - all he sees are 'functions that need explaining'. No experience, no qualia.

5.2 There is an increasingly annoying bullshit move I see made around these parts where, taking a leaf from Plantinga, you pick your favourite belief and, if backed into a corner about it's evidence, you respond "But I don't need evidence because global skepticism see?" Of course, this is a cheater's move that can be used to justify any absurd belief...

Plantinga has nothing to do with it. Nor has anyone been backed into a corner here. And really - you're making the move of 'I can just reject whatever premises you have that I dislike, so there', which isn't the most encouraging move either. That's part of why I bring up solipsism - you can go that far if you like.

Here's a terrifying possibility: maybe a variety of philosophical beliefs are rationally sustainable, even if there are disagreements. I don't believe this is universally true or the like, but think you're after a level of certainty which is arbitrary and ridiculous, and it's trivial to see it rejected just about everywhere else.

Philosophers disagree amongst each other. That's the problem for, collectively, philosophers. Individually there may be far less of an issue.

William said...

skep:

Your personal incredulity is noted, but are you able to answer my question?

frances said...

William,

Thank you for the link. That was a really interesting article.

Frances

frances said...

WMF,

I didn't say that you question was difficult. I said that it wasn't clear enough what sort of information you were after.

There are 2 good reasons and 1 bad reason for asking questions in this sort of discussion. The good reasons are:
1. A need for more information where you genuinely do not understand your opponent's argument.
2. A Socratic endeavour to get your opponent to think more carefully about their position.

But in either of these cases you should be prepared to explain why you are asking the question. How is it relevant to the discussion? How are either you or your opponent going to be assisted by the answer?

The bad reason is where questions are used as a device to avoid actually engaging in the discussion. Instead of being progressed, the discussion is perpetually stalled by questions which generate further questions. The asker has no real interest in the answers, intending only to try to keep the askee permanently on the back foot whilst avoiding having to put forward any case him/herself.

I could finish the sentence you give in many ways and all of them would be valid depending on the purpose of your question.

Consider the possible endings to this sentence:
"I am free to go to France tomorrow because...."
- I have free will
- I am a citizen of an EU country and under EU law am entitled to free movement within the EU
- British law provides that all things which are not forbidden are allowed and it is not forbidden under British law to travel to France
- I have cleared my diary of all conflicting commitments
-I am fabulously rich and can travel wherever I want whenever I want without regard to the costs

Tell me why you think your question is relevant (what point it goes to) and I will do my best to answer it.

im-skeptical said...

William,

You asked if a superhuman creator wouldn't be able to shape the world so as to guide moral judgments. I think we both agree that as individuals, our moral values are shaped to a large degree by the culture and community we live in. So the question you pose is: does God shape the community's moral values? My response is that we can see clearly that societal moral values change from time to time and from place to place. If it was God shaping them, the they should be consistent across time and culture, but clearly, they are not.

I do not subscribe to a moral error theory, but neither am I an absolutist. Our morality is real, and I think there are certain things about which we can say "this is a moral truth", but with the caveat that it is dependent on time culture, and circumstances.

We may be in a position today to declare that killing someone for adultery is wrong, but perhaps there was a time and place where such a law was well justified. I think it is wrong to judge the morality of others who don't share our present cultural norms and circumstances.

I also believe that there are circumstantial elements to moral judgment, even within a given cultural climate. Is lying wrong? We usually believe that it is, but I can certainly contrive a scenario where lying would be the correct moral choice. Many times these moral choices are not so clear-cut. If there were some kind of divine guidance, there should be much less disagreement (or none at all) about what is right.

William said...

skep:

So, although you think a basis for a minimalist universal ethics would have been possible, you don't think there is evidence that there was any such basis?


im-skeptical said...

"So, although you think a basis for a minimalist universal ethics would have been possible, you don't think there is evidence that there was any such basis?"

I believe that human morality is based in part upon an instinctive ethic that is part of human nature - an ethic that evolved with our species to enhance survival. The best way to state that ethic is: "treat others as you would want to be treated". If there is any universal ethic, that would be it.

