disillusioned

The Question of Objective Morality

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I'm hoping that we can have a serious discussion here about the question of objective morality. Despite how this topic has recently been treated by some in the Den, I think it is a serious question that merits careful consideration. Many Christians (and other theists) try to argue for the existence of God from the supposed existence of objective moral law, and what I have read from many members here, both ex-Christian and otherwise, leads me to believe that many of us still cleave to the idea of the existence of objective moral principles.

 

First, so that we don't wind up hopelessly confused, let's have a working definition of objective morality. Here I'm inclined to actually agree with the definition that William Lane Craig uses; that is, objective moral principles are moral principles which are real and binding irrespective of whether or not anyone believes in them. In other words, an objective moral law must be a kind of found law as opposed to a made law.

 

Personally, I hold that objective morality as defined above does not exist. I am prepared, if people are interested, to defend this position, but I want to gauge the level of interest first. For now, I'll just leave this here for your perusal. I rather like this article, because I find that the author seems to share (in large part) many of my conclusions, but also sees the issues that they lead to. The conclusion of the article is quoted below, for the benefit of the lazy.

 

"All I can say is this: it looks as if we are all we have. Given what we know about ourselves and each other, this is an extraordinarily unappetizing prospect; looking around the world, it appears that if all men are brothers, the ruling model is Cain and Abel. Neither reason, nor love, nor even terror, seems to have worked to make us "good," and worse than that, there is no reason why anything should. Only if ethics were something unspeakable by us, could law be unnatural, and therefore unchallengeable. As things now stand, everything is up for grabs.

Nevertheless:

Napalming babies is bad.

Starving the poor is wicked.

Buying and selling each other is depraved.

Those who stood up to and died resisting Hitler, Stalin, Amin, and Pol Pot-and General Custer too-have earned salvation.

Those who acquiesced deserve to be damned.

There is in the world such a thing as evil.

[All together now:] Sez who?

God help us."

 

Discuss.

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Thanks for starting this thread, Disillusioned.

 

As of this weekend I'll be travelling to view the eclipse and then taking a two-week vacation.

During that post-eclipse period I'll carefully examine your linked Duke Law article and draw up some questions, ideas and thoughts pertaining to it.  Ok, I'll look in on Ex-C from time to time and (maybe) post something if I feel so moved.  However, my aim is to come back to you and this thread properly, once my vacation draws to a close.  The second week of Sept, probably.

 

Please note that I expect my first round of questions to be ones of... definition.

E.g., what is meant by this term, that word, what is meant here, etc.  Assuming that we (not just you and I, hopefully) reach agreement on these definitions, we can then move forward and sink our metaphorical teeth into the meat of this topic.

 

Thanks,

 

BAA.

 

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The Golden Rule seems to work pretty well & it's not nearly as wordy or complex. And a lot of people are simply not smart enough or interested enough to  give theories like that much thought. That kind of stuff is reserved for academics to ponder, discuss, & argue about but the average person just doesn't care one way or the other. 

 

The rule of thumb. If you're not going to get arrested for doing whatever it is that you're doing it's probably okay to do it. That's Geezer's first law of morality.   :beer:

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I am of the opinion that there is an objective morality, but it was created by natural selection over hundreds of thousands of years. I really can't prove it, except from my own observation that certain actions are harmful and they will cause a shorter life span than other actions.

 

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The natural selection hypothesis sounds reasonable enough, and it seems to be supported to some extent by Dawkins, to mention one person.

The philosophical movement called Objectivists similarly make a strong claim about an objective morality based on human nature.

 

There's one thing that makes me question the existence of an objective morality even under those circumstances, though, namely that we don't know for sure that all humans have the same nature to a sufficient extent.

For instance, we know that people have varying levels of empathy, aggression, gregariousness, selfishness, etc.

A truly objective morality would have to lead to the optimal outcome in the eyes of all kinds of people over time. Otherwise, different moral systems might lead to outcomes that different kinds of people might see as optimal.

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To further the conversation reading The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris may be helpful to some people. I've started reading it.

 

Personally I think I am coming down on the pro side of objective moral values, but need to do a lot more reading and thinking to firm up my position. 

 

I categorically reject the proposition that God either is necessary for objective moral values or is the final arbiter of objective moral values. For a person wanting to insert God into the argument they have to define their God, show it more likely than not that their God exists, and that their God is the final arbiter of moral values.

 

@disillusioned Would you hold that objective moral principals, if you were to be convinced they exist, are absolute, or that they are objective in particular circumstances? Example: Killing someone is objectively wrong. Applying this absolutely would mean that it is objectively wrong to kill someone in defense of your family or country. However if killing someone is objectively wrong circumstantially then this means it is not wrong to kill someone in defense of your family, in fact in that circumstance it may be that it is objectively right to kill someone in defense of your family.

 

(PS that article had me swaying to subjective moral values with the argument that "There is no such thing as an unchallengeable evaluative system. There is no way to prove one ethical or legal system superior to any other, unless at some point an evaluator is asserted to have the final, uncontradictable, unexaminable word. That choice of unjudged judge, whoever is given the role, is itself, strictly speaking, arbitrary."

 

But if we take Sam Harris argument about well-being being a value measure of human flourishing, then you can objectively say you ought to do this or that because we can know (Or at least might well be able to in the future) what will increase well-being, and what will decrease it. 

 

Questions I am asking myself in context of this discussion that others might like to answer for themselves: (We'd probably need to at least understand each persons position on these, and even better, agree to move forward)

What are we calling morality?

What are moral principles?

What are moral values?

Are principles and values the same?

Can we measure these principles or values, and if so how are we measuring them?

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23 hours ago, bornagainathiest said:

Thanks for starting this thread, Disillusioned.

 

As of this weekend I'll be travelling to view the eclipse and then taking a two-week vacation.

During that post-eclipse period I'll carefully examine your linked Duke Law article and draw up some questions, ideas and thoughts pertaining to it.  Ok, I'll look in on Ex-C from time to time and (maybe) post something if I feel so moved.  However, my aim is to come back to you and this thread properly, once my vacation draws to a close.  The second week of Sept, probably.

 

Please note that I expect my first round of questions to be ones of... definition.

E.g., what is meant by this term, that word, what is meant here, etc.  Assuming that we (not just you and I, hopefully) reach agreement on these definitions, we can then move forward and sink our metaphorical teeth into the meat of this topic.

 

Thanks,

 

BAA.

 

 

I'm looking forward to this BAA. I myself will be on vacation next week, so I will also be checking in sporadically. Please don't feel any rush with respect to this. I'm not in a hurry.

 

Please enjoy your vacation, and the viewing of the eclipse especially!

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6 minutes ago, disillusioned said:

 

I'm looking forward to this BAA. I myself will be on vacation next week, so I will also be checking in sporadically. Please don't feel any rush with respect to this. I'm not in a hurry.

