After my last post I had a few posts by some atheists that I think deserve a more lengthy response. Generally I think the atheists here post good questions and concerns and I am grateful to have them visiting. Jim is one of them. Here are some of the comments we exchanged leading up to the point I want to make in this blog.
“Man has trumped the morality of the Bible over and over. ”
Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, North Korean leaders, Lenin, Reign of Terror.
To which Jim responded:
“The bigger problem here isn’t these men. It is the followers. Here we argue which belief is best, but the culprit of all our divisions, racism, hate, all of it Joe, is beliefs. Mere convictions of thought without evidence. Break it down, that is the card played by the writers and founders to keep humanity at odds, while they do whatever the hell they want.”
I want to focus on his claim that we need evidence. I don’t think the atheist has any evidence to support any sort of moral views but I will get to that in a bit.
Consider this statement by Ingrid Newkirk President of PETA:
“Six million Jews died in concentration camps, but six billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughterhouses.”
Now many atheists say there is no actual truth about morality. Maybe killing six million Jews is not morally worse than killing six billion broiler chickens. But the key word is “maybe.” The thing is they do not know there is no objectively moral way we should live. So a rational person would say either there really is a way we should morally live, or there is not really a way we should morally live. Once we acknowledge this uncertainty we should be rational in how we approach the uncertainty and address the consequences of our actions with respect to both possibilities.
Let’s say the moral anti-realist is right and morality is not real. Then it really doesn’t matter whether I value Jews more than chickens. If that is the case, it doesn’t matter which way I chose. I can make up whatever morality I want. So my going with the Christian view is morally no worse than going with PETA’s view or living any other life of make believe. That state of affairs is a dead option. It is not the option a rational person should concern themselves with, because in that state of affairs it doesn’t matter what we do.
The rational person should focus their mind on the possible state of affairs where there really is moral Truth. That would be the state of affairs where we can live our lives rightly or wrongly. So a rational person would focus on the possibility that, in fact, there is objective moral truth that we should follow. But how could we know what that objective morality requires of us? What evidence do we have that PETA is wrong to think killing six billion broiler chickens is morally comparable to killing six million Jewish people?
Now my own view is that it is morally repulsive to view the killing of six million Jews in the Holocaust as equivalent or even less morally evil then killing six billion broiler chickens. But is my emotional revulsion evidence of moral truth? Why would someone who was created by a random universe guided by natural selection think their moral revulsion tracks objective moral truths? I firmly believe there would be no reason to think that, and I offer my reasons for that conviction here.
So what evidence do I have that morality is on my side? If I appeal to other humans, and their views, is it not obvious they are in the same situation I am? I have no reason to think other people’s convictions are guided in more reliable ways than my own. So why should I listen to other people who are in the same boat as me? What I need is a source of information that is not bound in the same way we are bound.
I have scripture that tells me humans are made in God’s image and humans are indeed more important than chickens and other animals. I have Scripture that tells me God became man in order to save humans. I have scripture that tells me I am to love my neighbor etc. All of this scripture tells me people are special among animals. But what evidence do I have that this scripture is really from something other than another human just like myself? The answer is the evidence of Christ’s miracles including but not limited to the resurrection.
Now I can hear the groans about how that evidence is weak. And I won’t lie there are times I wish I had more evidence. Sometimes, like Saint Thomas I wish I could see Jesus and touch the wounds to see it was really him. I don’t think this is unchristian. Thomas was Saint Thomas after all. So I am not here to say the miracles are strong evidence or weak evidence. You can listen to the debates on that, as there are plenty of them. Weak or strong, we clearly have some evidence that Jesus was from God and therefore his teachings on morality were from a source not bound by human limitations. This means his teachings have a chance of reliably tracking the truth regarding morality.
I think the Christian miracles are the best evidence of any religion actually being from God. I know other religions claim miracles but, I don’t think the claims I examined are as good as the Christian claims. I am certainly willing to consider the evidence if someone wants to claim some other religion has a better claim to being true through miracles or other evidence. Here is a blog where I give an outline of the criteria I use.
In the end, people can say the evidence for Christianity is strong or weak, but it is what it is. This is the situation we are in and it seems quite clear to me that it is the best evidence about what we should do that we have. Why would I trust Ingrid Newkirk (or even my own moral views which I recognize and science suggests are based on emotion) more than Christ?
Now what evidence does the atheist have to offer that their moral views accord with objective moral reality? If you start to say “If the morally good is….(flourishing) or (wellbeing) etc etc ” Then I need to stop you right there. I am asking for the evidence you have for what is morally good. So if you start with an assumption, of what is morally good, and then keep talking based on that assumption, I think you are missing the question. What evidence do you have that your view of moral goodness corresponds with objective reality? You may say something that I like or that I agree with but people agreeing or liking an idea does not make it true.
So you can say you think my evidence for my moral views based on Christ being from a supernatural source is weak. But it is some evidence. Even weak evidence is better than no evidence at all. Life does not have a pause button. You can’t pause life until you find some evidence that you are satisfied with. Rational people have to make due with the evidence they have. And you can call it strong or weak, but the evidence for Christian morality is the best evidence we have for any moral view.
Travis R said:
By “not real”, you mean “not objectively independent of humans” rather than “non-existent” – correct?
I guess I’m irrational then. Bummer. Hopefully can look past my irrationality and still stoop down to answer a few questions:
1) How do we know what really does matter?
2) What is the foundation for loving your kids so much more than some random starving kid in Africa?
3) Would you rather have a $100 bill or a piece of paper that I wrote “$100” on? Why? Note that they’re both just paper and ink.
HI Travis thanks for commenting. You need to start blogging again too you know! Are you following any good sites?
“By “not real”, you mean “not objectively independent of humans” rather than “non-existent” – correct?”
By objectively real I mean it is not based on make believe. That is it is not simply the product of our minds that is not dictated or constrained by objective reality.
So I would say the claim “I am taller than my daughter” corresponds with objective reality. But “Luke Skywalker is a Jedi” is make believe. That is only true in a sense that was created by a mind that was not constrained by objective reality.
If we want to say we make our own moral values and so it is true for Ingrid that killing 6 billion chickens is just as morally wrong as killing 6 million Jews but it is not for me and objective reality does not sort out who is right then we are dealing in make believe.
I don’t say this to be insulting but rather that is just how I see it. I think very very smart people are moral relativists. I can only state the reasons I reject it and see what the responses are.
I can try to answer some of these questions:
1) How do we know what really does matter?
I am not sure we do “know.” Like I said I am open to the charge that the evidence I have for my Christian moral beliefs is “weak.” I think to “know” something we have to have a certain amount of warrant to hold that belief. Do my christian beliefs about morality meet that standard? I don’t make any such claims. I think they have some warrant because they have some evidence. I think christian morality actually has better (by a considerable margin) warrant than other moral systems. So it is “strong” compared to the other options. But does knowledge require some absolute amount of warrant or can we use a sort of pragmatic encroachment approach? If the latter then I think I might say I know it on the basis that it is the best option and seems the most rational choice.
If we could pause life and wait for a more satisfactory evidence then that might be the best approach. But we can’t so we have to go with it.
“2) What is the foundation for loving your kids so much more than some random starving kid in Africa?”
I wish I could answer that one. That would be a great question for Jesus wouldn’t it? I tend to see our love for our family as a sort of model of how we should treat others. Is my greater love for my family morally justified, I really don’t know the answer. I think the goal is to find ways to be more loving of everyone. I don’t think the Christian answer is that we should reduce the love of our kids to match that of people we don’t know.
“3) Would you rather have a $100 bill or a piece of paper that I wrote “$100” on? Why? Note that they’re both just paper and ink.”
I would rather have the bill. Because I can buy stocks with it. And then sell those stocks for more 100 bills and use those 100 dollar bills to buy more stocks. Because then I can sell those stocks for even more 100 bills….
