Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

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Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Wed Oct 24, 2012 10:07 pm

Any relativists of one stripe or another want to debate whether or not morality is objective?
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Wed Oct 24, 2012 10:19 pm

I wouldn't call myself a "relativist", but I certainly doubt that any meaningful vision of "objective morality" exists/is true/what-have-you.
So, I'm game.
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Wed Oct 24, 2012 11:08 pm

Flannel Jesus wrote:I wouldn't call myself a "relativist", but I certainly doubt that any meaningful vision of "objective morality" exists/is true/what-have-you.
So, I'm game.


Alright, but we should first get clear on what we'd be arguing. I can see at least two possibilities...

One way the debate could go is to argue about whether there are objective answers to moral questions, (which is different than arguing in favor of a specific objective method of answering moral questions). Basically, we'd be arguing about whether there are objective answers---not whether I have them or not. This is a common debate in meta-ethics---where it's more about debating objectivity per say, rather than the merits of Utilitarianism or Kantianism or any other objective moral theory. Perhaps this topic will work, in so far as you seem to be a "moral skeptic" (e.g., "no moral facts exist"---regardless of what theory/kind of fact they are).

The other way I could see the debate going is to argue the merits of any one particular moral theory, such as Utilitarianism, or Kantianism, or something like that. But usuall when you debate the merits of some theory, both sides agree that there's some right/objective answers to morality. Only then would one side argue that a theory gets it right, and the other that it gets it wrong.

Let me know if this makes some sense...
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Wed Oct 24, 2012 11:14 pm

I think you're about right in describing me as a "moral skeptic," but proceed as you like. The only merits to a theory, for me, will surround the question of whether it's true or not, not what they result in. A theory which, if accepted, results in complete happiness for everyone may still be an untrue theory -- I'm interested in the truth here, not happiness (though if you've got a good hint on happiness, feel free to pm it to me).
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Wed Oct 24, 2012 11:32 pm

Flannel Jesus wrote:I think you're about right in describing me as a "moral skeptic," but proceed as you like. The only merits to a theory, for me, will surround the question of whether it's true or not, not what they result in. A theory which, if accepted, results in complete happiness for everyone may still be an untrue theory -- I'm interested in the truth here, not happiness (though if you've got a good hint on happiness, feel free to pm it to me).


Ok, I'll get back to you on this. But I just want to say that one theory of 'truth' is the pragmatist one---where 'truth' is just what works. Sometimes scientists talk as if they presume that components of their explanatory hypotheses exist, just because they work to explain/predict results. Sounds like you're more of a correspondence theorist. Personally, I change my understanding of what counts as 'truth' depending on context. I'm not sure what I am in the context of morality.
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Moreno » Thu Oct 25, 2012 1:32 am

Mo_ wrote:Any relativists of one stripe or another want to debate whether or not morality is objective?
Morality is objective period, or a specific morality can be or has already been determined to be objectively true?
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Thu Oct 25, 2012 4:53 am

Moreno wrote:
Mo_ wrote:Any relativists of one stripe or another want to debate whether or not morality is objective?
Morality is objective period, or a specific morality can be or has already been determined to be objectively true?


Good question.

I think in metaethics we can debate whether there are objective answers to moral questions without arguing for the truth of any given moral theory. And in normative ethics, we can argue the merits and truth of any given theory. And these are different, but both possible. That said, help me understand how you'd argue the falsity of some normative moral theory (like Kantianism or Utilitarianism) without committing yourself to metaethical objectivism---since if morality was subjective, I could be write about the normative theory, and you could be right about its falsity. I'm confused about this...
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby fuse » Thu Oct 25, 2012 5:42 am

I think I can make a pretty good case that morality is subjective -- that no matter how strongly or universally people may judge right and wrong behavior in particular situations there are no mind-independent facts about right and wrong -- and also that subjective morality isn't necessarily as disturbing or problematic as people might think.

No one commented in the other thread when I tried to get into this topic.

fuse wrote:It seems to me morality is multifaceted, having both legitimate objective and subjective facets. Given particular circumstances and cares you could objectively determine how best to satisfy those cares, but, if those very cares come to be in question, you can only go so far in rationally grounding what people care about in the first place. Once you get to fundamental cares and concerns you have no recourse to any justifying facts. In an ultimate sense, morality is inevitably, even essentially, subject dependent.