 

Please enjoy your vacation, and the viewing of the eclipse especially!

 

Many thanks, D.   :)

 

Several hours drive puts me in the center line of totality.  Which is calculated to last about 2 mins and 35 - 40 seconds.  All that's needed is for the weather to play ball!

 

Have a good vacation yourself, btw.

 

:wave:

 

Thanks,

 

BAA.

 

 

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19 hours ago, Rounin said:

The natural selection hypothesis sounds reasonable enough, and it seems to be supported to some extent by Dawkins, to mention one person.

The philosophical movement called Objectivists similarly make a strong claim about an objective morality based on human nature.

 

There's one thing that makes me question the existence of an objective morality even under those circumstances, though, namely that we don't know for sure that all humans have the same nature to a sufficient extent.

For instance, we know that people have varying levels of empathy, aggression, gregariousness, selfishness, etc.

A truly objective morality would have to lead to the optimal outcome in the eyes of all kinds of people over time. Otherwise, different moral systems might lead to outcomes that different kinds of people might see as optimal.

 

I think that the problem is not that we don't know enough about human nature, but rather that we know far too much about it. For example, we know that there are a disturbingly large number of people who have no capacity for empathy, and others who can only derive pleasure from inflicting harm on others. These people too are the product of natural selection. Are these people not human? Are they objectively wrong somehow? Who is qualified to make such an adjudication, and who gave them this authority? At the end of the day, one is perfectly entitled to retort "says who?", and this retort is more problematic that it seems it ought to be.

 

Again, what I am contending is that the set of moral principles which are real and binding irrespective of what anyone thinks is empty. I don't contend that we don't have moral principles which are real and binding; I think we do. It's just that I think that they are real and binding because we say so, and if nobody said so, they wouldn't be. I'll say more about this in my response to LF's post.

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9 hours ago, LogicalFallacy said:

To further the conversation reading The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris may be helpful to some people. I've started reading it.

 

Personally I think I am coming down on the pro side of objective moral values, but need to do a lot more reading and thinking to firm up my position. 

 

I categorically reject the proposition that God either is necessary for objective moral values or is the final arbiter of objective moral values. For a person wanting to insert God into the argument they have to define their God, show it more likely than not that their God exists, and that their God is the final arbiter of moral values.

 

@disillusioned Would you hold that objective moral principals, if you were to be convinced they exist, are absolute, or that they are objective in particular circumstances? Example: Killing someone is objectively wrong. Applying this absolutely would mean that it is objectively wrong to kill someone in defense of your family or country. However if killing someone is objectively wrong circumstantially then this means it is not wrong to kill someone in defense of your family, in fact in that circumstance it may be that it is objectively right to kill someone in defense of your family.

 

(PS that article had me swaying to subjective moral values with the argument that "There is no such thing as an unchallengeable evaluative system. There is no way to prove one ethical or legal system superior to any other, unless at some point an evaluator is asserted to have the final, uncontradictable, unexaminable word. That choice of unjudged judge, whoever is given the role, is itself, strictly speaking, arbitrary."

 

But if we take Sam Harris argument about well-being being a value measure of human flourishing, then you can objectively say you ought to do this or that because we can know (Or at least might well be able to in the future) what will increase well-being, and what will decrease it. 

 

Questions I am asking myself in context of this discussion that others might like to answer for themselves: (We'd probably need to at least understand each persons position on these, and even better, agree to move forward)

What are we calling morality?

What are moral principles?

What are moral values?

Are principles and values the same?

Can we measure these principles or values, and if so how are we measuring them?

 

I haven't read The Moral Landscape, but I've read several of Harris' other books, and listened to him lecture/speak on the topic of morality several times, so I'm fairly familiar with his view. I think that he has a lot to say which is practically useful, but I'm not sure that it is foundationally strong.

 

I have a few issues with Harris' argument. One is that I'm not sure that pain and suffering, or, for that matter, human well-being are objectively measurable. If we are to base a moral system on decreasing pain and suffering, and increasing well-being, then this is problematic. Sure, in some cases it's pretty clear that human well-being is better served by some actions than others, but in most cases it isn't at all clear. For example, it's easy to say that human well-being on the whole would be increased if, for example, WWII had never happened. But how do we know that? The world today would look vastly different had WWII never occurred. How do we know that a world in which it hadn't occurred would be objectively better than the world we have today? The uncomfortable answer is that we don't know this, and we can't know this. I think this is problematic.

 

Another issue is similar to the one that I alluded to in my response to Rounin above. According to Harris, some possible worlds contain more suffering than others, and are hence objectively better than others. His argument is contingent on being able to distinguish between actions which increase human well-being in the aggregate ("good" actions) and those which decrease it ("bad" actions). But this leads to a problem which William Lane Craig posed to Harris during a debate at one point, which I actually find fairly compelling. Consider a scenario involving only a sexual psychopathic and an innocent. We want to say that it is wrong for the psychopath to rape the child, but we can't do that on Harris' view. The psychopath's well-being is contingent on being able to rape the child. The child's well-being is contingent on that not happening. On Harris' view, there is, therefore, no morally right action here, which is problematic for two reasons: first, because it entails that child rape is not objectively wrong (and if child rape isn't objectively wrong, what is?) and second because it means that the entire notion of a moral landscape with peaks and valleys disintegrates under scrutiny. In some possible scenarios, there are no actions which can increase overall human well-being, and hence I can't see how we could ever claim that human well-being can be used as a source of objective morality.

 

In answer to your question, according to the definition I've been using, I don't think it's possible to have objective moral principles that are not absolute. If a moral principle is real and binding irrespective of what anyone believes about it, then I don't see how it can be situational, but I need to think more about this.

 

Let's have some working definitions. Anyone participating should feel free to suggest adjustments to the following, but this is how I'm currently using these terms:

 

Principles are fundamental truths. They are similar to axioms, except that we know for sure that axioms are not objective. Principles are a starting point for reasoning about a topic.

 

Morality is the set of principles which concern "right" and "wrong" and the distinctions between them.

 

Objective Morality is a set of principles concerning "right" and "wrong" which are real and binding irrespective of human opinion or even knowledge of them. Objective moral principles, if they exist, would still exist even if no one agreed with them.

 

I think I'm ok with using "moral values" and "moral principles" basically interchangeably for now.

 

Thanks to everyone who is contributing so far. Please don't hesitate to jump if you haven't yet.

 

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On 8/16/2017 at 7:12 PM, Deva said:

I am of the opinion that there is an objective morality, but it was created by natural selection over hundreds of thousands of years. I really can't prove it, except from my own observation that certain actions are harmful and they will cause a shorter life span than other actions.

 

yeah the part about certain actions being harmful and causing a shorter life span is quite obvious to most anyone especially on substances with a warning from the surgeon general,saying "this could kill you" pretty much where common sense should kick in but not everyone is so quick to realize what could be hazardous,or they just don't care and just go ahead and do whatever,decisions decisions.