Of course, this is not comprehensive statement of human ethics, which are also cultural or situational, as we have discussed, and which seem to override the instinctual ethic in some cases. For example, the institution of slavery is cultural, but in the absence of cultural influence, it would violate our basic human ethic.

Papalinton said...

It has been somewhat luxurious to sit back and read the commentary rather than engage in the hurly-burly of it.

To observe Skep batting way over the fence the myriad of inconsequentials and factoids that are thrown his way, has been a treat. To read of Frances in her inimitable and delightful way probing, searching and seeking clarification. And Hyper, who clearly appreciates the paucity of evidence that underlies the immaterialists' claims and responds accordingly with measured riposte highlighting the insufficiency of their arguments.

One could mistakenly mewl, 'partisan'. But such a claim is simply noise in the wind. The context in which their comments are made provides the substantiating strength of their arguments and are a measure of their probity and concern for truth.

I have enjoyed reading this thread.

William said...

So, under naturalism, why should we be moral? I guess because we feel like it?

WMF said...

frances,

I think the reason why "it's an agreed rule of the game" is important because it's how you justify your claim it's not just a matter of personal opinion. So if there is an answer to my question, it's not going to involve personal opinions.

Not consider some sample answers:
- It's an agreed rule of the game because at one time a group of person with ultimate authority on the rules of chess decided that those were the right rules.
- It's an agree rule of the game because 100% of the people who play chess play it like that.
- It's an agree rule of the game because 99% of the people who play chess play it like that.
- It's an agree rule of the game because 51% of the people who play chess play it like that.
- It's an agree rule of the game because 30% of the people who play chess play it like that, for every other set of rules that even involves kings, at most 0.5% of the people who play chess play that set of rules.

Which level of agreement would be sufficient for objectivity and which would be necessary?

What if tomorrow, the chess playing community would split into two camps of equal size, each adding a new rule to the game - but they are two different rules. Suppose one of them is "towers can move up to 3 squares at most". Would that be an objective fact about chess?

Also, no one here is anyone's "opponent", at least not you and me. I don't I've even made any claims whatsoever in my dialogue with you. I just want to understand your position, because the way you are using terms like "objective" and "subjective" in a non-standard way.

WMF said...

frances,

I think the reason why "it's an agreed rule of the game" is important because it's how you justify your claim it's not just a matter of personal opinion. So if there is an answer to my question, it's not going to involve personal opinions.

Not consider some sample answers:
- It's an agreed rule of the game because at one time a group of person with ultimate authority on the rules of chess decided that those were the right rules.
- It's an agree rule of the game because 100% of the people who play chess play it like that.
- It's an agree rule of the game because 99% of the people who play chess play it like that.
- It's an agree rule of the game because 51% of the people who play chess play it like that.
- It's an agree rule of the game because 30% of the people who play chess play it like that, for every other set of rules that even involves kings, at most 0.5% of the people who play chess play that set of rules.

Which level of agreement would be sufficient for objectivity and which would be necessary?

What if tomorrow, the chess playing community would split into two camps of equal size, each adding a new rule to the game - but they are two different rules. Suppose one of them is "towers can move up to 3 squares at most". Would that be an objective fact about chess?

Also, no one here is anyone's "opponent", at least not you and me. I don't I've even made any claims whatsoever in my dialogue with you. I just want to understand your position, because the way you are using terms like "objective" and "subjective" in a non-standard way.

im-skeptical said...

William,

"So, under naturalism, why should we be moral? I guess because we feel like it?"

Ultimately, it's what makes us happy. Under theism, why should we be moral? Isn't it because we believe it will result in happiness? Because we like the idea of heaven better than hell? I can't believe that there is some reason theists have for moral behavior that is in any way better than my own reasons.

William said...

quoting skep:


"Ultimately, it's what makes us happy."

----

The ancients said "count no man happy until he is dead."
"

This might be a false statement.