Truth (the objective kind) (we can discuss 'truth', if we need to) doesn't seem to apply to moral matters. There are all sorts of truths in pragmatic matters (e.g. if you want to achieve flight, x, y, and z conditions need to be met / if you want to be healthy, you should do x, y, and z / if you want to maximize happiness or well-being, you should do x, y, and z) that should not be confused with what I mean about truth in moral matters (e.g. regardless of what you want or what you care about, you ought to do x, y, and z).

Let me discuss one of the more potentially confusing examples mentioned above. Once you stipulate what it means to maximize happiness and take it to be the morally right thing to do, the problem of achieving maximal happiness is no longer a moral matter but a pragmatic one. The moral matter is in answering why in the fist place working towards maximal happiness is the right thing to do or not. If there's an objective truth in moral matters, there must be a basis for or against *maximizing happiness* (substitute whatever you like here, e.g. *murdering innocent people*) that is independent not only of human sensibility but any subject's sensibility at all. I find the consequent there extraordinarily unlikely, possibly even incoherent.

So say there are no objective truths in moral matters. Say there is ultimately is no mind-independent way of justifying moral claims. Might this be our situation? "When we consider human morality, we don’t see universal moral truth but rather a universal moral instinct." "We have moral instincts that are roughly identical because we're the same species." Having already been set as instinct and intuition, people don't generally sense any urgency to justify their fundamental moral values. Hurting innocents is wrong. Malicious deception is wrong. Whether some person really is innocent, or whether some case of deception really is malicious are truth functional details, but the sentiments as wholes are not: if you don't get it, you don't get it. Fortunately, for most of us, we agree about fundamental things like these, even if we don't agree about the details. It is true there would be no way to rationally argue about the fundamentals if morality is subjective, but the details are open to rational investigation and the differing cultural manifestations of the same moral instincts are open to reconciliation.

I'd be up for going further if you're interested in challenging/exploring this view.
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Thu Oct 25, 2012 6:23 am

fuse wrote:I think I can make a pretty good case that morality is subjective -- that no matter how strongly or universally people may judge right and wrong behavior in particular situations there are no mind-independent facts about right and wrong -- and also that subjective morality isn't necessarily as disturbing or problematic as people might think.

I don't think we'd have a productive debate unless we got clear about a few distinctions you are making, that I am not.

Firstly, you have an essential distinction between 'morality' and 'prudence'---I don't, and I think you're mistaken to have one. I think it confuses your understanding of what morality actually is. And I think that distinction in general is a relic from the religious middle ages where "how you ought to act" was divided between the concerns of this world, and the concerns of the next (i.e., heaven/hell). But for the ancients, and for us, morality is just about "how you ought to act". And there's not an essential distinction between that, and prudence---just one of degree of importance.

Secondly, I think you are confusing "mind-dependence" with "subjective". Everything, including the truths of math, science, logic are "mind-dependent". They require a brain to know, and they're simply not true unless your brain works like ours. But these truths are also all objective. 'Objective' just means "independent of your opinion"----not independent of your physical brain.

Given that we have these basic conceptual differences, I don't think we can debate. Let me know if I'm wrong about anything here, and I'll look at it again.
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Thu Oct 25, 2012 7:16 am

Oh, guess I'm bowing out then. I've been usurped as Number One Contender.
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby fuse » Thu Oct 25, 2012 7:27 am

Well, I'm trying to learn, so... if you could bear with some of these rough steps...


Mo_ wrote:Firstly, you have an essential distinction between 'morality' and 'prudence'---I don't, and I think you're mistaken to have one. I think it confuses your understanding of what morality actually is.

I'm making a distinction between A) knowledge of successful courses of action given particular desires and cares and B) knowledge of right desires and cares. Given certain desires and cares, I believe they can be satisfied in objectively better or worse ways. But how can you justify the most fundamental desires and cares in the first place? I don't see what rational basis there could be for justification of that kind.


Mo_ wrote:Secondly, I think you are confusing "mind-dependence" with "subjective". Everything, including the truths of math, science, logic are "mind-dependent". They require a brain to know, and they're simply not true unless your brain works like ours. But these truths are also all objective.

I'm not confused about it, I just failed to phrase what I meant clearly in some instances. By objective I mean independent of emotional/irrational sensibility. I think emotional/irrational sensibility always drives moral judgement, and I don't think morality as a concept makes a lot of sense independent of it.
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby fuse » Thu Oct 25, 2012 7:31 am

Flannel Jesus wrote:Oh, guess I'm bowing out then. I've been usurped as Number One Contender.