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I agree with Sam Harris that you can make morally objective statements. You don't have to know everything about objective moral principles for objective morality to exist. That is confusing ontology with epistemology as William Craig often points out. What you can say is that some statements are objectively moral or immoral. For example: It is a bad thing for everyone to suffer as long and intensely as possible before dying. If you can say that is objectively bad then you have established objective morality. This works regardless of whether or not well-being is subjective even though I would argue that it does have objective underlying principles. I'm going to add a link to a great video on youtube where two atheists cordially discuss this question in the context of The Moral Landscape.

 

 

 

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5 hours ago, Blamtasticful said:

I agree with Sam Harris that you can make morally objective statements. You don't have to know everything about objective moral principles for objective morality to exist. That is confusing ontology with epistemology as William Craig often points out. What you can say is that some statements are objectively moral or immoral. For example: It is a bad thing for everyone to suffer as long and intensely as possible before dying. If you can say that is objectively bad then you have established objective morality. This works regardless of whether or not well-being is subjective even though I would argue that it does have objective underlying principles. I'm going to add a link to a great video on youtube where two atheists cordially discuss this question in the context of The Moral Landscape.

 

A couple of issues with this.

I agree that we don't need to know everything about something to say that it exists. That is not what I am claiming. I think morality exists. I don't think we know everything about it. What I'm saying is that objective morality does not exist. I'm not saying this because I don't know everything about it, I'm saying it because I don't know anything about it. If you want to claim that objective morality exists, then you need to give me a moral statement, and show that it is objectively correct. That is, you need to show that event or action X is wrong (or right, as the case may be) irrespective of what anyone thinks about it. But here's the problem: I don't even know that this can be done in principle. Suppose you prove your statement "X is wrong". You do this using a system of reason, which relies on axioms and rules which are, ultimately, arbitrary. So who's to say that your proof is valid? The Munchhausen Trilemma rears its ugly head.

 

Specifically, you give an example of such a statement in your post, saying that it is a bad thing for everyone to suffer as long and intensely as possible before dying. I'm not sure that this is a coherent statement. Some people want others to suffer. If person A hates person B and wants nothing more than for person B to suffer, then if person B is suffering as much as possible, person A is not suffering as much as he or she might be. Also, some people derive pleasure from their own pain. But put this aside. What does it mean to suffer "as long and intensely as possible before dying"? How do we measure suffering? For that matter, how do we measure well-being? It seems to me that unless and until we can do this, any moral system which is based on well-being is not robust, and is certainly not objective.

 

Thanks for posting the video. I haven't watched the whole thing yet, but what I have watched is very interesting. For now I will simply say this: it seems to me that the gentleman with the long hair is selling the cause for the queen around the 32:00 mark when he insists that we ought to be able to claim the existence of axioms when defining  morality. I agree with him here, that we need some moral axioms, but there is a problem: axioms are, ultimately, arbitrary. They are just assumptions. They only hold as long as someone assumes them. So if a moral system is based on axioms, then it is not objective, because it only holds as long as someone holds the axioms to be true. By contrast, an objective moral system relies on principles which hold irrespective of what anybody thinks. So an objective moral system cannot be based on axioms. That would be contradictory. We can, to be sure, construct morality based on axioms, but it won't be objective.

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On 16/08/2017 at 7:12 PM, Deva said:

I am of the opinion that there is an objective morality, but it was created by natural selection over hundreds of thousands of years. I really can't prove it, except from my own observation that certain actions are harmful and they will cause a shorter life span than other actions.

 

 

I agree with all of this, except with the claim that it is objective. The question I would want to ask is who says that a longer life span is "better" than a shorter one? There are also cases where death comes as a welcome friend. But certainly I agree that we have morality, that it is real, and that it is a result of natural selection.

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I believe that each person defines their own personal moral system.  Often this is based on outside influences.  Once I based mine on the Bible.  No longer.  My moral system has changed.  Some people may base theirs on the rule of law.  Laws change.  Once I believed adultry was wrong and I felt guilty about considering it.  I believed masturbation was wrong and I felt guilty about doing it.  Once I believed looking at another woman with a lustful eye was wrong.  Once. 

 

As the months in a dead marriage turned to years, I can now embrace porn without guilt and if I ever cheat, I don't think I would feel guilty about that either.  I used to think divorce was wrong.  Now I plan to divorce when the kids get a little older.  That day can't come soon enough.

 

Once America collectively overwhelmingly believed homosexuality was wrong.  That changed.

 

I do not believe in any absolute morality.  But I do not consider immorality a virtue.  Most people include "do not kill" in their morality.  But we all know there are exceptions to that.  And there are a lot of different opinions about what those exceptions should be.  It's all situational.

 

 

 

 

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The concept of morality is exclusive to humans. The opinion of what is moral and immoral varies widely among humans relative to their time and place. I can't see the possibility of some overriding blanket of True Universal Morality given the evidence. But I'm just a simple guy, not a philosopher or theologian with an ax to grind.

 

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1 hour ago, disillusioned said:

Thanks for posting the video. I haven't watched the whole thing yet, but what I have watched is very interesting. For now I will simply say this: it seems to me that the gentleman with the long hair is selling the cause for the queen around the 32:00 mark when he insists that we ought to be able to claim the existence of axioms when defining  morality. I agree with him here, that we need some moral axioms, but there is a problem: axioms are, ultimately, arbitrary. They are just assumptions. They only hold as long as someone assumes them. So if a moral system is based on axioms, then it is not objective, because it only holds as long as someone holds the axioms to be true. By contrast, an objective moral system relies on principles which hold irrespective of what anybody thinks. So an objective moral system cannot be based on axioms. That would be contradictory. We can, to be sure, construct morality based on axioms, but it won't be objective.

 

Frankly I think this does come down to axioms. If you want to say that the axioms behind morality are arbitrary then you have to say that the axioms behind science are arbitrary because it can't be proven by its own standard of evidence and who gets to say that science is about empirically demonstrating objective facts anyway because that definition is subjective? At that point to me it would seem rather silly to keep arguing such a point. I think you are coming close to the philosophical school of radical skepticism. Morality seems to be fairly well defined by things that bring the most pleasure and minimize pain. 

 

You probably already know this but I think the important point that everyone should know is that despite this disagreement adding god to the equation doesn't make morality objective. God would still have to justify his commands he can't just command bad things and claim that they are good. One doesn't get to be automatically moral because they are the biggest kid on the block this is appealing to authority which is an argument for a god based SUBJECTIVE morality. This is an incredibly important point. It is the difference between Hitchens owning the moron Frank Turek instead of letting Turek take the high ground and win the debate as CosmicSkeptic did. All that said I do Identify with the school of philosophy known as moral realism and I believe that it is fairly justifiable if not ironclad.