Sorry sometimes I can’t help myself.
“I don’t think the Christian answer is that we should reduce the love of our kids to match that of people we don’t know.”
I think the best answer is that you should elevate your love of people that you don’t know so that you love them as much as you love your kids. That doesn’t mean you have to reduce your love of your kids. Obviously you’re going to treat your kids differently than people you don’t know. But I think it is possible to love everyone as much as you love your kids without reducing how much you love your kids.
Suppose you see a runaway trolley moving toward your kid who is tied to the tracks. You are standing next to a lever that controls a switch. If you pull the lever, then the trolley will be redirected to a side track, and your kid will be saved. However, there are two strangers tied to the side track who will be killed if you pull the lever. Do you think pulling the lever is permissible, obligatory, or wrong?
Liam I think you see things the way I do about loving others.
What a horrible question. I mean it’s bad enough when we don’t know the people but when you include our own children it is really bad. It’s honestly too horrible for me to even think through. But I tend to think my children would want me to not pull the lever because they are Christian like me.
But the general idea in that sort of scenario is whether it is worse to affirmatively take an action to kill one person but save many versus not taking any action but letting more die.
I think I read that if you change it to be that you will push one obese person onto the tracks it will stop the train before hitting many people, fewer people will do it. Because the act of pushing someone like that seems worse or something.
A similar issue can come up when it comes to “collateral damage” – that is innocents being killed in war. Sometimes even though the intent is not to kill innocents we nevertheless know innocents will die. My view is that is wrong. It would be better for me and my family (which are also Christian and presumably agree with me) to die than for me or my family to knowingly kill innocent people in order to survive. Yes even if the innocent people are fewer in number and I don’t even know them.
I think think when you don’t know innocent people may die but know there is a risk they might die that is different. But for example I think the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima is was immoral and even if my family were all in the military and highly likely to be killed if the war went on I would rather fight it out the long way. I am not interested in living thanks to the deaths of innocent people.
Travis R said:
Yeah, I’ve been pretty bad about the blog. I need to find a mindset that allows me to publish without feeling the need to research every little point and constantly edit. Anyway…
Let’s try rephrasing the first question:
1) What does it mean to say that something really does matter?
You may not be able to answer #2, but I think I can. There is no normative foundation. That’s just how we are. Does the absence of a rational explanation for why we should have a greater love for our children mean that we should then try to change ourselves to align with some alternative condition that can be traced to even the weakest of normative foundations? Your article seems to be implying that the answer is yes. Good luck making that change. Or you could just accept the reality of the situation. Maybe your kids matter more to you because mattering is a subjective phenomenon.
I’m going to ignore question #3 for now. Somewhere between then and now I lost where I was intending to go with that, but I think maybe it would end up at question #1 anyway. I guess I’m getting old.
I hear you about the blogs. I have just sort of reached a point where I have decided I may word a few things wrong or get some things wrong but overall I thought my views were good enough to publish in part because I decided my standards could be lower and in part because I listened to and read enough to see that my standards were probably too high anyway. I have also sort of decided to try to break my blogs into smaller sizes so they are easier to read and less cumbersome to research.
“1) What does it mean to say that something really does matter?”
Just sort of off the cuff I would say In the moral sense it would mean it has some ultimate purpose or reason for action. It might even involve infinitely many reasons. But it does not just matter for some limited end that can be trumped by some other end. And by “really” matter, I would mean it is tied to reality in some way. So it is not just made up and unconstrained by reality.
“You may not be able to answer #2, but I think I can. There is no normative foundation. That’s just how we are. Does the absence of a rational explanation for why we should have a greater love for our children mean that we should then try to change ourselves to align with some alternative condition that can be traced to even the weakest of normative foundations? Your article seems to be implying that the answer is yes. Good luck making that change. Or you could just accept the reality of the situation. Maybe your kids matter more to you because mattering is a subjective phenomenon.”
Yes I do believe that we should try to change our dispositions to match moral obligations.
This is true for loving remote children as our own and it is true for Slavery Racism genocide etc.
I think morality is like tallness in that some people are taller and some actions are more evil. So I think racism, slavery, genocide are morally worse than not loving remote children as much as our own (assuming, for the sake of argument, there is something morally wrong with loving our own children more).
But I find my position much more coherent with many of my other beliefs than yours which seems to say all such moral views (presumably including views regarding slavery racism, and genocide etc) simply are what they are and it is somehow folly to think we have an obligation to change them since there is, in reality, no objectively true moral beliefs.
Moreover if you are right and nothing in reality ultimately matters then my getting this point wrong wont ultimately matter either. So I just don’t see why you wouldn’t at least try to live your life in the way that has the best chance of really ultimately mattering instead of just giving up on it.
I am not saying there are not good theoretical reasons to think that in the end omr is false and morality is all make believe anyway. But good reasons are not the same as iron clad reasons. So it is still possible that omr is true – would you agree?
It seems to me the pragmatic aspects all favor belief in omr.
I agree I may have trouble trying to love a remote child as much as my own. But I feel I can work at it and try. I have much more trouble believing that in reality there is no right and wrong and no real justice or injustice etc. To me that is like believing I am a brain in a vat. – maybe worse. And I would say good luck trying to be consistent with those beliefs. I highly doubt I could hold those beliefs without contradicting many other beliefs I hold.
Do you believe there is real Justice or is justice whatever you find agreeable?
I went into many of the problems I find with anti-realism on morality here:
I would be interested in your thoughts.
Travis R said:
I think this is key. So things only matter to the extent that they have an eternal duration or impact. I can appreciate that there is some level of intuition behind this – I think it derives from our desire to avoid having our goals thwarted – but what is the justification for making that intuition into a foundational criteria of what matters? 99.99% of our behavior (yours included) is motivated by immediate ends without any regard for the eternal ends. That’s all a mistake? Shouldn’t we define what matters by how we actually behave rather than on some armchair intuition?
Moral judgements can be corrected to the degree that they are inconsistent or errant in relation to other scrutable beliefs, but not to the degree that they are misaligned with some inscrutable external moral standard. I would tackle disagreements with my moral judgements (e.g., your examples) by looking for inconsistency and errant beliefs rather than by appealing to some standard that neither person can actually access and evaluate. The interlocutor that you think is in the wrong can just as easily point to their transcendent realism as the basis for the correctness of their belief. We’ve been through this before in our discussion on my Moral Ontology post, and probably elsewhere. I don’t anticipate a different result and I think the dependency on eternal ends is really the crux of the matter, so I suggest the discussion focus there.
This is only a problem if you impose the requirement that something is only “real” if it has an eternal duration or impact. So let’s get to the heart of that claim before framing the rest of the discussion as if that assumption is correct.
“I think this is key. So things only matter to the extent that they have an eternal duration or impact. I can appreciate that there is some level of intuition behind this – I think it derives from our desire to avoid having our goals thwarted – but what is the justification for making that intuition into a foundational criteria of what matters? 99.99% of our behavior (yours included) is motivated by immediate ends without any regard for the eternal ends. That’s all a mistake? Shouldn’t we define what matters by how we actually behave rather than on some armchair intuition?”
I was not trying to say the impact must be eternal. It might be but I am not taking a position on that now.
Rather what I was trying to say is that when we talk about a moral claim or fact it is one that is ultimate in the sense that we don’t say “well I know I am morally obligated to do this but should I do this?” If you are morally obligated to take an action then you should do it by definition. So it is ultimate in the sense that it trumps other considerations.
Consider this “I know I morally should not steal this money but hey its the only way I will be able to afford that car I want so I should steal it to get the car I want.”
So stealing it “matters” for your ability to get the car. And it may be true that to achieve the end of getting the car you want you “should” steal the money. But the moral “should” trumps the other “should”. Or if I want to win the game I should take out the left tackle’s knee with a cut block.
Moral “shoulds” trump all other “shoulds”. So if something “matters” in a moral sense that “moral should” will trump “shoulds” for winning footballs games and getting stuff and everything else.
