Instigator / Pro

Morality is a form of superstition


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Round 1
If you believe in any form of objective morality, then you have a superstitious belief in something that does not exist. I don't know if you are religious or not or what your attitude towards the subject is so I will save an in depth argument for later. For now I will simply state the premise that morality is not real, it is an imaginary social construct. Ideas of what is morally "good" vary across cultures and none of it can be objective given that morality is something that requires culture, and the inter-subjective values of that culture to exist. Without the influence of other subjective humans you wouldn't even know that such a concept as morality exists.

Morality is a central foundation of human behaviour; it governs how we interact with others and how we conduct ourselves. Morality is the reason why people are appalled by acts such as murder and terrorism. An amoral world would therefore be an objectively miserable place for many of its inhabitants, since its inhabitants would be victimized by others who do not follow moral codes.

Whether morality is objective, however, is controversial. While it is objectively true that suffering is unpleasant for the victim, many believe that there is no objective reason to say that the fact that an act generates suffering means that the act must be wrong. Here, my opponent advances the argument that morality is not just subjective, but also a form of superstition. This viewpoint is fundamentally flawed.

Since side proposition has not provided definitions, I will provide a few reasonable dictionary definitions.

First, let’s define superstition. Wiktionary’s definition of superstition is “A belief or beliefs, not based on human reason or scientific knowledge, that events may be influenced by one's behaviour in some magical or mystical way.” (“Superstition” 2018)I believe that both sides would agree that this is not a reasonable definition, since proposition clearly means unreasonable belief in general, even if it does not directly involve magic. So let’s instead use Merriam-Webster’s “a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation.”(“Definition of Superstition,” n.d.)

Secondly, let’s define morality. Wiktionary defines morality as “Recognition of the distinction between good and evil or between right and wrong; respect for and obedience to the rules of right conduct; the mental disposition or characteristic of behaving in a manner intended to produce morally good results.”(“Morality” 2018) I believe that this is a reasonable definition. It is important to note that under this definition, somebody whose behaviour is affected by his moral beliefs but does not hold his own moral beliefs to be objectively sound still believes in a form of morality; it’s just subjective rather than objective morality.

Finally, it is important to distinguish moral realism, moral antirealism, moral absolutism, and moral relativism.
Moral realism means morals exist.
Moral absolutism means morals exist and are universal.
Moral relativism means that morals exist but depend on circumstances and culture.
Moral antirealism means morals do not exist.(Metaethics: Crash Course Philosophy #32, n.d.)

1. Subjectivity does not equal superstition.
Proposition’s argument requires morality to be subjective: if morality is objective and can be proven using reasoning or evidence, then it would be rational to believe in morality. Thus, the acceptance of morality would not be a superstition. Thus, let us assume for the sake of argument that morality is subjective.

What would make something subjective a superstition? Clearly not all subjective ideas are superstitions. Having a favourite colour, for example, is not a superstition. This is because the person who has a favourite colour recognizes that his preference is subjective in nature—the person is not making a strong factual claim and therefore does not need strong, objective evidence. Similarly, if a person holds to moral standards while also recognizing that morality is subjective, the person is not superstitious. Such a person would simply be acting out his own personal preferences. Because such a person is not making a claim about objective fact, he is not superstitious since his personal preferences do not require factual justification. So if morality is subjective, morality can exist as a personal preference that is not superstition.

2. Not all false beliefs are superstitions
If morality is subjective and I believe that my moral beliefs are objective, then I am wrong. However, not all false beliefs are superstitions. For example, Newtonian mechanics have been shown to be flawed and have been replaced by relativity and quantum physics, but this does not mean the idea of Newtonian mechanics is superstition. Instead, it was a reasonable conclusion given the evidence available at the time.

Evidence available now suggests that morality may exist. Human moral intuitions begin from birth. (Van de Vondervoort and Kiley Hamlin 2016) This is not conclusive proof of morality, but it is evidence of it. So if people are wrong in believing morality to be objective, they are simply wrong, not superstitious: their belief in morality is founded upon reasonable extrapolations from what they know.