What is "ultimately" here? Time related, or priority related ultimate? If time, what interval? Today, lifetime, millennia?

Also, by "us" do you mean "me as individual" or some larger group that is to be happy?

And what do you mean by "happy"? Euphoria?

HyperEntity111 said...

Crude

1. You asked 'Seems to who?'. I replied by saying 'seems to a lot of people' citing my personal experience as evidence. In this context, your response is obtuse and/or irrelevant.

2. The principles are well supported in the sense that there are reasons/evidences that make it more rational to accept them over their negations. Of course, people are free to reject whatever they like. You reject the claim that Russell's Paradox was a death blow to naive set theory. It doesn't follow that your rejection is rational. In ethics there are no ethical theories which depend on arguments whose premises one cannot rationally reject.

3. I didn't say 'people disagree about x so x doesn't exist'. I said the existence of systematic and fundamental ethical disagreement over 2000 years among moral philosophers gives us reason to doubt whether we are justified in accepting any particular ethical theory as true. This, in conjunction with the fact that I don't see any way to select between different ethical theories (theories which depend on premises that can always be plausibly rejected) makes me think that moral facts have no existence outside particular theories. Moral facts are not discovered by philosophers. They are generated from the axioms of particular ethical theories.

4. There are disputes among philosophers about whether torture is wrong, about whether killing people under certain conditions is wrong, about whether death itself is a bad thing, about whether abortion is wrong, about whether lying is wrong etc etc. This is just restricting our sample of ethical agents to philosophers (most of whom come very similar backgrounds anyway). We haven't included ordinary people from all over the world. So yeah I'd say there is pretty fundamental ethical disagreement.

I don't see what your point is about ethical intuitions. It is undeniable that people on opposing sides of fundamental ethical disagreements (say, abortion) have deeply held and very different intuitions. There are people have the intuition that killing innocent people is a moral obligation in certain contexts. They then demonstrate how much they believe that by flying planes into buildings and killing themselves. So yes, when people have different intuitions over even the most basic ethical facts, it is very fair to say that there are absurd levels of ethical disagreement.

5. I don't need to because I'm making a statement about human psychology which presupposes an external world. I'm not about the existence or non existence of the external world. Which brings me to my next point.
5.2 I'm not making the move you accuse me of. However, you are doing precisely what I accused you of.
"What's the evidence for p?"
"I'll argue with you for bit but I really don't need to because...global skepticism!"
Nice move. I look forward to when everyone on the Internet starts using it to argue for their favourite crazy belief. It's an illegitimate move that leads to absurdities. As soon as people start making this move in discussions about, say, biology, politics, psychology or ethics, I just move on. No point arguing with someone who cheats.

im-skeptical said...

William,

"What is "ultimately" here?"

What I mean by that is after all the explanations and rationalizations are said and done - we do what makes up happy, or at least what we believe will make us happy. The Christian takes comfort in the idea that he will enjoy the Beatific Vision. The hypochondriac craves attention and sympathy. The altruist takes pleasure in helping others, sometimes even at the cost of his own sacrifice.

"Also, by "us" do you mean "me as individual" or some larger group that is to be happy?"

I mean all of us - humankind. You're not so different from the rest of us.

Crude said...

Hyper,

1. You asked 'Seems to who?'. I replied by

And as I said, this is the sort of thing that has to be argued for. Or wait, are intuitions back to being A-OK?

In ethics there are no ethical theories which depend on arguments whose premises one cannot rationally reject.

It's not as if the people who reject ex nihilo nihil fit and the like admit that they're being irrational in rejecting such things. And what's your standard for 'rational' anyway? I sure hope it doesn't involve polling philosophers.

I didn't say 'people disagree about x so x doesn't exist'. I said the existence of systematic and

You said: "There are good reasons to think that objective morality in Linville's sense is impossible." That sure seems to cash out to 'people disagree about X so X doesn't exist'. And I also question your view of what is and isn't 'justified'. As anathema as it is to some philosophers, I think it's entirely possible for multiple views about a given question to be 'justified' despite their being contradictory. "People can disagree about a question and still be rational."