As to whether something may have an eternal impact but not be moral at least conceivably. All of our actions are eternal in the sense that if we take that action it will always be the case that we took that action. If I use hot sauce on my pizza today it will always be the case that I used hot sauce on my pizza on 6/6/2019. The same goes for my sinful or virtuous actions. In life we may forget these actions but if we or anyone was all knowing it would have an eternal character.
I don’t think that just because most of actions do not implicate morality that must mean morality does not exist or that it is somehow less important.
And notice the above means it “matters” in a moral sense. As in “really matters.” For the definition of “really” or real I would go with my view that it is not make believe. I explained that in the comment and in this blog.
Travis R said:
OK, thanks. That’s a helpful clarification. What I’m now hearing you say is that a reason\consideration only matters if it supercedes all other reasons\considerations. In the blog post you suggested that this is only true of moral considerations if moral realism is true – because “it really doesn’t matter” under anti-realism. What is the relevant difference between moral realism vs anti-realism that bestows this usurping power to moral reasons only under realism? Doing something “because it’s the right thing to do” is a reason we can have under either realism and anti-realism. That is independent of the ontology.
“OK, thanks. That’s a helpful clarification.
What I’m now hearing you say is that a reason\consideration only matters if it supercedes all other reasons\considerations. In the blog post you suggested that this is only true of moral considerations if moral realism is true – because “it really doesn’t matter” under anti-realism. What is the relevant difference between moral realism vs anti-realism that bestows this usurping power to moral reasons only under realism? Doing something “because it’s the right thing to do” is a reason we can have under either realism and anti-realism. That is independent of the ontology.”
If morality is not real then it doesn’t “really” matter it is just make believe. For something to “matter” in a moral sense it must have this ultimate aspect. I suppose Anti-realists can assign this ultimate aspect to any actions they want. But, of course, if anti-realism is true then it doesn’t “really” matter. It only matters in the “make believe” sense anti-realists assign to morality.
You asked what it meant for something to “really matter” and I am trying to explain what distinct import both words (“really” and “matter”) have in the phrase as I use it.
“Moral judgements can be corrected to the degree that they are inconsistent or errant in relation to other scrutable beliefs, but not to the degree that they are misaligned with some inscrutable external moral standard. I would tackle disagreements with my moral judgements (e.g., your examples) by looking for inconsistency and errant beliefs rather than by appealing to some standard that neither person can actually access and evaluate. The interlocutor that you think is in the wrong can just as easily point to their transcendent realism as the basis for the correctness of their belief.”
Im not sure what you mean by transcendent realism, but yes both partys are arguing about what is true – that is what corresponds with reality using reason and evidence. This is what rational debate is all about.
But if you start out with understanding that you are not arguing about anything tied in with reality and just your make believe versus my make believe then it seems impossible to have reasoned discussion beyond pointing out inconsistencies in a persons own made up beliefs. But being internally coherent in your beliefs about morality is such a low bar it is not hard to see how nazis or or the other worst moral monsters could not at least reach that bar. We are not saying that a racist person will necessarily contradict himself, we are saying he is wrong.
” We’ve been through this before in our discussion on my Moral Ontology post, and probably elsewhere. I don’t anticipate a different result and I think the dependency on eternal ends is really the crux of the matter, so I suggest the discussion focus there.”
I know we have discussed this issue before. And I will say I was initially surprised you did not find my arguments persuasive. But it was clear to me that you understood my arguments but were still not convinced. I also believe I understood what you were saying and I was not persuaded either. So I continued to ask myself why am I not persuaded by his arguments and whether I had good reason to not be persuaded. In particular I wanted to know why I found subjectivism so unpalatable intellectually.
And I have come up with other reasons that probe a bit deeper and they are in this blog:
I understand the reading can be slow going and admit I am not the best writer. But the arguments are new and are indeed intended to advance our discussion from where we left it.
Let me try to whet your appetite with a few quick questions:
1) Do you agree that divine command theory devolves into arbitrary moral rules?
2) Do you agree that Divine command theory is subjectivism where the rule maker is God? In other words subjectivism is where a person or group defines morality as whatever a person thinks should be done. That becomes what it means to be moral. I think that is the correct philosophical view of subjectivism and I think that is in effect what divine command theory is but the relevant person is God. I wonder if you take issue with that?
3) If you answered yes to both of the above why do you think subjectivism is only arbitrary when it is God and not when it is other people or groups of people?
The blog gives other reasons why I think the anti-realist could not possibly have “good reasons” for the moral beliefs but that is one aspect of it.
“What a horrible question. I mean it’s bad enough when we don’t know the people but when you include our own children it is really bad. It’s honestly too horrible for me to even think through. But I tend to think my children would want me to not pull the lever because they are Christian like me.”
Yes it is horrible to think about being in that situation. I just asked because I thought you were implying that it is acceptable to love your kids more than others, and I was wondering what you meant by that.
If I was the kid tied to the tracks and my dad had to pull the lever, I would not want him to pull the lever even though I am not a Christian. I am a utilitarian, and I don’t think my dad should care more about my life than the lives of two strangers.
“But the general idea in that sort of scenario is whether it is worse to affirmatively take an action to kill one person but save many versus not taking any action but letting more die.
“I think I read that if you change it to be that you will push one obese person onto the tracks it will stop the train before hitting many people, fewer people will do it. Because the act of pushing someone like that seems worse or something.”
In the original trolley problem, would you pull the lever to have one person die instead of five? Would you push the obese person onto the tracks?
“I think think when you don’t know innocent people may die but know there is a risk they might die that is different. But for example I think the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima is was immoral and even if my family were all in the military and highly likely to be killed if the war went on I would rather fight it out the long way. I am not interested in living thanks to the deaths of innocent people.”
I also think the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were wrong. I think it is wrong to intentionally kill civilians.
“If I was the kid tied to the tracks and my dad had to pull the lever, I would not want him to pull the lever even though I am not a Christian. I am a utilitarian, and I don’t think my dad should care more about my life than the lives of two strangers.”
What if they were older such that you would probably live more years then both of them combined. Moreover they were old widows so not as many people would be upset if they died. Then would you want your dad to pull the lever?
(Just pulling from some of your arguments about the deer case)
“In the original trolley problem, would you pull the lever to have one person die instead of five? Would you push the obese person onto the tracks?”
I tend to think yes I would. In a way it would be like self defense or defense of another. My intention would be to save the others rather than kill the one.
But in the joker case of blowing up another boat I wouldn’t do that. Because there is would always depend on the will of another person and not a certainty.
“What if they were older such that you would probably live more years then both of them combined. Moreover they were old widows so not as many people would be upset if they died. Then would you want your dad to pull the lever?
“(Just pulling from some of your arguments about the deer case)”
I like these tough questions.
It’s impossible to know what I would want my dad to do in that situation, but that’s irrelevant since we’re concerned with what is right rather than what I would want my dad to do.
I think most people have a moral intuition that the lives of young people should be valued more than the lives of old people. However, I don’t think our moral intuitions can be trusted.
If I examine this from the perspective of negative utilitarianism, then my goal is to minimize suffering. With this perspective, we have to ask whether me dying or the two widows dying will result in more suffering. The problem with this approach is that the morality of pulling the lever is determined by a popularity contest. Whoever’s death will result in more suffering gets to live. This approach also only considers the how others will be impacted. It doesn’t ask whether those who currently exist have a right to continue existing.
One could argue that it is always wrong to take an action that will result in more human deaths, regardless of the age, health, or status of the people involved. But we value certain lives more than others in war. We value the lives of civilians more than the lives of soldiers. One could get around this by saying that you cannot discriminate based on age or health, but you can discriminate based on status. But this person would have to maintain that even if the widows will die the next day, it would still be wrong for my dad to pull the lever and have the widows die instead of me. How old do the widows appear to be in this example?
