Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Are the Ethics of Belief Objective?

 If all versions of robust ethics without God a la Wielenberg fail, and atheism leads to moral subjectivism, then we could say that if there is no God everything is permitted. That includes racism, sexism, homophobia, and believing in God without a shred of evidence.

14 comments:

One Brow said...

The very use of the term "permitted" loads the answer.

On a functional basis, I don't find the morality of various Christians to be less subjective that the morality of various atheists. So, if God exists, Their existence had not added objectivity to the search for morals.

Hugo Pelland said...

God is irrelevant. We can come up, as a thriving society, with conventions and definitions of what it means to be just, cruel, fair, greedy, honest, etc... regardless of whether we agreed that there are objective versions of these ideas.

If a god exists, there were no instructions ever given by that god, no clear definitions, nothing humans agree on universally, nothing useful to help us live an ethical life. We're still all coming up with judgements based on a complex combination of our own faculties of reason and emotional reactions.

Joe Hinman said...

f a god exists, there were no instructions ever given by that god, no clear definitions, nothing humans agree on universally, nothing useful to help us live an ethical life. We're still all coming up with judgements based on a complex combination of our own faculties of reason and emotional reactions.

you are begging the question. There are instructions put in us, science acknowledges that when they start talking about genetic ethics.

Hugo Pelland said...

Something natural, intrinsic, in our DNA, isn't necessarily good. We need more investigation. Hence, not relevant...

SteveK said...

Hugo,
Your mind perceives morality in a similar way that your mind perceives light. You notice the moral gradations in life and act on them and react to them. Society collectively does the same and collectively attempts to develop a set of moral rules designed to obtain the greatest moral good.

What you are saying is there are no moral gradations for a person to notice. What you are saying is you are hallucinating. Because there are no moral gradations to notice, you are reacting to and acting upon ghosts.

SteveK said...

>> "If a god exists, there were no instructions ever given by that god, no clear definitions, nothing humans agree on universally, nothing useful to help us live an ethical life."

I don't believe you. Do you understand that it's morally good to heal the sick and morally evil to make them even more sick?

If so, you do have the instructions and you are able to understand them fairly clearly - at least some of them.

If not, then you have greater problems than I can help you with.

jdhuey said...

"...if there is no God everything is permitted."

This strikes me as nonsensical: 'permitted' by who or what?

If there is/are no God/gods then ethics is strictly a human affair. We have to struggle to do the best we can on our own - like always.

Hugo Pelland said...

SteveK,

On the one hand I think you give a good portrait of how we perceive morality; we look at things around us and we "see" fairness, or not, for example. But we need to be careful with analogies. It's not like we literally "see" fairness the same way we see light. Moreover, the problem is that this is just the gut feeling that works like that. The instant perception we have of some action being moral or not is just that, an instant perception, and not a reasoned analysis.

If we suddenly see someone spanking someone else, leaving red marks on them, while they are tied up, we might perceived some violent act, something immoral. But then, we know there might be more to it, it might be consensual, some weird fetish 2 adults decided to play with. In such case, our initial perception was wrong, in that there was nothing immoral going on, or at least there was no unwanted harm being done. And this should answer your weird point about not noticing gradations. I don't know where you got that, this makes no sense. Of course there are gradations...

Finally, the notion of instructions was addressed in the post just above yours. Literally the one just before. Read it. If you don't get it, then you have greater problems than I can help you with.

Victor Reppert said...

"If there is no God everything is permitted" is a quote from the Dostoyevsky character Ivan Karamazov. But the idea is this: if we get away with our action in this life, even if it contravenes ordinary social norms, then we can get the advantages of doing the "wrong" act, but will never be held accountable by anyone. It is quite possible that we could do a wrong act, get better earthly consequences for ourselves for doing it, and get the same eternal consequences (i. e. none) that we would have gotten if we had done the right thing.

Hugo Pelland said...

Getting from “Is” to “Ought”

1/ Let’s assume that there are no ought’s or should’s in this universe. There is only what *is*—the totality of actual (and possible) facts.

2/ Among the myriad things that exist are conscious minds, susceptible to a vast range of actual (and possible) experiences.

3/ Unfortunately, many experiences suck. And they don’t just suck as a matter of cultural convention or personal bias—they really and truly suck. (If you doubt this, place your hand on a hot stove and report back.)

4/ Conscious minds are natural phenomena. Consequently, if we were to learn everything there is to know about physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, economics, etc., we would know everything there is to know about making our corner of the universe suck less.

5/ If we *should* to do anything in this life, we should avoid what really and truly sucks. (If you consider this question-begging, consult your stove, as above.)

6/ Of course, we can be confused or mistaken about experience. Something can suck for a while, only to reveal new experiences which don’t suck at all. On these occasions we say, “At first that sucked, but it was worth it!”

7/ We can also be selfish and shortsighted. Many solutions to our problems are zero-sum (my gain will be your loss). But *better* solutions aren’t. (By what measure of “better”? Fewer things suck.)

8/ So what is morality? What *ought* sentient beings like ourselves do? Understand how the world works (facts), so that we can avoid what sucks (values).

-- Sam Harris

Hugo Pelland said...

Victor, yes, you described reality. We do get away with our action in this life, even if it contravenes ordinary social norms. We can get the advantages of doing the "wrong" act, and will never be held accountable by anyone. People do wrong acts, get better earthly consequences for ourselves for doing it, and when they're gone, they're gone, and we all get the same eternal consequences (i. e. none). But many people add something to it, for thousands of different reasons.

David Brightly said...

I took Victor's piece to be a reply to the common accusation that Christians believe on too little evidence. If naturalist accusers see this as a moral failing within some 'ethics of belief' then Victor points out that they are performatively inconsistent. For there doesn't seem to be any possibility of an objective ethics under naturalistic assumptions, and various isms and phobias would seem to have no moral significance.

Putting this last issue to one side, isn't there a prior question, namely, Is there or could there possibly be an ethics of belief? What would it consist in? Not a list of propositions in which belief was either obligatory or forbidden, surely? What would that even mean? When I was growing up I was presented with many propositions but nobody said I must believe in some and must not believe in others. That was left up to me though it turned out not exactly a matter of choice or free will. I'm afraid I can't believe in an ethics of belief. At least, not such a first order system. If, however, an ethics of belief contained such advice as, If you want to find out the truth about some matter of fact you must make some kind of investigation, then that does seem to be objectively true.

SteveK said...

Hugo: " And this should answer your weird point about not noticing gradations. I don't know where you got that, this makes no sense. Of course there are gradations..."

I agree. We are noticing the objective morality that underlies those gradations. We notice the physical reality that underlies the gradations of heat/pain when we put a hand on a hot stove just as we notice the moral reality that underlies the gradations of goodness when we observe the world around us.

Joe Hinman said...

Hugo Pelland said...
Something natural, intrinsic, in our DNA, isn't necessarily good. We need more investigation. Hence, not relevant...

I am talkie about shared values that motivate our ethical motions. I don't agree with basing ethics upon genetics, but in terms of the assumptions we make about God we can't assume there;s basis for belief.