Granted, that spooks some people. I'm less worried about the whole thing.

There are disputes among philosophers about

'everything of note.' And when there isn't a dispute in an area, it seems to have vastly more to do with social and cultural moods at the moment than the predominance of some kind of awesome philosophical inquiry.

Regardless, I find most moral disputes philosophers have to be A) politically motivated, B) often relying on bizarre artificial thought experiments, and C) not exactly evidence of what you're trying to advance here.

At the same time, can I point at nigh-universal agreement among moral philosophers over 2000 years ('Raping and killing infants for fun is wrong.') as evidence in favor of objective morality?

There are people have the intuition that killing innocent people is a moral obligation in certain contexts.

You may want to check up on how 'innocent' they regard the people they're killing in that particular case.

Regardless, I think people bullshit about their intuitions.

5. I don't need to because I'm making a statement about human psychology which presupposes an external world.

Yeah, presupposing an external world is part of the problem here. Sorry, I don't think it's 'psychologically impossible' nor even necessary 'to stay alive' - and both statements rely on assuming the very thing being brought into question.

5.2 I'm not making the move you accuse me of. However, you are doing precisely what I accused you of.
"What's the evidence for p?"
"I'll argue with you for bit but I really don't need to because...global skepticism!"


That's not what I'm doing at all. Here's what's going on:

"I think philosophical views of class X are reasonable given this data and these premises."
'I can reject your premises no matter how reasonable they seem because disagreement!'
"You can reject anything if you want. I don't think your willingness to bite the bullet that comes with the rejection is all that compelling in and of itself - you can reject all manner of premises if you really wanted to."
'It's not fair that you're pointing that out!'

Likewise, I think you don't want to even consider something I've said: that the existence of such and such disagreement, if it shows anything, may only show that it's rationally justifiable to accept any one of a number of ethical views. It's entirely reasonable to believe moral facts are, in fact, discovered by philosophers. The ability to reject a premise and for you to feel fine about that doesn't go very far at all to showing otherwise.

Crude said...

Regarding 'We do what we believe will make us happy...'

First, that doesn't seem to be easily marked off as true. Plenty of people do what they believe to be right, even if it does not make them happy.

Second, if you say 'but they believe it may make them happy SOMEday', you're still left with the question: are they doing the right thing BECAUSE it will someday make them happy? Or because they are intellectually committed to doing the right thing, regardless of whether they will someday be happy?

Third, there's another possibility: trying to gain happiness from doing the right thing. Taming your desires and your likes to be in accordance with the objective moral good.

So no, it's not as simple as 'we do what makes us happy', because we recognize (at least if we believe in an external standard of morality) it's better to derive happiness from some things more than others. This doesn't necessarily mean 'This thing makes us MORE happy' either. We can even recognize that our happiness isn't the most important thing in the world, nor should it be the driving factor behind what we do.

Crude said...

And just to tack this on...

We may be in a position today to declare that killing someone for adultery is wrong, but perhaps there was a time and place where such a law was well justified. I think it is wrong to judge the morality of others who don't share our present cultural norms and circumstances.

I suppose that would include everything from Old Testament acts to slavery in America?

HyperEntity111 said...

Crude,

''And as I said, this is the sort of thing that has to be argued for.''

I was replying to your remark about 'meeting more people'. I thought that was obvious.


''You said: "There are good reasons to think that objective morality in Linville's sense is impossible." That sure seems to cash out to 'people disagree about X so X doesn't exist'.''

What it cashes out to is: There is ethical disagreement. There is no method for selecting between competing ethical theories. There are no facts you can appeal to select one theory as being true over another. Therefore ethical disagreement is irresolvable. There are no moral facts beyond the content of moral theories.


''And I also question your view of what is and isn't 'justified'. As anathema as it is to some philosophers, I think it's entirely possible for multiple views about a given question to be 'justified' despite their being contradictory. "People can disagree about a question and still be rational."''