I’m going to assume that the widows appear to be 65 years old or older. If I were the one standing next to the lever and had to choose between allowing a young person to die or pulling the lever and causing two old people to die, I think I would pull the lever and cause the two old people to die.
What would you do in this situation? Would it change anything if the widows are tied to the main track and the young person is tied to the side track? In this case, inaction would result in the widows dying rather than in the young person dying.
“I tend to think yes I would. In a way it would be like self defense or defense of another. My intention would be to save the others rather than kill the one.”
You would both pull the lever and push the obese man onto the tracks, or would pull the lever but would not push the obese man onto the tracks?
“But in the joker case of blowing up another boat I wouldn’t do that. Because there is would always depend on the will of another person and not a certainty.”
Is the will being depended on the will of the Joker? And there is uncertainty because Batman may stop the Joker and thus neither boat will be blown up? What if you removed these two variables? Both boats will be blown up if neither boat blows up the other, and there is no possibility of Batman stopping the Joker. Would it still be wrong to blow the other boat up?
Liam I think you offer some good analysis of your own position. I think you are correct that having someones popularity dictate that their life is more valuable cuts against our intuitions. You say this about our intuitions.
“I think most people have a moral intuition that the lives of young people should be valued more than the lives of old people. However, I don’t think our moral intuitions can be trusted.”
We certainly tend to mourn more when a child loses their life than a person who lived a full life. But I want to ask what you mean when you say our intuitions can not be “trusted.”
Normally when I would say something like “our intuitions can not be trusted in quantumn mechanics, or whether the earth is moving etc” I mean our intuitions do not track reality.
But you do not think there is a moral reality. So what do you mean? Do you mean our intuitions can’t be trusted to track whatever moral code you choose to construct?
I think that what happens is people can say there is no such thing as morality and even on a certain level they believe that is the case. But I do think that does contradict other deeper beliefs. I see that quite often because throwing out morality is throwing a huge part of our noetic structure.
As for the various ethical questions I have not thought about them long enough to really give answers I would want to support.
In these cases we have to choose between the sanctity of one life versus another. I think the problems that I pose for atheists in the oral surgeon problem, empathy problem, and the animal rights problem, is that they want to support the christian position but those situations tend not to agree with what they claim is the basis for morality.
If the basis of morality is suffering then the oral surgeon and empathy problems seem to lead to immoral actions.
If there is no sanctity of human life then our treatment of animals versus humans seems hopelessly contradictory. When I was thinking about atheism and trying to think about those issues it became pretty clear I was just creating rationalizations. You don’t flat out state that but you do agree that the reasons you give seemed less than convincing. I found the same thing. In the end it seemed I would either just abandon my intuitions that the holocaust was worse than killing chickens or just go with my intuitions. After all you admit that your statement of “well being” whatever that means is just an intuition anyway. So saying you are going to strictly follow that starting principle and then ignore the intuitions that tell you it is logically wrong seems arbitrary.
In the end I said it all seems quite arbitrary if I try to figure it out on my own. But I consider these issues fundementally important to who I am. It is fundemental for me to want to be live a good life. So it is not something I could just give up on.
So I looked for “outside” support in formulating my morality.
I know we think of many apologists as wielding different arguments for God sort of like further evidence to support their already existing beliefs. And I am not saying I was full on atheistic, but I was certainly considering it for many years. And I had not issue with being atheist if it seemed most rational and I still don’t.
But it really wasn’t until I was sure I needed outside support for morality that I more fully turned to religions as a better answer than my arbitrarily following some intuitions while rejecting others. I really had to first understand for myself that I was just flailing around before I thought of this as a good basis for believing in God. At least that is the path I took in developing my own beliefs. I don’t think this moral argument will have the same weight unless someone really tries to think it through for themselves and comes to the same conclusions I do.
Of course I could be wrong but I am sort of reassured when I hear other top notch philosophers reach many of the same conclusions I did when thinking about these topics. No they don’t always turned to something beyond the natural world but some do. And those that don’t I believe I see where they no longer track with my own view and understand their reasoning and I am certainly happy with my choice to part ways at those crossroads.
The most common crossroad is whether we think the question of how we should live a good life is important. I see you also naturally view that as one of the most important questions so that is why I think we have quite a bit in common even if you are atheist and I am Christian.
“We certainly tend to mourn more when a child loses their life than a person who lived a full life. But I want to ask what you mean when you say our intuitions can not be ‘trusted.’
“Normally when I would say something like “our intuitions can not be trusted in quantumn mechanics, or whether the earth is moving etc” I mean our intuitions do not track reality.
“But you do not think there is a moral reality. So what do you mean? Do you mean our intuitions can’t be trusted to track whatever moral code you choose to construct?”
Yes, I mean that our intuitions can’t be trusted to track the moral code I choose to construct. My moral code is based on reducing avoidable suffering and increasing happiness. I think our moral intuitions will often lead to conclusions that contradict my moral code.
“I think that what happens is people can say there is no such thing as morality and even on a certain level they believe that is the case. But I do think that does contradict other deeper beliefs. I see that quite often because throwing out morality is throwing a huge part of our noetic structure.”
I don’t think morality is objective, but I wouldn’t say that there is no such thing as morality.
“If there is no sanctity of human life then our treatment of animals versus humans seems hopelessly contradictory. When I was thinking about atheism and trying to think about those issues it became pretty clear I was just creating rationalizations. You don’t flat out state that but you do agree that the reasons you give seemed less than convincing. I found the same thing. In the end it seemed I would either just abandon my intuitions that the holocaust was worse than killing chickens or just go with my intuitions. After all you admit that your statement of “well being” whatever that means is just an intuition anyway. So saying you are going to strictly follow that starting principle and then ignore the intuitions that tell you it is logically wrong seems arbitrary.”
I gave the following three reasons for why we can treat animals differently than deer.
1. Other deer will not suffer as a result of the deer dying the way humans suffer when a loved one dies.
2. Deer may not be conscious, and it would be silly to spend $100,000 on saving the life of a being who will never be conscious when that money could be used to alleviate the suffering of beings who are currently conscious and beings who will be conscious in the future.
3. Deer only live for about 14 years at most, so allowing a deer to die is different than allowing a human who still has many years left to live to die.
I realized that I left out a fourth reason that Peter Singer discusses in “Practical Ethics.” Even if deer are conscious, they may not be able to see conceive of themselves as existing over time. If they cannot conceive of themselves as existing over time, then they cannot be afraid of dying. If they cannot be afraid of dying, then they cannot experience the suffering that results from being afraid of dying. This is another reason to value a human life over the life of a deer.
We can apply the same four reasons to chickens. Chickens do not suffer as a result of other chickens dying the way humans suffer when a loved one dies, they may not be conscious, they probably cannot conceive of themselves as existing over time, and they have much shorter lifespans than humans. These four reasons differentiate six million humans dying from six million chickens dying.
“But it really wasn’t until I was sure I needed outside support for morality that I more fully turned to religions as a better answer than my arbitrarily following some intuitions while rejecting others. I really had to first understand for myself that I was just flailing around before I thought of this as a good basis for believing in God. At least that is the path I took in developing my own beliefs. I don’t think this moral argument will have the same weight unless someone really tries to think it through for themselves and comes to the same conclusions I do.”
Religion provides a basis for morality, but that does not suggest that God exists.
The Euthyphro dilemma demonstrates that theistic morality, which is deontological, faces the same problems that atheistic deontology faces. Does God have good reasons for making his moral rules? If so, then those moral rules exist independently of God. And if those moral rules exist independently of God, then where do they come from?
“The most common crossroad is whether we think the question of how we should live a good life is important. I see you also naturally view that as one of the most important questions so that is why I think we have quite a bit in common even if you are atheist and I am Christian.”
I agree that we have quite a bit in common. I think the differences between theists and atheists often get exaggerated.