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2 hours ago, Blamtasticful said:

 

Frankly I think this does come down to axioms. If you want to say that the axioms behind morality are arbitrary then you have to say that the axioms behind science are arbitrary because it can't be proven by its own standard of evidence and who gets to say that science is about empirically demonstrating objective facts anyway because that definition is subjective? At that point to me it would seem rather silly to keep arguing such a point. I think you are coming close to the philosophical school of radical skepticism. Morality seems to be fairly well defined by things that bring the most pleasure and minimize pain. 

 

I like this. I feel like we're getting somewhere.

Regarding axioms, I can only speak from my own knowledge about systems of logic. For the record, I want to say that I haven't formally studied philosophy in any detail, except as it pertains to mathematics and science. But there I do have some knowledge. Mathematics, it turns out, relies on formal systems (ie, systems of logic) in which proofs can be constructed. A formal system requires axioms and rules of deduction/inference, which are then used to prove other statements. The axioms, by definition, cannot be proven within the system. They must be assumed. So too for the rules of deduction. A statement can be proven formally in the language of a formal system if and only if one can reduce the statement, via the rules of deduction, to the axioms. Statements which can be proven within a system are said to be "true" in that system.

Now, here's where it gets tricky. The axioms of the system are arbitrary. They can be anything that we like. Some formal systems are consistent (ie, the axioms do not lead to contradictions), and some are not. Inconsistent formal systems are functionally useless. But even among consistent systems, there are some that are more useful, and more powerful than others. Some allow for arithmetic, and some do not.

Now, here's the kicker: it has been formally proven that there is no complete formal system (see my signature). This seems to me to entail that no formal system can be said to be objectively "correct". Some are more useful than others, but that's about all that can be said about that.

Science, on the other hand, is only interested in what seems to work. It isn't actually interested in objective truth. The scientific method reduces to trying things out, and going with what works. Scientific theories are attempts to describe bodies of observations by building formal systems which fit the observations and allow for further predictions to be made. But no scientific theory is complete, and no scientific theory is objectively correct. Some fit the observations better than others. That's all that can be said.

So, if we want to hold, as Harris does, that we can have a science of morality, then we are cornered, on my view, into admitting that we don't have objective morality. We may have a moral system that is consistent, powerful and useful, but it isn't objectively correct. We could choose some different axioms and make a different system.

Is this radical skepticism? Maybe. But this is what I meant when I said in a different thread that I think pragmatism has a lot of merit. From my perspective, it doesn't really matter our morals are objective or not. What matters is if our moral system works. Similar things may be said of science. Scientific knowledge is real knowledge; it just isn't absolute, or absolutely objective. I don't find this disturbing, although I appreciate that many people may.

 

2 hours ago, Blamtasticful said:

You probably already know this but I think the important point that everyone should know is that despite this disagreement adding god to the equation doesn't make morality objective. God would still have to justify his commands he can't just command bad things and claim that they are good. One doesn't get to be automatically moral because they are the biggest kid on the block this is appealing to authority which is an argument for a god based SUBJECTIVE morality. This is an incredibly important point. It is the difference between Hitchens owning the moron Frank Turek instead of letting Turek take the high ground and win the debate as CosmicSkeptic did. All that said I do Identify with the school of philosophy known as moral realism and I believe that it is fairly justifiable if not ironclad.

 

I don't actually agree with this. If God exists, then He can serve as the measuring stick for an objective moral system. An all-powerful God could fill the role of un-judged judge, and moral law-giver. Such a God could say "These actions are good", and they would be because He said so. Period. No ifs ands or buts. He's God. He doesn't have to justify Himself to anyone. I don't think that this is an argument for a subjective morality. If the answer to the question "says who" is "God", then that ends the conversation pretty quickly.

The problem that I see with this (aside from the fact that we have no reason to think that God exists) is that it still leaves us in the position of having to determine which actions are sanctioned by God, and which are not. And who is qualified to make this adjudication? So the argument changes to the following:

 

Person A: "X is good."

Person B: "Why?"

A: "Because God said so."

B: "Says who?"

 

So, you can see, the appeal to God just removes the "says who" question by a single step; it doesn't eliminate it. That's the main problem that I have with the approach to morality that Turek, Craig and other like-minded individuals take in a nutshell.

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Well I will stick to the positive to start off. I like that you brought attention to pragmatism. Yes for a lot of practical intents and purposes objective vs subjective morality is irrelevant and to be honest can be an argument of semantics or an argument about what each term means. Having a great functional moral system is nothing to be scoffed at absolutely.

 

11 hours ago, disillusioned said:

I don't actually agree with this. If God exists, then He can serve as the measuring stick for an objective moral system. An all-powerful God could fill the role of un-judged judge, and moral law-giver. Such a God could say "These actions are good", and they would be because He said so. Period. No ifs ands or buts. He's God. He doesn't have to justify Himself to anyone. I don't think that this is an argument for a subjective morality. If the answer to the question "says who" is "God", then that ends the conversation pretty quickly.

The problem that I see with this (aside from the fact that we have no reason to think that God exists) is that it still leaves us in the position of having to determine which actions are sanctioned by God, and which are not. And who is qualified to make this adjudication? So the argument changes to the following:

 

Person A: "X is good."

Person B: "Why?"

A: "Because God said so."

B: "Says who?"

 

So, you can see, the appeal to God just removes the "says who" question by a single step; it doesn't eliminate it. That's the main problem that I have with the approach to morality that Turek, Craig and other like-minded individuals take in a nutshell.

 

Why doesn't god have to justify himself? He may not have to answer to us but if he says something is good it had damn better be justified. I am actually quite surprised about how much you are willing to give to the theist on this point. I mean let's just get into some very easy objections. 1. What if god is evil? Just because god commands something doesn't mean that his true intent isn't nefarious. He is god he could be setting up a giant practical joke in which even the faithful feel his more sadistic desires. On your view this would make such a god moral. I don't understand this; it seems to make any attempt to talk about morality since Socrates and even before him totally irrelevant 2. What if god is ambivalent? The deistic god or watchmaker god might be beyond such things as good and evil and has little time or desire to participate in human affairs. Even if objective morality could only exist through a god it does not follow that if a god exists that objective morality necessarily exists. To me the contradictions in scripture confirm this very convincingly. What I don't like is that theists subtly define objective morality as "only that which comes from god." If you accept that definition of objective morality then I guess you are correct but I certainly do not.

 

I actually think something is moral because god said so is like saying something is moral because Fred says so. If something is objectively moral it is moral regardless of whether everyone, some, one person, or no person identifies it as such. You could argue that god is capable of KNOWING what is objectively good but god could not change what is objectively good without changing the entire way reality works which itself would be a subjective preference. He can not arbitrarily say that something bad is now good without changing anything and be correct. If he can than it absolutely is subjective morality because his morality is based on whim. 