The hypothesis that there are ethical facts which can be discovered by reason does a terrible job accounting for the abysmal levels of ethical disagreement among philosophers. We should expect to see much more agreement if that were the case. But if the sort of view I'm presenting were true this is precisely the sort of thing we should expect. This does not, on its own, show that my account is correct. But it certainly ticks the 'explanatory scope' box on the list theoretical virtues in a way your account does not.


''At the same time, can I point at nigh-universal agreement among moral philosophers over 2000 years ('Raping and killing infants for fun is wrong.') as evidence in favor of objective morality?''


Throughout the history of the world (and today) there are people who rape, kill and rape children, kill babies, rape and kill babies and see nothing wrong with it. This is not an example of a universally agreed upon moral proposition. So it was nice of you restrict your sample of moral agents to philosophers.

Perhaps this wasn't clear earlier so I'll clarify it now. I did not claim that there are no moral propositions that command the nigh universal assent of philosophers. What I claimed is that there is no agreement on what makes moral propositions true. There is systematic disagreement about ethical theories.


''Regardless, I think people bullshit about their intuitions.''

Sure some people do. But what's the significance of this? You've repeated this several times and I'm not sure how to take it other than 'I'm going to assume that people on the other side of the ethical fence are mostly lying about their intuitions.' Which is obviously false.


''That's not what I'm doing at all.''

You're rejecting my claims about human psychology on the grounds that they presuppose an external world. If that's not what you're doing, why bring up global skepticism?

'I can reject your premises no matter how reasonable they seem because disagreement!'

I never said that.

Crude said...

Hyper,

What it cashes out to is: There is ethical disagreement. There is no method for selecting between competing ethical theories. There are no facts you can appeal to select one theory as being true over another. Therefore ethical disagreement is irresolvable. There are no moral facts beyond the content of moral theories.

No, that's not it at all. There are facts that can be appealed to, there are reasonable premises which are stronger than the alternatives. What you mean is you're confident that you can ditch whatever you need to ditch at every turn and, hopefully, you won't get the 'demonstrably irrational' tag in the process.

Finally, the jump from 'Ethical disagreement is irresolvable' to 'there are no moral facts beyond the content of moral theories' is a non-seq. Again: the inability to end moral disputes to your satisfaction is not somehow the evidence that there are no moral facts in the sense being discussed.

The hypothesis that there are ethical facts which can be discovered by reason does a terrible job accounting for the abysmal levels of ethical disagreement among philosophers. We should expect to see much more agreement if that were the case.

Not on the least. For one thing this gives philosophers an absurd amount of authority in a way they simply do not have it. Second, philosophers throughout history have been in agreement on a wide number of basic moral claims - I suppose that's now evidence FOR those facts 'discovered by reason'? Third, philosophers disproportionately focus on limit cases and hypotheticals. Think of all of the most famous ethical thought experiments and you're going to see a march of experiments that are frankly alien to most of human experience.

Throughout the history of the world (and today) there are people who rape, kill and rape children, kill babies, rape and kill babies and see nothing wrong with it.

And this is flat out nonsense. First, you're psychoanalyzing them - and I reject your analysis. Again: 'torturing infants for fun' is one example of a ethical question on which there is near universal agreement. How about it being moral for a married couple to have children? You are focusing only ON the areas of disagreement because /that is precisely what philosophers tend to focus on./

What I claimed is that there is no agreement on what makes moral propositions true. There is systematic disagreement about ethical theories.

I see no reason to automatically expect agreement from philosophers. Sorry, I don't really grant philosophers the position of being our intellectual authorities - I am interested in their arguments, not their consensus or lack of it.

Which is obviously false.

Obviously false, based on what? More intuitions? Hey, maybe you have empirical data here - bring it up.

People deceive themselves about right and wrong. They justify acts they know are immoral, they condemn acts they know are correct - and this is before more legitimate confusion sets in. Like I said: I'm more interested in arguments than individuals.