Killing Jews doesn’t make killing chickens right. Your appealing to a false equivalence. Just because things are worse somewhere else doesn’t excuse poor practice here.
Hitler killing Jews doesn’t excuse Christian atrocities that dominated the landscape 1000 years. And he was a Christian anyway, but just like the rest of them, he he hated Christendom like the rest of you. Everyone else is doing it wrong and all try to distance yourselves from its effects.
Jim thanks for the comment but I never claimed killing jews makes killing chickens right. The president of PETA was indeed trying to morally equate the two. And my question for atheists is what is the evidence you have to dispute her claim?
I’m not saying Hitler excuses Christian atrocities – whatever you mean by that. Certainly I agree people have acted immorally in the name of Christianity and I don’t say Hitler acting badly excuses that.
As to Hitler being a Christian well that is a pretty far stretch. The consensus of historians is that he was anti-christian but knew the german people were Christian so would say things in public that suggested he was Christian and approved of Christianity. The private conversations with those he trusted most shows he was anti-christian. As do his actions. Not only his actions against the church directly but even looking at his appointments.
Statistics can vary that at the time he took power between 95-100% (rounding up fractions) of Germany was christian. Yet of his top staff only a small fraction was christian. Himmler, Goebbels, Rosenberg, Speer, Goering. When we put his private statements and actions against the churches together we see that it was no coincidence that he was picking non-Christians. Certainly the most proximate archetecht of the holocaust – Himmler was very anti-christian.
Rosenberg perhaps most influential in Nazi “positive Christianity” was out spoken against Christiainity.
Here is a quote from wikipedia about the plans for Positive Christianity. I think you have to be an absolute fool or completely ignorrant of Christianity to call this Christianity:
“During World War II Rosenberg outlined the future envisioned by the Hitler government for religion in Germany, with a thirty-point program for the future of the German churches. Among its articles:
the National Reich Church of Germany would claim exclusive control over all churches
publication of the Bible would cease
crucifixes, Bibles and saints were to be removed from altars
Mein Kampf would be placed on altars as “to the German nation and therefore to God the most sacred book”
the Christian Cross would be removed from all churches and replaced with the swastika.[3″
I guess my points is your morality is religious indoctrination and cultural. Not god given. The atheist that commented about the chickens is possibly more untuned with overall kindness than a person who is culturalized to think killing animals is ok. I remember the first animal I killed. I was congratulated and they were all so proud of me. But I knew it was troubling and felt horrible, although I did get used to it.
Reminds me of WWI. Only a small percentage of soldiers could actually pull the trigger and kill another human until they started practicing it with human silhouettes and more lifelike targets. A lot of your stomach for killing is cultural—not natural at all.
Furthermore I don’t think the atheist has any evidence to support any sort of moral views. I would say there is plenty of evidence by the personal accountability most atheists live by. Why is it you skip over the whole of the statement and choose something so irrelevant? It is also evidence of atheist morality by the compassion many of them show for mere chickens. Could we get an amen for those who dare to struggle against animal cruelty and accuse them of being amoral?
“Furthermore I don’t think the atheist has any evidence to support any sort of moral views.”
But Jim this is what you said lead to all the problems caused by regimes like those of mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, North Korea and the reign of terror :
“The bigger problem here isn’t these men. It is the followers. Here we argue which belief is best, but the culprit of all our divisions, racism, hate, all of it Joe, is beliefs. Mere convictions of thought without evidence.”
I don’t think I am understanding you because you seem to be saying
1)the atrocities arise due to people who have no evidence for their convictions.
2) Atheists have no evidence for their moral convictions
It seems to follow that by your own reasoning atheists are the problem – or at least part of it.
My own view is that atheism can lead to the crumbling of many moral foundations. I am not saying it must but I think it often can and there are some good reasons for that. I am just trying to point out how atheism might undermine traditionally held principles like the sanctity of human life might be a problem if we don’t at least recognize it and figure our what to do. I am not saying everyone must therefore reject atheism but I am really just trying to identify problems so we can protect against them.
” I would say there is plenty of evidence by the personal accountability most atheists live by.”
What evidence is that?
“Why is it you skip over the whole of the statement and choose something so irrelevant?”
I am not aware of any evidence that atheists are somehow more accountable than Christians. If you want to provide some evidence I will address it.
“It is also evidence of atheist morality by the compassion many of them show for mere chickens. Could we get an amen for those who dare to struggle against animal cruelty and accuse them of being amoral?”
I am not sure I understand what you wrote here. But no I am not going to give an Amen to someone who claims there is a moral equivalency between six million Jews being killed in the holocaust to the deaths of broiler chickens. I think that view is grotesque and wrong.
I don’t think people who give the same moral value to mere chickens as they do to people are morally superior.
I think you are treading dangerously close to DCT here. I think that is also unavoidable, given your position. 🙂
But to expand on what Travis has said, and on the line of reasoning to which you have gestured: There are no “tall facts”, there are only facts about tallness, i.e. tallness posited, I can say that Joe is taller than Keith and we can sort out whether or not my contention is valid, just based on the tallness rules, though their dictates are relative and without any logical or even ontological necessity, though the latter assertion is controversial, I know.
One could say the same about Newtonian Mechanics. One can make valid arguments about mass, while also making valid arguments about strings and Higgs fields…
Thanks Keith. I am not sure I understand what you are saying but I wonder if you would disagree with what I say here.
I think whether or not we had a tallness vocabulary or even if we never conceived of tallness as a concept I would still be taller than my daughter. I think this is a fact. Whether we can identify a concept or not it can still be a fact.
For example long before we were even around let alone understood “nuclear fusion” this process was still occurring in stars.
Oh, sure. But that is not to say that the facts are mind independent or that the facts are completely unconditional.
Nor does it explain “tall”, anymore than any set of descriptive facts – like the set of all height comparisons, or 1 mm above the median height – because “tall” is a label for a methodology rather than a set of stuff.
That’s the reason why we always end up with a description of what is when we try to explain moral ought. There can be no such explanation of the latter.
Travis R said:
It seems like you’re saying that “really matters” is just a way to describe moral realism. It doesn’t seem to be adding anything. So when the post says anti-realism is irrational because it doesn’t really matter, it’s essentially saying anti-realism is irrational because it isn’t realism. I must be missing something?
I am saying I do not think it is rational to be concerned with things that are not real matters. That is true.
“Anti-realism” about morality does indeed mean morality is not real right? That is it is not a feature of reality in the way real things are.
If I say “The monster in the closet is not real”, then “there is not really a monster in the closet.”
LIkewise, if I say “moral matters/concerns are not real” Then I can say there are “really no moral matters/concerns”
I think this is pretty much a truism. I think to the extent you are not accepting it is perhaps because you are not accepting the full implications of “moral anti-realism”.
I am not denying people might make up monsters in their head. I am just saying I do not think it is rational to be concerned about things we make up in our heads that are not tied to reality.
It is true that I do not explicitly argue that it is irrational to be concerned with things we make up in our head here in this post. I point out the problems in the earlier posts drawing parallels between subjectivism to divine command theory, and generally arguing how subjective moral beliefs could not be supported by anything like what we normally consider “good reasons” to believe.
Aha! Moral Bubble Theory.
I think that you are attributing a much less expansive claim to anti-realist positions than the anti-realist makes.
It is not the case that anti-realism accuses realism of being a moral market bubble – evaluations based on illusory facts. The claim is that moral statements are not theories regarding facts in the first place.
Instead, moral statements are assertions, or mistakes on the terminology, or attempts to define a category.
To expand on your analogy, the contention over whether or not there is a monster under the bed doesn’t even get to whether or not there is a monster under the bed.
The contention is that saying “there is a monster under the bed” means “I am afraid” (emotivism) or something along those lines, rather than being an actual monster-proposition.
It is understandable why a moral realist might find such accusations a little insulting, just like the person who says that there is a monster under the bed might take offense at the contention that he is really saying “I am afraid” with his monster-proposition.