 

I will briefly address your first point as well but to me the second point you raised was more important so I spent more time on it. Just because we don't have a complete formal system doesn't mean that one doesn't exist. This of course doesn't mean that one does either. To me though (forgive the continuous use of science analogies) it's like saying that because we don't have a unifying theory of the universe explaining relativity and the quantum that we have reason to believe that Newton's laws are subjective or for that matter any law based on physics is subjective. Again I think there are some things that obviously aren't moral in nature. Moral subjectivity isn't coherent to me it seems. "It is moral that 2 plus 2 equals four" is a morally false statement. If morality is subjective than such a statement is just as valid as saying "it is immoral when people rape." It seems impossible in any moral systems including theistic one's to not have well-being as a moral standard. I also don't really see why you believe the statement that "everyone should suffer for as much as they can and as long as they can" is incoherent? Just because some people want to make others suffer doesn't mean they want to suffer. If they do like to suffer then in actuality they are finding pleasure in the suffering so they aren't truly suffering strangely enough. My contention is that all you have to be able to do is say that something is immoral, or that something isn't moral in order to defend objective morality.

 

 

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6 hours ago, Blamtasticful said:

Why doesn't god have to justify himself? He may not have to answer to us but if he says something is good it had damn better be justified. I am actually quite surprised about how much you are willing to give to the theist on this point. I mean let's just get into some very easy objections. 1. What if god is evil? Just because god commands something doesn't mean that his true intent isn't nefarious. He is god he could be setting up a giant practical joke in which even the faithful feel his more sadistic desires. On your view this would make such a god moral. I don't understand this; it seems to make any attempt to talk about morality since Socrates and even before him totally irrelevant 2. What if god is ambivalent? The deistic god or watchmaker god might be beyond such things as good and evil and has little time or desire to participate in human affairs. Even if objective morality could only exist through a god it does not follow that if a god exists that objective morality necessarily exists. To me the contradictions in scripture confirm this very convincingly. What I don't like is that theists subtly define objective morality as "only that which comes from god." If you accept that definition of objective morality then I guess you are correct but I certainly do not.

 

I seem to have given you the wrong impression somewhere about what I'm saying about this. Let me try to be more clear.

 

I am not ceding anything of substance to the theist, because I do not cede that God exists, or even that any particular theistic notion of God is well-defined. I'm also not saying that a God would necessarily provide us with objective morals. Certainly God would be under no requirement to do so. What I am saying is that if an all-powerful God existed then that God could provide us with objective morals. This is not an arguable point, in my view. If God is all-powerful, then He can do anything. Surely this includes providing us with objective morals. If it doesn't, then He isn't all-powerful.

 

The other thing I'm saying is that if an all-powerful God existed and He chose to create objective morals, then they could be anything that He wanted them to be. As an all-powerful God, He can do anything He wants. Surely this includes creating any moral system that He likes, even if it is one that we don't understand, or, for that matter, one that is repugnant to us. Could we call such a God evil? Yes we could, but that wouldn't matter. He would be God, and if He said He was good, then it would be so by virtue of the fact that He would be God.

 

6 hours ago, Blamtasticful said:

I actually think something is moral because god said so is like saying something is moral because Fred says so. If something is objectively moral it is moral regardless of whether everyone, some, one person, or no person identifies it as such. You could argue that god is capable of KNOWING what is objectively good but god could not change what is objectively good without changing the entire way reality works which itself would be a subjective preference. He can not arbitrarily say that something bad is now good without changing anything and be correct. If he can than it absolutely is subjective morality because his morality is based on whim. 

 

Again, I need to clarify. Let's assume for the moment that we have established that an all-powerful God exists. If God says "X is good", then it is true irrespective of what anyone thinks about it. This is the definition of objective morality that I've been using. The only sticking point is that by "anyone", I mean any human being. God, if He exists, is not a human being. We should not treat him as one. His opinion is the only one that ultimately matters. And by virtue of the fact that he is all-powerful, he could in fact simply change the entire way reality works on a whim. Whatever He says goes. That is what it means to be all-powerful.

 

Saying something is moral because God said so is only like saying it is moral because Fred said so because we don't know what God has said, or that He even exists. If we did know these things, then these would be fundamentally different statements.

 

Now, the picture of God that I'm painting here might seem dictatorial. But what of it? Just as in a dictatorship the law is objectively whatever the dictator says it is, so in a world ruled by an all-powerful God good is objectively whatever He says it is (if He chooses to say anything at all).

 

Again, though, I cede nothing to the theist because I do not grant that the notion of God is well-defined, that He exists, or that we can know what He has said if he does.

 

6 hours ago, Blamtasticful said:

I will briefly address your first point as well but to me the second point you raised was more important so I spent more time on it. Just because we don't have a complete formal system doesn't mean that one doesn't exist. This of course doesn't mean that one does either. To me though (forgive the continuous use of science analogies) it's like saying that because we don't have a unifying theory of the universe explaining relativity and the quantum that we have reason to believe that Newton's laws are subjective or for that matter any law based on physics is subjective. Again I think there are some things that obviously aren't moral in nature. Moral subjectivity isn't coherent to me it seems. "It is moral that 2 plus 2 equals four" is a morally false statement. If morality is subjective than such a statement is just as valid as saying "it is immoral when people rape." It seems impossible in any moral systems including theistic one's to not have well-being as a moral standard. I also don't really see why you believe the statement that "everyone should suffer for as much as they can and as long as they can" is incoherent? Just because some people want to make others suffer doesn't mean they want to suffer. If they do like to suffer then in actuality they are finding pleasure in the suffering so they aren't truly suffering strangely enough. My contention is that all you have to be able to do is say that something is immoral, or that something isn't moral in order to defend objective morality.

 

I mislike the way in which you are using "subjective" here. Again, I need to be careful not to give the wrong impression about what I'm saying. Please bear with me for a moment while I try to be clear. If I fail, please let me know.

 

First, Godel's incompleteness theorems entail not just that we don't have a complete formal system. They entail that one cannot, even in principle, exist. If you want to explore these in more detail, we can go down that road. It is something of a tangent, but it's certainly one that I'd be happy to explore. But my point was that because there is no complete formal system, what we are necessarily left with is a collection of formal systems that can at best serve as partial descriptions of reality. Furthermore, the axioms of the formal systems are ultimately arbitrary.

 

So where does this leave us? I seem to have given you the impression that this leaves us with no room for objective truth. That's not what I intended to do. We can certainly still have objective truth, but not absolute objective truth. Let's look at an example to illustrate what I mean.