You're rejecting my claims about human psychology on the grounds that they presuppose an external world. If that's not what you're doing, why bring up global skepticism?

I'm rejecting the relevance of your claimed ability to dispute premises by pointing out that the mere ability to dispute premises doesn't get you very far - with the solipsist as an example of WHY disputing premises alone just doesn't impress me. And I'm advanced the idea that maybe the proper view is to regard a plurality of views as rational and supported.

I never said that.

I think that's not exactly an out-there interpretation of your responses thus far.

frances said...

William,

So, under naturalism, why should we be moral? I

I think this is not a question which admits of any meaningful answer, because "morality" simply is "what we should do". So you are asking "Why should we do what we should do?" which doesn't make a lot of sense under either theism or naturalism.

Of course, if the "should" is a consequence based question (like "You should put on warm clothing if you go outside in winter [otherwise you will feel cold and miserable])" then both theism and naturalism could provide their own answers.

Theism: because if you are not moral God could send you to Hell.
Naturalism: because if you are not moral, you will be a social outcast.
But I assume that isn't what you're getting at.

WMF said...

I think this is not a question which admits of any meaningful answer, because "morality" simply is "what we should do". So you are asking "Why should we do what we should do?" which doesn't make a lot of sense under either theism or naturalism.

Then perhaps the question should be phrased as "Why would there be things we should do, assuming naturalism?"

frances said...

WMF

Thank you for your response.

As I understand it, you are asking me to further explain my position about objectivity, so I will do my best.

1. Nobody knows how the rules of chess came about. It's lost in the mists of time. As I said earlier, it doesn't really matter how they came about, they've come down to us now as they are and what they are is a settled fact.
2. I don't know that 100% of the people who play chess play it as described, because I'm not in contact with 100% of people who play chess. But all the people I have played chess with have played by that rule. All the books on chess I've ever read have included that rule. Whenever I play any game of chess via IT, the programme will not recognise any move you instruct it to make which breaches that rule. I would therefore say that the vast majority of chess players play that way. I would also say that they play that way because that is the rule, not that that is the rule because that is how they play. If I met a chess player who didn't acknowledge the rule, I would refer them to the evidence above (books, IT programmes etc) and I would expect them to acknowledge that they were wrong based on that evidence.
3. There isn't (as far as I'm aware) any authority now in existence for determining chess rules (because what they are was settled long ago - those mists of time). But in principle, whatever has been brought about by human agreement can be changed by human agreement, as for instance, which side of the road we drive on. Here in the UK, it's the left. In most other countries it's the right. The "correct" side was determined by custom, in other words by people. But once it was determined, it was certainly not a matter of personal opinion which side it was for that country. Countries could change which side was the correct side. Sweden switched from driving on the left to the right on 3rd September 1967. Prior to that day, it was objectively true that the left was the correct side for driving on in Sweden. From that date it was objectively true that it was not the correct side for driving on. It was an objective truth which was created by humans and their decisions.

I didn't mean to strike a specifically hostile note by references to "opponent". It was just a shorthand way of referring to someone who is debating with me.

I don't agree that my use of "objective" and "subjective" are non-standard. I think standard is exactly what they are. I can't put it better than Sandra LaFave did in the link posted by William. Whether vanilla ice cream tastes better than chocolate may be very much a matter of personal opinion. That it tastes better than Drano is a matter of objective fact.

But may I ask you some questions?

- Do you agree that it is an objective fact that in chess you are not allowed to make any move that puts your own king in check? Or do you see it as subjective?

- if you see it as objective, what in your view makes it so?

- if you see it as subjective, how might this impact on your own playing of the game (or teaching somebody else to play it)? Would you argue with anyone who challenged your move on the basis that "it's all just a matter of personal opinion, isn't it?" How would you begin to teach anyone else a game if you did not start from the basis that there are some established rules which must be followed?

im-skeptical said...

"Again: 'torturing infants for fun' is one example of a ethical question on which there is near universal agreement."