3. Axioms are a sufficient foundation for an area of knowledge

To create a consistent moral system, a foundation must be set. A religious person could believe that God exists and has commanded certain moral laws to exist or has given humanity knowledge of the moral laws that exist naturally without divine intervention. An atheist could, similarly, accept as axiomatic certain universal moral beliefs: the golden rule, avoiding harm to others, et cetera. In both cases, certain moral laws are accepted as axiomatically true because they seem self-evident: people have an instinctive aversion to actions such as murder and theft.

The use of axioms is not superstitious. Mathematics and logic have axioms that cannot be proven objectively but are instead based on human intuition. For example, we cannot prove the law of identity, that A always equals A, without circular reasoning: logic is required to prove ideas, and the law of identity is the basis of logic. Yet this does not mean that accepting the law of identity is superstitious, for the law of identity makes intuitive sense.

Similarly, morality is intuitive. Infants, for example, will react negatively to actions that adults would perceive as unjust and react positively to actions that adults would perceive as just, so morality is not just a social construct but also a form of intuition.(Van de Vondervoort and Kiley Hamlin 2016) Morality is also universal: people agree, for example, that murder is bad. While some cultures have condoned murder in the form of terrorism and inquisitions, this is not proof of moral subjectivism. In such cultures, religions, philosophies, and traditions are used to justify and rationalize for immorality because human intuition goes against brutality, and religious or intellectual authority must therefore be invoked to provide assurance that such acts are morally sound and just. And even if morality does vary from culture to culture, it does not need to be absolute in order to be real and objective. Moral relativism and moral realism are not mutually exclusive: maybe morality is real, but the right thing to do varies from situation to situation. Thus, human intuition heavily points towards morality. If intuition is sufficient to establish mathematics as an area of inquiry, then it can also provide support for moral axioms, thereby making morality or ethics a legitimate area of inquiry.

4. Imperfection and disagreements are not valid reasons to reject an entire area of inquiry

No discipline or area of inquiry is perfect. Science, for example, is an iterative process founded upon falsification, and inevitably, some scientific theories will be rejected as they are falsified. Side opposition recognizes that current beliefs about morality may be flawed. Side opposition is not obliged to affirm any specific moral system, secular or religious, nor is side opposition obliged to prove that current moral systems are absolutely correct. All side opposition needs to do is prove that the idea of morality in general is valid enough to not be a superstition. Here, side opposition has shown that morality has a valid basis: human intuition.

5. Rebuttal

Proposition argument: Ideas of what is morally "good" vary across cultures and none of it can be objective given that morality is something that requires culture, and the inter-subjective values of that culture to exist.

It is important to distinguish between moral realism and moral objectivism. One can be a moral realist while also accepting that relative to different cultures and contexts, the right thing to do may be different. So even if morality does vary across cultures, it does not mean morality is fake or a superstition.

Secondly, it could very well be true that some cultures simply got morality wrong. Disagreement is not even evidence that morality isn’t absolute, much less evidence that it isn’t real. For example, evolutionary biologists disagree over whether evolution occurs gradually or in bursts (punctuated equilibrium), but that is hardly evidence enough to discount the whole of evolution.

Proposition argument: Without the influence of other subjective humans you wouldn't even know that such a concept as morality exists.

Available scientific literature suggests that infants have some moral intuitions. (Van de Vondervoort and Kiley Hamlin 2016)

Overall, proposition has made many assertions without evidence, and has jumped from “morality isn’t real” to “morality is superstition”. Since not all false beliefs are superstition, and some false beliefs are a product of limited evidence rather than ignorance, proposition has not met their burden even if all of their arguments still stand.

“Definition of Superstition.” n.d. Merriam-Webster.
Metaethics: Crash Course Philosophy #32. n.d. Crash Course Philosophy. Oct 25 2016.
“Morality.” 2018. Wiktionary.
“Superstition.” 2018. Wiktionary.
Van de Vondervoort, Julia, and J. Kiley Hamlin. 2016. “Evidence for Intuitive Morality: Preverbal Infants Make Sociomoral Evaluations.” Child Development Perspectives 10 (3): 143–48.

Round 2
Extend all arguments.
Round 3
Extend all arguments