 

Say we have two formal systems F and S and a statement q that can be expressed in the languages of both systems. Suppose that q is provable in F. In this case, q is objectively true in F. But it is perfectly possible that q is not provable in S, or even that it is disprovable is S. In this case, q would be objectively false in S. So we can have a statement which is objectively true in one system and objectively false in another. What we cannot say is that either F or S is objectively the right system, and because of this we can't have ultimate objective truth (or perhaps we should say "absolute" truth).

 

In other words, we can have objective truth, but only in the context of a particular system, and the claim that the system itself is valid cannot be adjudicated.

 

Where does this leave us with respect to science? Well, statements can be objectively true under a particular scientific model. But the model itself is not objectively correct. What about morality? Perhaps we can build a moral system, and in that system there can be statements which are objectively true. But recall that my contention regards objective moral principles, the starting point for our moral system. I contend that these principles are not objectively correct. They are just axioms, like any other, and, as such, they are ultimately arbitrary.

 

This doesn't, by the way, leave us in a position where that statements "two plus two equals four" and "it is immoral when people rape" have equal merit. I would say that in a formal moral system "two plus two equals four" is either a meaningless statement or not a statement at all. It probably isn't false per se. But even if it was, that wouldn't in any way entail that "it is immoral when people rape" is also false. They are different statements, and they would need to be evaluated separately according to the rules and axioms of what even system we are using.

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4 hours ago, disillusioned said:

 

I seem to have given you the wrong impression somewhere about what I'm saying about this. Let me try to be more clear.

 

I am not ceding anything of substance to the theist, because I do not cede that God exists, or even that any particular theistic notion of God is well-defined. I'm also not saying that a God would necessarily provide us with objective morals. Certainly God would be under no requirement to do so. What I am saying is that if an all-powerful God existed then that God could provide us with objective morals. This is not an arguable point, in my view. If God is all-powerful, then He can do anything. Surely this includes providing us with objective morals. If it doesn't, then He isn't all-powerful.

 

The other thing I'm saying is that if an all-powerful God existed and He chose to create objective morals, then they could be anything that He wanted them to be. As an all-powerful God, He can do anything He wants. Surely this includes creating any moral system that He likes, even if it is one that we don't understand, or, for that matter, one that is repugnant to us. Could we call such a God evil? Yes we could, but that wouldn't matter. He would be God, and if He said He was good, then it would be so by virtue of the fact that He would be God.

 

 

Again, I need to clarify. Let's assume for the moment that we have established that an all-powerful God exists. If God says "X is good", then it is true irrespective of what anyone thinks about it. This is the definition of objective morality that I've been using. The only sticking point is that by "anyone", I mean any human being. God, if He exists, is not a human being. We should not treat him as one. His opinion is the only one that ultimately matters. And by virtue of the fact that he is all-powerful, he could in fact simply change the entire way reality works on a whim. Whatever He says goes. That is what it means to be all-powerful.

 

Saying something is moral because God said so is only like saying it is moral because Fred said so because we don't know what God has said, or that He even exists. If we did know these things, then these would be fundamentally different statements.

 

Now, the picture of God that I'm painting here might seem dictatorial. But what of it? Just as in a dictatorship the law is objectively whatever the dictator says it is, so in a world ruled by an all-powerful God good is objectively whatever He says it is (if He chooses to say anything at all).

 

Again, though, I cede nothing to the theist because I do not grant that the notion of God is well-defined, that He exists, or that we can know what He has said if he does.

 

I appreciate some of the clarification. I do think we are getting somewhere. I almost brought up what seems to be an incoherent or ill-defined concept of god so I am actually glad that you did. I don't accept that an all-powerful being as you described god is a coherent idea or even a biblical one for that matter. It becomes completely fair game to criticize such a god-concept with the question: Can god create a rock so big that even he can't lift it? If instead we take Craig's view (who we seem to be informally debating about throughout this thread lol) that a definition of all-powerful does not include the ability to do the logically impossible then I think it is fair to say that god changing what is moral without changing any other variables is logically incoherent. God creating objective morality by simply saying he can do what he wants is not a convincing argument in my opinion. It is more of a word game. I know that you believe objective morality doesn't exist but I am interested about whether you think if god doesn't exist that this is by necessity true.


 

I do think you are conflating the ideas of all-powerful and all-good. If god is all-powerful then he is above morality not subjective to it by definition so how can he make objective moral statements without being subject to a morality of some sort? If he is he isn't all-powerful because he is below morality. If he isn't then it is only subjectively good not objectively good. This is the problem with such god definitions. If god is all-good then there are some things he can't do because they wouldn't be good. If god is all-powerful that logically means he has the power to do evil because he is all-powerful. At the same time if he can do evil he can't be all-good which means he can't do something; this means he is not all-powerful. At this point everything is quite confusing because we have accepted illogical definitions in the first place. This is why I think "reasonable" theologians have had to put more restrictions and precise definitions on the definition of god in describing his "Omni" traits. If they do then they can no longer claim that such a god can be the source of objective morals simply because he is all-powerful because it has a more restrictive definition. (Btw the theist can't get off by saying that morality is a part of god's nature because if it is it means he can't make whatever morality he wants which makes him not all powerful, but if you maintain he can than it is no longer an objective morality.)

 

I don't quite agree with the dictator analogy. The whole point of moral thinking is to ask what is right and wrong specifically in spite of what an authority upholds as law. The dictator does get to say that his rules are objectively laws and so would god. Neither can then make the logical leap and say that their laws are actually good on this basis. It doesn't follow.

 

4 hours ago, disillusioned said:

I mislike the way in which you are using "subjective" here. Again, I need to be careful not to give the wrong impression about what I'm saying. Please bear with me for a moment while I try to be clear. If I fail, please let me know.

 

First, Godel's incompleteness theorems entail not just that we don't have a complete formal system. They entail that one cannot, even in principle, exist. If you want to explore these in more detail, we can go down that road. It is something of a tangent, but it's certainly one that I'd be happy to explore. But my point was that because there is no complete formal system, what we are necessarily left with is a collection of formal systems that can at best serve as partial descriptions of reality. Furthermore, the axioms of the formal systems are ultimately arbitrary.

 

So where does this leave us? I seem to have given you the impression that this leaves us with no room for objective truth. That's not what I intended to do. We can certainly still have objective truth, but not absolute objective truth. Let's look at an example to illustrate what I mean.

 

Say we have two formal systems F and S and a statement q that can be expressed in the languages of both systems. Suppose that q is provable in F. In this case, q is objectively true in F. But it is perfectly possible that q is not provable in S, or even that it is disprovable is S. In this case, q would be objectively false in S. So we can have a statement which is objectively true in one system and objectively false in another. What we cannot say is that either F or S is objectively the right system, and because of this we can't have ultimate objective truth (or perhaps we should say "absolute" truth).

 

In other words, we can have objective truth, but only in the context of a particular system, and the claim that the system itself is valid cannot be adjudicated.