I don't believe that's necessarily true. It is true to the extent that is complies with our inborn, instinctive human morality. It is false to the extent that various societal influences during the course of history have strayed from that ideal. There were Nazis working for the greater glory of the Aryan Nation, who apparently enjoyed those very things, without any moral qualms. The same may be said of primitive cultures, and you might also want to see what the bible has to say.

But here's the more pertinent question: If you get into any ethical issue that is more complex than that which is governed by the basic ethics of human nature, you can't point to any kind of absolute moral facts, period. There aren't any. Your ethical theory falls flat on its face because it's demonstrably false.

WMF said...

Whether vanilla ice cream tastes better than chocolate may be very much a matter of personal opinion. That it tastes better than Drano is a matter of objective fact.

And why in the world would that be the case?

HyperEntity111 said...

Crude,

1. Examples please. What facts/reasons can you appeal to show that, say, Kantianism is true and utilitarianism is false?

Finally, that's not what I said. Ethical disagreement is irresolvable because there are no moral facts over and above the content of ethical theories.

2. Not really. If there are moral facts discoverable by careful analysis of reasons, philosophers are simply better placed to discover them than the ordinary person on the street.

And to repeat my point, there is widespread disagreement on what makes moral propositions true. Anyway, if you want to expand the sample of moral agents to include the entire human race, fine. Then you'll find that not only is there no agreement on what makes moral claims true there is no agreement on a set of basic moral claims.

3. Yes. Clearly, I'm 'psychoanalysing' Hitler, Joseph Kony and Jimmy Saville. Obviously, anyone who does something bad knows it's bad.

4. Obviously false because the best guide to what people believe are their words and actions. The words and actions of the people on opposing sides of moral disputes indicate that both sides (for the most part) really believe what they're saying. Unless you have some special access to other people's minds the burden of proof is on you to show I'm wrong.

5. Unless you have a sound argument to show that solipsism is false/unreasonable I don't see why the lack of convincing arguments against it doesn't bother you. Since, you know, you're not relying on background assumptions about the falsity of solipsism and its psychological unacceptability whenever you mention it debates.

6. After I've repeatedly stated that I'm not making that argument, I think it kind of is.

Crude said...

Hyper,

1. Examples please. What facts/reasons can you appeal to show that, say, Kantianism is true and utilitarianism is false?

Since I don't think either of them are true, why should I bother? Not to mention I'm not even aware of anyone offering utilitarianism up as 'objectively true' anyway - that's usually stomping grounds for people who are just looking for some admittedly subjective measure.

Finally, that's not what I said. Ethical disagreement is irresolvable because there are no moral facts over and above the content of ethical theories.

Show how the mere existence of moral facts would suffice to resolve problems. Note: not possible.

2. Not really. If there are moral facts discoverable by careful analysis of reasons, philosophers are simply better placed to discover them than the ordinary person on the street.

You are idealizing philosophers to a degree I don't find well supported. We're not dealing with idealizations here, but reality - and in reality, philosophers are not particularly immune to bullshitting themselves and others, making systematic mistakes, etc.

3. Yes. Clearly, I'm 'psychoanalysing' Hitler, Joseph Kony and Jimmy Saville. Obviously, anyone who does something bad knows it's bad.

I don't think you've given much reason to think otherwise. What, you think no one does what they think is bad? No one would ever knowingly violate a moral truth? C'mon.

Unless you have some special access to other people's minds the burden of proof is on you to show I'm wrong.

The burden is on whoever is making a claim, and you are making one. Hell, I don't even think the evidence shows what you say it shows - it's discounted by the existence of hypocrites. They're around in abundance.

5. Unless you have a sound argument to show that solipsism is false/unreasonable I don't see why the lack of convincing arguments against it doesn't bother you.

Unless I have a sound argument against the truth of solipsism you don't see why the lack of convincing arguments wouldn't bother me? What? Think through what you just said. Find the error.

6. After I've repeatedly stated that I'm not making that argument, I think it kind of is.

I'm less interested in your denial about your words than your words, on that front.