He might be tempted to respond by saying, “Well, how do you explain what sounds like growling?”.
But that does not get to the point of contention – even if there is growling!
I actually agree in a rough way with what you are saying here. There are generally three different types of moral anti-realism. Nihilist, Non-cognitivist, and subjectivist.
Because Travis and I have discussed these topics many times I know he is a subjectivist.
“It is not the case that anti-realism accuses realism of being a moral market bubble – evaluations based on illusory facts.”
The Nihilist (also known as error theorist about morality) does indeed think that the realist is making evaluations based on illusory facts. But the nihilist is not the only type of anti-realist so I agree the anti-realist can have other views.
“To expand on your analogy, the contention over whether or not there is a monster under the bed doesn’t even get to whether or not there is a monster under the bed.
The contention is that saying “there is a monster under the bed” means “I am afraid” (emotivism) or something along those lines, rather than being an actual monster-proposition.”
This view is the non-cognitivist view which is another anti-realist position. They say all such moral claims is really talk of dispositions rather than actual facts that are true or false.
But Travis is really taking up a third anti-realist position that of the subjectivist. They say that moral claims are true and false but what makes them true of false is the views a certain person (or group of people) holds about them. It is anti-realist in the sense that moral realists would say just like the earth orbits the sun regardless of what we think on the matter, the holocaust was morally wrong regardless of what we think on the matter. Not so for the subjectivist. If some person or group thinks the holocaust was morally ok then it was morally ok. The position is very much like divine command theory except the person judging is not God. But for the subjectivist there moral claims can be true or false but their truth or falsity depends on the viewpoint of a person or group. Just like morality is decided by the mind of God in Divine Command theory.
I talk about these different views of morality here:
Richard Joyce sets out the same three categories of anti-realism here:
Travis R said:
Hmm. I’ve assumed we were employing the philosophical definition of realism but this seems to be suggesting something more colloquial. In short, the realist says that if all human minds suddenly disappear, morality will still exist. If you disagree with that, then you’re an anti-realist. But the anti-realist can still say that it is real in the colloquial sense because it actually exists as a part of our nature and psyche, and\or as a real process that operates among human societies to facilitate the realization of human values (a bit like money, which is where that $100 bill question was heading). If all human minds suddenly disappeared, do you think that morality would still exist?
I believe my views of moral realism are very much in line with the academic views of it.
Realism and anti-realism generally can go in many different directions I really think we should understand moral anti-realism as it is understood in this particular field of meta-ethics.
As the author explains the lines are not bright but there is a general understanding. The constructivist (or what I am refering as a subjectivist) to would be the second type of anti-realist.
“On this view, moral anti-realism is the denial of the thesis that moral properties—or facts, objects, relations, events, etc. (whatever categories one is willing to countenance)—exist mind-independently. This could involve either (1) the denial that moral properties exist at all, or (2) the acceptance that they do exist but that existence is (in the relevant sense) mind-dependent. Barring various complications to be discussed below, there are broadly two ways of endorsing (1): moral noncognitivism and moral error theory. Proponents of (2) may be variously thought of as moral non-ojectivists, or idealists, or constructivists.”
The author goes into what I understand your view to be (the non objectivist/cosntructivist view) and explains how there can be some ambiguity in how “mind independence” is understood.
“Non-objectivism (as it will be called here) allows that moral facts exist but holds that they are, in some manner to be specified, constituted by mental activity. The slogan version comes from Hamlet: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Of course, the notion of “mind-independence” is problematically indeterminate: Something may be mind-independent in one sense and mind-dependent in another. Cars, for example, are designed and constructed by creatures with minds, and yet in another sense cars are clearly concrete, non-subjective entities. Much careful disambiguation is needed before we know how to circumscribe non-objectivism, and different philosophers disambiguate differently. Many philosophers question whether the “non-objectivism clause” is a useful component of moral anti-realism at all. Many advocate views according to which moral properties are significantly mind-dependent but which they are loath to characterize as versions of moral anti-realism. There is a concern that including the non-objectivism clause threatens to make moral anti-realism trivially true, since there is little room for doubting that the moral status of actions usually (if not always) depends in some manner on mental phenomena such as the intentions with which the action was performed or the episodes or pleasure and pain that ensue from it. The issue will be discussed below, with no pretense made of settling the matter one way or the other.”
I think you are getting at that when you ask if morals could exist without humans. I would say morality needs a moral agent to become a part of reality but that does not mean it is not objectively real after that moral agent brings it about. Just like a car may need a mind to become part of objective reality but once it is brought about by a mind it is an objective part of reality.
Now I have explained another part of this ambiguity in that certain types of immorality do require a “mens rea.” But this is a different sense of mind dependence that is meant by subjectivism. I explained that difference here:
I am willing to grant that the morality “really” exists inside the head of anti-realists. Just like the monster really exists inside the head of the child. I think we discussed that aspect before. I believe the desires or mental constructions are “real” but whether they “exist” that might be a matter of semantics. Liam and I were discussing that question. Tallness is real but does it “exist?”
I raise this issue not because I want to argue it, but rather just to say I am only discussing what we, and philosophers generally, mean by “real” and not making any claims about “existence.” At least not intentionally – I do slip into talk of morality existing though.
Yes morality would still be real even if human minds stopped existing. Long after the earth is destroyed the holocaust would still be wrong.
It seems the subjectivist would say as soon as the subjectively relevant person dies or changes his mind so does the morality.
Travis R said:
OK. I think we’re on the same page with ‘realism’. Do you actually think that the child’s monster is a good analogy, or is that just rhetoric? In the monster case, there is a clear implication of something existing which can be objectively falsified by others. Do you think that moral anti-realists are making an equivalent claim?
Getting back to the point, you’ve said that only realist morality matters, and when I asked for an explanation you essentially said it’s a truism. So let’s bring that $100 bill back into the picture. If humans disappear, the money can still exist but the surviving cockroaches aren’t going to treat my fake $100 bill any differently than the real one. Since money (not the paper and ink – money as a construction) is thus mind-dependent, should I only value the paper and ink instantiations to the degree I value the mind-independent properties? Or does it make sense to incorporate the mind-dependent properties in our valuations?
“OK. I think we’re on the same page with ‘realism’. Do you actually think that the child’s monster is a good analogy, or is that just rhetoric? In the monster case, there is a clear implication of something existing which can be objectively falsified by others. Do you think that moral anti-realists are making an equivalent claim?”
What I find so hard to understand is that it is not just that the subjectivist says it is easy to show morality is disconnected from reality he affirmatively says it is disconnected. At least with the child, presumably, once he knows the monster is not real he changes his behavior to account for that. The moral subjectivist seems to say yes I know the monster is not real but I am still not going near the closet door,
Now I will say this criticism does not logically apply to all anti-realists. It does not apply to a nihilist that can actually live by his belief. Whether it applies to a non-cognitivist might depend. Of the two people who I know from online discussions who self identified as non-cognitivists they also tended to try to create moral systems not unlike the subjectivist. Are they true non-cognitivists? I don’t know, I think it gets tricky. But to the extent they are creating a set of rules that they know is not dictated or constrained by objective reality I think they are subject to this criticism.
“Getting back to the point, you’ve said that only realist morality matters, and when I asked for an explanation you essentially said it’s a truism.”
I did clarify that it “really matters” in a moral sense.
“So let’s bring that $100 bill back into the picture. If humans disappear, the money can still exist but the surviving cockroaches aren’t going to treat my fake $100 bill any differently than the real one. Since money (not the paper and ink – money as a construction) is thus mind-dependent, should I only value the paper and ink instantiations to the degree I value the mind-independent properties? Or does it make sense to incorporate the mind-dependent properties in our valuations?”