 

Where does this leave us with respect to science? Well, statements can be objectively true under a particular scientific model. But the model itself is not objectively correct. What about morality? Perhaps we can build a moral system, and in that system there can be statements which are objectively true. But recall that my contention regards objective moral principles, the starting point for our moral system. I contend that these principles are not objectively correct. They are just axioms, like any other, and, as such, they are ultimately arbitrary.

 

This doesn't, by the way, leave us in a position where that statements "two plus two equals four" and "it is immoral when people rape" have equal merit. I would say that in a formal moral system "two plus two equals four" is either a meaningless statement or not a statement at all. It probably isn't false per se. But even if it was, that wouldn't in any way entail that "it is immoral when people rape" is also false. They are different statements, and they would need to be evaluated separately according to the rules and axioms of what even system we are using.

 

From what I can tell it does seem that your view on this matter is very akin to the philosophical tradition of radical skepticism. Without going down that rabbit hole to far I will attempt to explain why this framework seems rather lacking in substance. It seems that your criticism of axioms is not an argument that morality is subjective per se but that every formal system is subjective. So really this isn't unique to morality itself but is a criticism of formal systems as a whole. Which is why I would question why we see it being particularly pertinent to the question of morals but get by for the most part without worrying to much about it in other systems. If for example different parts of the universe or multiverse if it exists follow different laws it doesn't make the laws discovered within those individual pockets of reality invalid.

 

I think Gödel's Incompletness theorem is fascinating but I feel incompetent to fully evaluate it since my education in mathematics at this point is limited. I have a fuzzy recollection of talking with someone about the theorem being more specific instead of as broad as many people use it but I can't confirm that so I will accept that you know more on that particular point than I do. I would of course point out that such an objective truth would be applicable to all systems making it not simply axiomatic. This is one of the reasons I reject a radical skepticism worldview because we can know some things about the world. Regardless I don't define objectivity as something we can know (epistemology) but rather something that is true independent of whether or not it is known (ontology.)

 

You also mentioned that you weren't a particular fan of the way I used the term subjective. Hopefully I can address that point by being more clear by what I mean by objective while tying it in to the point on axioms. I believe that a moral truth statement can be objectively true even if it's contextual or contingent in the same way facts are. The statement "an unprotected human being will burn up before he would hit the sun" is contingent upon human beings existing and dependent upon the context of a universe with stars. It is still objectively true. Photosynthesis as far as we know only takes place in plants. Just because photosynthesis isn't a universal trait of life doesn't mean it isn't objective either. So I accept that within the definition of objective. This does make me worry to some extent how much we may be talking past one another by having different semantic views on what the terms objective and subjective might mean. 

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23 hours ago, Blamtasticful said:

 

I appreciate some of the clarification. I do think we are getting somewhere. I almost brought up what seems to be an incoherent or ill-defined concept of god so I am actually glad that you did. I don't accept that an all-powerful being as you described god is a coherent idea or even a biblical one for that matter. It becomes completely fair game to criticize such a god-concept with the question: Can god create a rock so big that even he can't lift it? If instead we take Craig's view (who we seem to be informally debating about throughout this thread lol) that a definition of all-powerful does not include the ability to do the logically impossible then I think it is fair to say that god changing what is moral without changing any other variables is logically incoherent. God creating objective morality by simply saying he can do what he wants is not a convincing argument in my opinion. It is more of a word game. I know that you believe objective morality doesn't exist but I am interested about whether you think if god doesn't exist that this is by necessity true.

 

 

Personally I find Craig's view regarding God not being able to violate logic to be, frankly, stupid. I agree that the idea of an all-powerful God may not be coherent, and it may not be, strictly speaking, biblical, but I think that it is the only attribute that the common notion of God is supposed to have. What is God if not the supreme being? If he is subject to logic, then He is not supreme. Logic is. Should we not then start calling logic "God"? Again, though, this is a problem that arises from the fact that "God" is not well-defined. There I think that you and I are mainly in agreement.

 

As to your question, in the absence of a supreme eternal being, I can't see how objective morality can exist. If it objective moral principles exist, then by definition they exist irrespective of whether anyone believes in them. In particular, they exist if nobody exists to believe in them. But it seems to me that moral principles require the existence of conscious beings. This is because I think that moral principles concern the behaviour of conscious beings. For example, suppose that the statement "it is wrong to cause suffering" is held to be an objective moral principle. In this case it must be true even if nobody exists who can cause suffering, or who is capable of suffering. In this scenario the statement is meaningless, because suffering does not exist, and cannot exist. If it is meaningless, it can't be true. So it cannot be objectively true.

 

23 hours ago, Blamtasticful said:

I do think you are conflating the ideas of all-powerful and all-good. If god is all-powerful then he is above morality not subjective to it by definition so how can he make objective moral statements without being subject to a morality of some sort? If he is he isn't all-powerful because he is below morality. If he isn't then it is only subjectively good not objectively good. This is the problem with such god definitions. If god is all-good then there are some things he can't do because they wouldn't be good. If god is all-powerful that logically means he has the power to do evil because he is all-powerful. At the same time if he can do evil he can't be all-good which means he can't do something; this means he is not all-powerful. At this point everything is quite confusing because we have accepted illogical definitions in the first place. This is why I think "reasonable" theologians have had to put more restrictions and precise definitions on the definition of god in describing his "Omni" traits. If they do then they can no longer claim that such a god can be the source of objective morals simply because he is all-powerful because it has a more restrictive definition. (Btw the theist can't get off by saying that morality is a part of god's nature because if it is it means he can't make whatever morality he wants which makes him not all powerful, but if you maintain he can than it is no longer an objective morality.)

 

I do not agree that God cannot be all-good and all-powerful. I've always held, even as a Christian, that the claim "God is good" is not a claim about what God is like, it is a claim about what good is like. The only way that the claim "God is good" can be coherent, in my view, is if we are starting with a notion of what God is and saying "good is like that", not starting with a notion of what good is and saying "God is like that". What this means, though, is that whatever God does is good by definition, because that is how "good" is defined. Now, does this mean that God is not all-powerful, because He can't do evil? I think that this is a short-sighted line of argument. Suppose we say that X is an evil thing. It can only be an evil thing because it is anti-thetical to some action Y that God has done. This doesn't mean that God can't do X. The fact that God is all-powerful means that he undo Y and do X when ever he damn well pleases. Now, if God does this then X is no longer evil and Y is. But that is beside the point. God still did X, and he could do Y again if he wanted. So there is literally nothing that God cannot do. The claim that an action is evil is claim about what God has not done, not a claim about what He cannot do.

 

23 hours ago, Blamtasticful said:

I don't quite agree with the dictator analogy. The whole point of moral thinking is to ask what is right and wrong specifically in spite of what an authority upholds as law. The dictator does get to say that his rules are objectively laws and so would god. Neither can then make the logical leap and say that their laws are actually good on this basis. It doesn't follow.