I just want to discuss the topic, I didn't mean to take anyone's place in a debate. I don't see why you can't still debate Mo_ if you guys want to do that. Or we can all just discuss/debate the topic less formally? It's okay, bro. You're still #1.
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Thu Oct 25, 2012 9:29 am

Nah, I know how it gets when 2 people are debating you on 2 different fronts. Mo's going to have to keep track of my disagreements as distinct from your disagreements -- pretty much impossible to do -- so that he doesn't argue with me using assumptions he made in the argument with you. Mix-ups always happen and one or both sides end up too frustrated and confused to want to continue. This isn't always the case, but with something that requires as much precision in language as this topic, it usually happens.
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby fuse » Thu Oct 25, 2012 3:21 pm

Okay, I'll shut up then. 'Cause I think you two should debate.
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Carleas » Fri Oct 26, 2012 4:21 pm

I'd be interested in judging such a debate, if you want to make it a formal affair.
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Fri Oct 26, 2012 5:31 pm

Flannel Jesus wrote: The only merits to a theory, for me, will surround the question of whether it's true or not, not what they result in. A theory which, if accepted, results in complete happiness for everyone may still be an untrue theory -- I'm interested in the truth here, not happiness (though if you've got a good hint on happiness, feel free to pm it to me).


Alright, we can debate then. A few things before we start... clarificatory...

1. If a moral theory perfectly captured everything a person wanted, and resulted in complete happiness of everyone, I'd feel justified in calling it true---the truth about how people ought to act---the same way I'd feel justified in calling a scientific theory true if it explained everything it needed to, simply, and made good predictions, etc (i.e., it worked), even if we didn't know if any of its ontological commitments actually existed. That's my inclination. I'm more of a pragmatist. That said, you sound more like a correspondence theorist of truth... that is, you think moral facts only exist if they refer to objects in the physical universe. It's a theory that doesn't always make good sense... for instance, in math. You won't find a number anywhere, it's an intellectual thing. But math is objective, and there are true answers in math. This might be a difference between us that leads us to talk past each other.

2. In any case, here's what I propose to debate: "Are there right and wrong answers to moral questions, independently of individual or cultural opinion". Let me know if you think I've stacked the deck in my favor, and we can tweak the debate question.

Carleas will judge if we're ready. You can choose whether you want to go first or what... If there's rules, I'll need to check them out still...
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Fri Oct 26, 2012 6:42 pm

You can word your argument how you like. If you want to argue "that there are right and wrong answers to moral questions," that's your call. The debate will still be centered around the OP statement, "whether or not morality is objective." Depending on what you count as a moral question, there may be things called moral questions which have objectively right or wrong answers, and morality itself still not be objective, but that all depends on how you classify as question as a "moral one."

Just as an example of how a moral question might have an objective answer while morality remains non-objective, one might consider this a moral question: "Would Maria benefit more from getting an abortion or having the baby?" One could feasibly convince me that there is an objectively correct answer to that question, without convincing me that morality is objective.
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Flannel Jesus » Fri Oct 26, 2012 6:50 pm

I can see that you've been attempting to sort of be transparent in your upcoming approach to the debate we're about to have, telling me more or less the path you're planning on taking. You have ideas about how you might best approach this debate. That's great. So, let me tell you my ideal approach:

I'll pretend that I'm a fluent English speaker who is, somehow, completely unfamiliar with the concept of morality. If, from scratch, you can demonstrate that this concept that you've titled "morality" is objective in a significant sense...well, you'll have achieved something spectacular in my opinion. But nothing less will be accepted by me. This is the challenge.

So, you can start by telling me what morality is, or what morals are, or what immorality is, or what the word "should" means -- whatever you like. Define your terms as clearly as you can; trust me, I'll hold you to them.
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby von Rivers » Fri Oct 26, 2012 8:01 pm

Flannel Jesus wrote:I'll pretend that I'm a fluent English speaker who is, somehow, completely unfamiliar with the concept of morality. If, from scratch, you can demonstrate that this concept that you've titled "morality" is objective in a significant sense...well, you'll have achieved something spectacular in my opinion. But nothing less will be accepted by me. This is the challenge.

So, you can start by telling me what morality is, or what morals are, or what immorality is, or what the word "should" means -- whatever you like. Define your terms as clearly as you can; trust me, I'll hold you to them.


Sounds good. I'll go first then. Gimme some time to get it together...
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Re: Open Challenge: The Objectivity of Morality

Postby Carleas » Fri Nov 09, 2012 10:12 pm

Debate is here.
Discussion thread is here
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