I think we can incorporate mind dependant concerns. Those concerns can even lead to real moral oughts. The fact that a person would be upset if you destroyed a photo album can give rise to not destroying it. Likewise all suffering is to a large extent a subjective mental state. But I do think certain real objective moral oughts can arise from them. For example I think real moral oughts arise from promises that people make to each other. We do not have to make the promises but once we do then real moral obligations come about. They are there whether we acknowledge them or not.
What I don’t understand is if you do not think any “real oughts” arise then I think it seems problematic to talk about a reasoned process to determine what subjective oughts we have.
Sure we can say a certain bill is worth $100 which is about the value of a bike or a 20 chickens etc. But we could also say some other sort of bill or could do that. It is arbitrary.
Let me ask again do you think Divine Command Theory can properly be criticized for leading to arbitrary rules? If so do you not agree that subjectivism is divine command theory except it is a human instead of the divine?
Travis R said:
Regarding DCT, I think it could be criticized as arbitrary but only because we’re talking about an omnipotent being who is unconstrained and in full control of the moral reality. If you want to put constraints on God or say that the moral reality is separate from his will then there isn’t a problem. We are constrained by genetics, physics, etc… so that our moral judgements are not completely arbitrary.
Do you agree genetics physics etc. are part of objective reality? If so then do you think they dictate/constrain moral truths? If so you seem to subscribe to objective moral realism.
The subjectivist claims nothing about objective reality dictates what is or is not moral but rather we construct it. That is why you can reach different moral conclusions which will be true for you – even though I will reach different ones which will be true for me. According to the constructivist there is no objective aspect of reality that can resolve these differences.
If what you agree with what I said above, would you agree that just like God the constructivist is not constrained by genetics or physics in constructing what is moral?
We would think God has a richer imagination but just because our imagination is lacking that would not mean our moral constructions are not arbitrary correct? We can make arbitrary choices even though we are limitted.
Travis R said:
Do you honestly not appreciate the difference between talk about monsters that aren’t real and talk about things which are mind-dependent? What can I do to clarify that?
When you say that we can incorporate mind-dependent concerns and that they can give rise to “real objective moral oughts”, doesn’t that contradict the way you’ve been using “real” thus far. Isn’t mind-dependence THE distinction between realists and anti-realists?
“Do you honestly not appreciate the difference between talk about monsters that aren’t real and talk about things which are mind-dependent? What can I do to clarify that?”
There are differences but I think the relevant difference is that it is neither corresponds with anything in objective reality.
“When you say that we can incorporate mind-dependent concerns and that they can give rise to “real objective moral oughts”, doesn’t that contradict the way you’ve been using “real” thus far. Isn’t mind-dependence THE distinction between realists and anti-realists?”
I never met anyone who didn’t admit morality involved mental states at all. Intention knowing mens rea etc. I did a blog on this here:
But these mental states and promises etc. Are in a sense real. If I say I didn’t know the gun was loaded when in fact I did know the gun was loaded I am misrepresenting reality in objective sense we talk about in morality.
So even though whether I know the gun or loaded or not is something I may only have direct access to so it is not “objective” in the sense anyone can observe my mental state. It is “objective” in the sense we talk about when we distinguish the moral realist from the constructivist.
So the relevant sense that my knowing the gun was loaded is “objective” is that If when I fired I knew the gun was loaded then it doesn’t matter who later believes I knew the gun was loaded or not. It is still a fact that I knew the gun was loaded when I fired. So even if I convince everyone in the world (including myself) I did not know it was loaded when I fired, it would still be an objective fact that I knew it was loaded when I fired. Objective in the sense that fact is independent of our later beliefs about that event. In the law even a persons state of mind is a “fact” to be proven. The prosecutor must prove the person intended to do harm to another beyond a reasonable doubt. Normally that is proven by way of their actions, which demonstrate that intent.
The constructivist says there are no moral facts of this type. They think saying an action is moral (or not) is dependant on peoples views. So if you were a constructivist about whether I knew the gun was loaded, then you would say it is true that I did not know the gun was loaded when I fired if you or some group believes this or that about what happened. Now *moral* constructivists don’t normally take that view about things like whether I knew the gun was loaded that would be a fact about a mental state that both sides would agree is objective in the sense we are talking about. But then when we take the further step and say because I knew the gun was loaded when I fired (and knew it would do harm to the innocent person I was pointing it at when I pulled the trigger) what I did was morally wrong. The anti-realist says there is nothing in objective reality that dictates that moral claim.
Travis R said:
This is going in multiple directions and I’m working entirely on my phone, so I’m just going to focus on one thing at a time. Let’s tackle the monster analogy.
You say the relevant feature of the analogy is that “neither corresponds with anything in objective reality”. That’s exactly the problem. In the monster case the child’s claim is that something does exist in objective reality, and in the moral case the anti-realist’s claim is that the moral truths do not exist in objective reality. By using that analogy you’re treating the anti-realists as if they’re making a false claim about objective reality, but that is by definition precisely what they are not doing (because they think there isn’t sufficient justification for the realist claim).
I don’t think I ever said relativists thought they were making a claim about objective reality.
Rather I am saying it seems the relativist understands his moral beliefs do not correspond with any objective reality yet they still live their life by these beliefs. It’s like the parent showing the kid there is no monster but nevertheless still not going by the closet. I find that behavior odd.
Nah, they are just shmoralizing. Or, they are just comfortable with their own self-expression.
Travis R said:
The child remains fearful of the possibility of an objectively real monster (even if they try to convince themselves of its non-reality). The anti-realist is not acting on the possibility that morality is objectively real. They fully accept that it isn’t and simply don’t require that it is objectively real in order to have value (like the money example). These aren’t analogous situations.
Travis. I think that is theoretically possible. But I find moral relativist do think they are “figuring out” morality. They do not act like it is a decision of one type of paper or another to use as currency.
I think though we are back to our prior discussion of why we should care about morality that we just “make up.” I think we covered that. I would like to get back to the newer issues of how an moral anti realist can have “good reasons” for moral beliefs or if they are all just arbitrary.
Travis R said:
So you think the monster analogy is apt because you don’t trust anti-realists’ claims that they are actually anti-realists. That doesn’t seem like a very charitable way to engage with the position, but we can move on.
You ask how a moral anti-realist can have ‘good reasons’ for their moral beliefs? Induction. If adherence to our moral sense has previously yielded favorable results (or if going against our moral sense has previously yielded unfavorable results) then that is evidence that it can be trusted as a guide. What is a favorable result? One that limits regret, angst, etc… Since those responses are in part informed by the moral sense itself, you have a degree of circularity here, but I don’t mind that because I’m not a foundationalist and understand that feedback loops can actually be very effective tools.
I think many of the anti-realists have certain implicit contradictions in their beliefs. On a certain level their noetic structure says morality is not real but on another they treat it like it is.
It would seem that the nihilist would have less regret and angst then the relativist. But I agree all anti-realists should have less regret and angst than realists. But that is the position I am taking. If none of this morality business is real then no regrets.
For me I could never be certain morality was not real. In fact I never heard a good argument that it wasn’t real. It seems we have little evidence either way. Since I agree that if morality is not real there is no reason to have regrets I focus on the possibility that morality is real. At least that would be the rough way to put it.
Travis R said:
Perhaps you misunderstood me. We aren’t agreeing that anti-realism necessarily leads to fewer regrets. I was identifying ‘favorable outcomes’ as a means of supporting moral judgements, and suggesting that favorable outcomes could be recognized in terms of regret, angst, and similar responses.
Regardless, this just takes us back to the claim that only objectively real things matter \ have value \ count as reasons, so let’s try going down that road again. Do you think that aesthetics are objective?
I am not sure if aesthetics are objective. I tend to think they are not.
I agree we have gone though this issue of the gravity of things that are not objectively real. But, unless I missed it, you dropped the thread dealing with the arbitrariness of relativism as compared with divine command theory of morality.