 

The dictator can't make that leap, but surely God can. He's God. There isn't anything that He can't do.

 

If you want to insist that God is not all-powerful, then that's your prerogative. But as I've already said, I don't find the idea of a God who is not all-powerful to be, in any sense, coherent. I'm happy to keep arguing about this if you want, but I think that this is somewhat beside the point. I don't hold that God exists, and neither do you. Perhaps for now we should just say that it is up to the theists to define precisely what they mean by God if they want to argue for His existence. For the purposes of this discussion, I'm going to propose that we move on without the assumption of God, and consider whether we can still objective moral principles. I've contended above that I don't think we can. I'm interested to see what you have to say about my response there.

 

23 hours ago, Blamtasticful said:

From what I can tell it does seem that your view on this matter is very akin to the philosophical tradition of radical skepticism. Without going down that rabbit hole to far I will attempt to explain why this framework seems rather lacking in substance. It seems that your criticism of axioms is not an argument that morality is subjective per se but that every formal system is subjective. So really this isn't unique to morality itself but is a criticism of formal systems as a whole. Which is why I would question why we see it being particularly pertinent to the question of morals but get by for the most part without worrying to much about it in other systems. If for example different parts of the universe or multiverse if it exists follow different laws it doesn't make the laws discovered within those individual pockets of reality invalid.

 

I don't think that this critique is unique to morality. It is particularly pertinent to the question of morals because that's what we are talking about at the moment. That's all.

 

The reason why I brought this up is because I've found that a lot of people (religious or otherwise) want to treat morality as a "special" subject. They want absolute, objective moral truth. But everything that I have learned in my life indicates to me that such truths do not exist in any area. I don't understand why morality, which I consider to be a uniquely human subject, should be different in this regard.

 

23 hours ago, Blamtasticful said:

I think Gödel's Incompletness theorem is fascinating but I feel incompetent to fully evaluate it since my education in mathematics at this point is limited. I have a fuzzy recollection of talking with someone about the theorem being more specific instead of as broad as many people use it but I can't confirm that so I will accept that you know more on that particular point than I do. I would of course point out that such an objective truth would be applicable to all systems making it not simply axiomatic. This is one of the reasons I reject a radical skepticism worldview because we can know some things about the world. Regardless I don't define objectivity as something we can know (epistemology) but rather something that is true independent of whether or not it is known (ontology.)

 

Fair enough.

 

23 hours ago, Blamtasticful said:

 

You also mentioned that you weren't a particular fan of the way I used the term subjective. Hopefully I can address that point by being more clear by what I mean by objective while tying it in to the point on axioms. I believe that a moral truth statement can be objectively true even if it's contextual or contingent in the same way facts are. The statement "an unprotected human being will burn up before he would hit the sun" is contingent upon human beings existing and dependent upon the context of a universe with stars. It is still objectively true. Photosynthesis as far as we know only takes place in plants. Just because photosynthesis isn't a universal trait of life doesn't mean it isn't objective either. So I accept that within the definition of objective. This does make me worry to some extent how much we may be talking past one another by having different semantic views on what the terms objective and subjective might mean. 

 

Again, I agree that statements can be objectively true. I don't agree that principles can be objectively true. Recall that I'm defining principles as fundamental truths, the starting points for reasoning about a topic. My contention is, essentially, that principles are just axioms by another name, and axioms are not objectively true. You seem to be taking the opposite view, namely that principles can be objectively true, and in particular, that there are moral principles which are objectively true. Would you mind explaining to me why you think that this is the case?

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1 hour ago, disillusioned said:

I do not agree that God cannot be all-good and all-powerful. I've always held, even as a Christian, that the claim "God is good" is not a claim about what God is like, it is a claim about what good is like. The only way that the claim "God is good" can be coherent, in my view, is if we are starting with a notion of what God is and saying "good is like that", not starting with a notion of what good is and saying "God is like that". What this means, though, is that whatever God does is good by definition, because that is how "good" is defined.

We have to be careful about which definition we're discussing, though. Even if God could define his concept of "good" to mean whatever he might want it to be, and even claim that concept to be a universal absolute, that would only prove that God thought himself good. What we're discussing, after all, is whether something can be objectively good according to our concept of "good".

If, on the other hand, you're arguing that God could change our concept of "good", or some universal concept of "good" dictated by logic in such a way that we might discover it, we're talking about changing logic itself, or as Blamtasticful put it, creating a rock so big that even he can't lift it. You could of course imagine a God who could do that, but it's a step up from just arbitrarily declaring things to be true.

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I'm enjoying this discussion as a lurker but can't comment at this point except on the God's omnipotence issue. Can God violate the principle of non-contradiction? I would think the issue there is that the person coming up with examples violates the principle of non-contradiction. So the examples are either meaningless or just deserve the answer 'no'. E.g. can God will His own non-existence? Can God create a second God metaphysically equal to himself, i.e. whose existence does not depend on anything else? These are defective questions, as I understand it.

 

I just this morning read Aquinas on this very topic (in Latin! har har). Here's a link to the relevant passage, Summa Contra Gentiles II.25, if anyone wants to look at a standard treatment of the problem:

 

http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles2.htm#25

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16 hours ago, Rounin said:

We have to be careful about which definition we're discussing, though. Even if God could define his concept of "good" to mean whatever he might want it to be, and even claim that concept to be a universal absolute, that would only prove that God thought himself good. What we're discussing, after all, is whether something can be objectively good according to our concept of "good".

If, on the other hand, you're arguing that God could change our concept of "good", or some universal concept of "good" dictated by logic in such a way that we might discover it, we're talking about changing logic itself, or as Blamtasticful put it, creating a rock so big that even he can't lift it. You could of course imagine a God who could do that, but it's a step up from just arbitrarily declaring things to be true.

 

Yes, I agree, we need to be very careful about what definition we are using.

 

When you say that we're discussing whether something can be objectively good according to our concept of "good", I'm not sure that I agree with you. The question of objective morality is whether or not things can be good specifically apart from our concept of "good". That is what it means for something to be really right irrespective of what anybody thinks (ie, independent of our concept of "good"). I agree that God would be under no requirement to adhere to our concept of good, but who is to say that our concept of good is objectively correct? Surely the opinion of an all-powerful God, if He exists, is the only one that really matters.

 

ficino beat me to the punch with respect to the logical paradox issue. I'm inclined to agree with him that questions such as these don't actually make any sense. The rock question, for example, suffers in my view from the fact that it relies on a number of assumptions that are not applicable to the subject of the question. Things can only be lifted, for example, on Earth or another planet where there is an "up" due to a gravitational field. The idea of "lifting" things is born of our human experiences here on Earth. No one "lifts" anything in space. So surely the idea of "lifting" simply doesn't apply to God. Thus, it seems to me that trying to answer these questions is rather like trying to answer the question "is seven green?".

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