Monday, May 18, 2009

Hannibal Lecter and moral objectivity

The idea is that if something is the sort of thing where, if there is a difference, someone has to be right and the other side has to be wrong, you've got objectivity. There is a truth independent of the preferences and opinions of people. So if I say the earth is flat and you say it's round, it isn't just flat for me and round for you, I've got it wrong. If I say "Coke is better than Pepsi" and you disagree, we can both be right for ourselves, and can remain right even if I take the Pepsi challenge and remain a Coke drinker.

What about ethics? Is it more like the Coke case or like the flat earth case? With highly vexed issues like abortion, we are tempted to think it is like the Coke case. If we contemplate inviting someone over for dinner and then cooking them as dinner, relativism or subjectivism is hard to maintain. Is my disagreement with Hannibal Lecter on what is morally appropriate to cook and eat a mere matter of taste (pun intended)?


PersonalFailure said...

Would it help you to consider that by drinking Coke instead of Pepsi, I harm no one and deprive no one of life or liberty, but by eating someone I do?

Coke v. Pepsi isn't a good analogy when discussing morality, especially if you are going to get into cannibalism.

Clayton Littlejohn said...

Suppose it turned out that owing to some fact about our visual systems, the combination of stripes, plaids, and polka dots always produced a negative response and as a consequence every culture has adopted standards of dress on which a shirt that had stripes, plaid, and polka dots would be unfashionable, unattractive, ugly, etc... Would you then say that you were attracted to an objective account of the properties our predicates of fashion pick out?

Anonymous said...

Coke vs. Pepsi is an interesting example and it reminds me of something.

One time, I read someone who was probably the greatest parody of an atheist possible and he argued that because theists can't even agree on "Which is better, Coke or Pepsi?", so how can we trust theists on even more important questions, like "Does God exist?" Atleast, that's how I recall it. He also argued that God does not exist because if he would he would be omnipresent but you can't find God on Google Maps, so ...

How much weight should we put on such minor disagreements?

Mike Almeida said...

The idea is that if something is the sort of thing where, if there is a difference, someone has to be right and the other side has to be wrong, you've got objectivity.That is not a sufficient condition of objectivity. Just take a simple subjectivist view of moral rightness such as A is morally right iff. all moral agents disinterestedly approved of A. Rightness here is just the reflection of a certain sort of subjective approval. But obviously, there is some fact of the matter concerning whether there is such approval. It meets your conditions of objectivity, but it isn't an objective moral theory. It is a paradigmatic subjectivist view.

Edwardtbabinski said...


Human ethics begins with at least two humans. If neither of them wish to be eaten, nor have their lives taken from them at the other's whim, nor have things they have gathered or worked for taken from them at the other's whim, such desires lead to the recognition and development of human ethics.

Other factors involved are of course the fact that people share joys as well as sorrows, and the vast majority of us do not imagine we'd like a joyless world, or one with too many sorrows.

As for ethics based on authoritarianism, such as a strict interpretation of biblical laws, authoritarianism explains nothing. It does not explain the basic biological and psychological desires and recognitions outlined above, that preceded the development of written legal codes, and that seem based on basic biological and psychological needs, fears, joys, recognitions.

Hannibal Lecter knows his victims fear torture and death. He knows that because there's a part of him that also recognizes the fear that comes from imagining such things happening to himself. But he chooses to ignore that knowledge.

Even in an authoritarian based legal system based on a "holy book" some people may choose to ignore "divine moral commands"--or interpret them to suit their tribe or their person.

Lastly comment, the fear of "eternal hell" has been used (it seems most often) to keep people believing in a particular religion's doctrines and dogmas, and its holy book and traditions and church/mosque.

unkleE said...

"Would it help you to consider that by drinking Coke instead of Pepsi, I harm no one and deprive no one of life or liberty, but by eating someone I do?"This is obviously relevant, but doesn't solve the problem, but just regresses it. For that to be a telling criterion, we have to believe that depriving someone of life and liberty is "wrong" - and how do we decide if it is "objectively wrong"?

Surely we mostly decide these things according to how we feel? I feel angry that someone acts in a certain way, so I call it truly (i.e. objectively) immoral, but when I want to act in a way that someone else calls immoral, I say it's subjective. I don't agree with that approach, but I think most of us fall into it at times, and some people may never fall out of it. Finding a rational basis for what we actually do is the challenge.

Clayton Littlejohn said...

[I should have noted that my Q for VR was my attempt to get him to come clean on something from an earlier post where he seemed to be suggesting that agreement caused trouble for relativism and I'm guessing any view that isn't a form of objectivism.]

Solon said...

>>on what is morally appropriate

Define "moral" so we can answer the damn question.

How can anyone answer a question without knowing what they're being asked? (And if you want to say "moral" = "right", define "right". Hell, even just give one clear example.)

>>Hannibal Lecter knows his victims fear torture and death....But he chooses to ignore that knowledge.

So? When a wolf eats a sheep it's a bad deal for the sheep, isn't it? Best grow some claws (or laws) to project your power.