Travis R said:
OK, if aesthetics are not objective, then are we just playing “make believe” when we talk about aesthetics and value things or places in virtue of the aesthetics? There isn’t actually any value there?
I had only dropped the arbitrariness thread previously to avoid discussing multiple topics at once. If you want to instead discuss this topic in terms of that question, then here’s a response to the last comment on that thread:
Given that I would claim that those things dictate/constrain subjective experience, yes, there is a sense in which they dictate/constrain moral truths. But I don’t think that implies moral realism. Realism does not assume that the mind is independent of physics and biology.
Hmm. Maybe we need to clarify something here. We could say that moral realism is defined either as:
a) Moral truth is 0% subjectively constructed, or
b) Moral truth is less than 100% subjectively constructed, or
c) Moral truth is 100% subjectively constructed.
I have been assuming (a), and I thought you were agreeing when I asked you whether you believed that moral truths would still exist if all human minds disappeared. But now I’m hearing you suggest (c) is the proper understanding. Unless you count all relevant human biology as ‘subjective construction’, I would classify myself as an anti-realist under (a) or (b), but not under (c).
Seems like we need to get to agreement on the stuff above before going down this route.
Travis R said:
Just checked in to see if there was a response, and when I re-read my comment I realized that the a, b, c division I laid out doesn’t make sense. I didn’t mean for those to be three possible definitions of moral realism, but rather three possible ways to partition realism and anti-realism. What I intended to say was that I had been assuming a = realism, b & c = anti-realism, but that I’m hearing you say a & b = realism, c = anti-realism. Sorry for the confusion.
Hi Travis I was away for a while.
So yes. A book would be a construction from someones mind. But if it is a physics book it is constrained by reality. If it is a science fiction book it is not. The moral realist says the case a and b is the physics and morality.
The anti-realist says morality is C. Just like phlogiston is something we just made up.
I think once you start saying objective reality ultimately dictates any sort of moral oughts you are in the realist camp.
So you can be an anti-realist/subjectivist and decide if in objective reality XYZ happens (say for example OJ simpson stabbed his ex wife and her friend Ron Goldman) then a moral wrong was committed. But the question is ultimately does something about objective reality dictate that you reach the conclusion that those facts amount to a wrong? If you think it does then you are a realist. If you think it is up to us to decide that then you are a subjectivist.
So the realist is mind independent in the sense that the realist will say it doesn’t matter if OJ is the only person alive and he thinks what he did was righteous – it was still wrong.
“OK, if aesthetics are not objective, then are we just playing “make believe” when we talk about aesthetics and value things or places in virtue of the aesthetics? There isn’t actually any value there?”
Morality and in particular devising a moral system is not just desires. It generally involves saying some desires are good and some are bad.
So yes most people tend not to argue that people should like certain foods or music rather than others.
I mean people might identify certain things people like in music
But arguments about whether they should like sound or the taste of these things would seem charade like.
“Do you agree genetics physics etc. are part of objective reality? If so then do you think they dictate/constrain moral truths? If so you seem to subscribe to objective moral realism.”
Given that I would claim that those things dictate/constrain subjective experience, yes, there is a sense in which they dictate/constrain moral truths. But I don’t think that implies moral realism. Realism does not assume that the mind is independent of physics and biology.”
I think in the sense realism is talking about “mind independence” it is. I think you are refering to the mind body dualism debate. And yes conceptually someone can hold any position in that debate and it would seem they could hold any sort of meta-ethical position. Or at least we would need to find some implications that would say otherwise as they tend to be fairly separate debates AFAIK.
But when you say:
“Realism does not assume that the mind is independent of physics and biology.”
I think that is incorrect. Realism in the sense we are talking about here would say they are independent in the sense that our views of physics and biology does not actually make claims about physics or biology true.
In quantumn mechanics there is sort of a debate on whether our mind/observation does in fact effect the physics at the quantumn level. But those who call themselves realists in that debate tend to say it does not.
I think you raise an interesting point though. Because realism as I am using the term tends to mean moral reality is not changed by our views. So I am saying our mind does not change reality and so reality is independent of our mind.
When you turn that around and say our mind is not independent of physics and biology you seem to be asking a different question.
Travis R said:
Then I guess I’m a realist by your definition. Just to check, let’s try putting it this way:
Our moral sense is the standard by which moral truths are defined, but our moral sense and it’s application to new moral judgements is entirely the product of physical interactions (going back to including everything in our evolutionary heritage). One person’s moral sense may be different from another person’s moral sense, but both are the product of physical interactions.
Are you saying that this view of morality is realist because the truth claims are dictated by the physical interactions which gave rise to them?
I am trying to use definitions of “moral realist” as used in the community. I don’t think what I have been saying is based on a definition peculiar to me, so if you think it is off from an authoritative source such as someone who has published in meta-ethics or the Stanford encyclopedia then let me know. At the same time the terminology is not always perfectly delineated so I am trying not to claim certainty where there is no consensus.
I think you are making an interesting point here that I have not specifically seen addressed. But based on what I do know from people discussing this topic I think the distinction I draw is one that many would agree with.
You are saying all of our beliefs were created by objective reality, therefore they are not independent of objective reality.
But I think the distinction involves whether we think our beliefs (regardless of how they were formed) track truths that are out there in objective reality.
So consider the book star wars. One might say that the book was “dictated” or “constrained” by objective reality because one might think the person creating the book was nothing more than the product of material interactions etc. But I mean constrained or dictated in a different way. And the mind independence referred to here is a different sense.
We can still draw a distinction between the statement “Luke is a Jedi” being true in objective reality and “Luke is a Jedi” only being true in the story created by the author.
A biology textbook might say something like “cells contain DNA.” We think that is true in objective reality not just in the world created by the author. Before anyone thought about DNA it was true that DNA was there in cells. But to the extent “Luke is a Jedi” is true it was only true after the mental creation of the author.
So I you think moral statements are like star wars – only true for the author and not otherwise corresponding with objective reality then you would be a relativist. (or at least leaning that way)
If on the other hand you think moral claims are more like the biology text book stating facts that are true regardless of what people believe or their mental constructions then you are a realist. (or at least leaning that way)
Travis R said:
The previous comment was tongue in cheek. I was expecting that you would disagree that the described condition was realism and in the course of explaining why you disagreed I would learn a bit more about your perspective.
I think we actually generally agree on the realist \ anti-realist definition and are both being consistent in that regard, but are getting hung up on how this relates to the concepts of self, mind dependence, and the rest of reality. So let’s try evaluating the relationship between arbitrariness and anti-realism with a thought experiment: First, let’s grant that minds are purely physical. Now let’s take a God’s eye view where every thought, belief, feeling, etc.. is recognizable as a particular physical instantiation. From this God’s eye view we see John say “Genocide is wrong”. This proposition is true in the sense it correctly describes a physical state in his brain (his moral sense). Then we see Hitler say “Genocide is OK”. This proposition is also true in the sense that it correctly describes a physical state in his brain (his moral sense). So both propositions are tracking truths about the objective reality of the brain states of the persons, yet the propositions disagree even though the corresponding brain states were dictated by objectively real factors. Some of their percepts or neural interactions may have generated beliefs about the world which are inaccurate, and those may in turn influence the brain state that corresponds with their moral claim, but the brain state itself is correctly described by the moral claim.
I think we would both agree that the conception of moral truth outlined above is anti-realist. The truth is relative to the individual (objectively physical) minds. But what about the “arbitrariness” concern? Clearly these brain states are not being generated out of thin air. They are the product of each person’s genetics, life experiences, and the neural interactions that build on those inputs. The neural activity in the “self” can use existing brain states to generate new brain states and maybe even reshape the moral sense in doing so, but the brain states associated with the moral sense are not arbitrarily changed at “will”. So the moral sense is not arbitrary in relation to the “will” of the “self”. In the case of divine command theory, it would be.
Is there another sense in which you think that “arbitrariness” is a problem for the relativist position?