Sunday, November 04, 2018

Human rights, moral objectivity, and the law of noncontradiction.

With subjective claims, such as "McDonald's burgers are better the Burger King's," we would not apply the LnC because these statements have an unstated "for me" clause. Hence, Gladys's preference for Burger King and Marie's preference for McDonalds do not contradict one another. On the other hand, if I say "The Democrats will win the House" and you say "The Republicans will hold the House," both can't be true, and one of us will be shown to be wrong sometimes this week (probably). So this was my way of asking the question of whether moral statements are objective or subjective. Now if there is a God, and God has a view of a moral issue, then the issue is objective. That may not help us figure out what the objective truth is, but it does seem to imply that there has to be one. But what if there isn't? Well, there atheists, so far as I can tell, split down the middle on moral objectivity. J. L Mackie was a famous atheist who thought that morals are subjective, but Erik Wielenberg, an American philosopher, has defended moral objectivity and argued that it is compatible with atheism. 
One feature of moral objectivity that doesn't get the attention it should is that the very idea of human rights implies that morals are objective. Think about it, some society practices, say, female genital mutilation. The idea of human rights says that that isn't just something we don't like, there is a right that these women  have not to have this done to them, and even if the society where  you are approves of doing this to them, it in FACT violates their basic rights. There is some truth about what these women should have a right to that is not changed even if the people with the biggest guns (and knives) say otherwise. The Declaration of Independence uses religious language to assert these rights, it says that they were endowed by our creator. But what this is aimed at is the idea that these rights are not up to government, or society, to give and take away, that they inhere in persons regardless of whether or not they are violated. It seems to me that accepting the subjectivity of morals means that you have to dump the idea of human rights entirely, and say it is up to individuals, societies, or governments to determine whether a girl has a right to an education, or a man has the right to be free of slavery. 


Kevin said...

I don't think atheism is incompatible with the concept of rights per se. If you think of rights as the freedoms or privileges that a majority group has decided to impose upon its society and to punish those who deviate, then there is no contradiction. Same with morality, really.

Where atheists typically run into issues would be when they get outraged at someone else deviating from the atheist's desired behavior, and proceed to criticize that person and call them evil/immoral/whatever, based upon what is essentially a difference in opinion. It's very hard to successfully justify such outrage without a true standard.

Even those who deny objective morality live as though they believe.

David Brightly said...

1. Rights talk sounds more objective than old-fashioned should and ought talk because the use of nouns co-opts the language and emotion of possession. But 'I have the right to be free' is just equivalent to 'You should not enslave me'. Except that rights have become first class moral principles and all else is second class. No wonder people are so keen to establish rights! Roger Scruton notes that where rights have been incorporated into the English legal system they take precedence over the remedies gradually evolved over centuries of the common law tradition, often to detrimental effect.

2. Surely morality has both subjective and objective aspects? We make contact, as it were, with the moral climate through the moral sentiments which vary from person to person, subjectively. Yet the moral climate to which we are exposed and which we are taught has an objective collective effect on the character of society.

3. There is some truth about what these women should have a right to... So we can make moral judgements about rights possession? Is that consistent with the objectivity of rights?