Instigator / Pro

An Objective Basis for Morality


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Perhaps inspired by Undefeatable's Utilitarianism vs Bible debate, I recently had a dream where I proclaimed the way to decide right and wrong was running it through his logically consistent system. For example, restaurants are supposed to serve customers, but if the food arrives late with little excuse, this is clearly immoral because it is logically inconsistent with the restaurant's purpose. So I propose that if an action is logically consistent under most circumstances, it must be moral, and if it is mostly inconsistent, then it is immoral. Given the questioning and phrasing of Socrates method which defeats the majority of moral systems, is this alternative to Universalism more reasonable, and able to establish an objective moral basis?

I will argue for Objective Morality (not based on human feelings/thoughts)

Con will argue for subjective morality (based on human feelings/thoughts)

Round 1
I was replaying the game "Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher" when I realized he was looking for all the flaws in the moral systems. Because each of the ideas had logical contradictions and flaws, they could not possibly be the correct moral system.

My moral system differs from Universalism because it takes into account most situations rather than all situations. Based on the flaws of universalism, it's clearly unreasonable to act the same way regardless of what situation you're in. For example, lying is considered always immoral, because if everyone always lied, there would hold a logical contradiction. However, my system, let's call it Logicalism, takes into real world application of lying, and considers if most circumstances if it is contradictory or not. In real life, people often get away with lying and are able to accomplish their goals. Depending on who lies and how good they are at getting away with it, whether it be a detrimental or beneficial lie, it becomes unclear whether or not lying is mostly logically contradictory. Therefore, lying is clearly morally ambiguous in general: It's too difficult to generalize an overall rule for lying. And this seems realistic. In what world is lying just as bad as killing a person? In what world can merely words demonstrate a malicious action? We must go beyond Universalism and consider the real world applications.

Now that we know the basics for Logicalism, here are my basic three step process with rules and ideas:
1) When considering an action, consider all rules and ideas that are relevant and have backing.

In the game Socrates Jones, he had to force the opponent to have relevant ideas, and prove their ideas to be true. Without these, you would have unsound actions and unsound logic. If ideas are irrelevant, it hardly seems that the moral action can be judged correctly. And if ideas are untrue, then you cannot judge if the action is true or not. 

2) Through judging the logical soundness of following such rules, having passed step 1, you now must see if you reach a contradiction.

In many moral systems, the rules seem to be unclear and contradict each other. For example, Utilitarianism is often rejected because you are putting people as a means to an end. You try to create the ultimate happiness possible, but you also allow for incredible amounts of suffering to reach that happiness. It is very hard to save utilitarianism on this face. On the other hand, Kantian ethics are supposed to look at intentions, but universalism clearly looks at outcomes, which contradict the idea that only our intent matters (ex. "humans innately have dignity"). If even a moral system cannot decide the correct way to act based on its own rules, Logicalism surpasses that by thinking one step ahead and looking for that contradiction. 

3) Finally, clarify the rule as detailed as possible so that specific situations are not muddled.

In Socrates Jones, the main character usually is able to gain extra information by asking for clarification and detail, forcing to expose deeper flaws within the moral system. I encourage my opponent to do this for my own created moral system. As you can tell from above, it's difficult to establish a rule in general against or for lying. Therefore, I would have to consider the exact situation. If I am lying to save an innocent man's life, and succeed, then no logical contradiction is formed, and lying becomes moral. However, if I lie to oppress someone and steal their fortunes, despite claiming to be good to them, this is a clear logical contradiction and lying is immoral in this situation. As you can see, Logicalism is much more clear than universalism. I do not rely on intent so much as the grounding behind the action, and compare it to the result of the situation. Through the outcome, I can see if a moral action can be applied without defeating itself. 

Logicalism would pass itself. Logic is relevant and crucial to real life, with scientific laws governing the majority of the universe. There are even social laws that regulate most of society, with human rights and values agreed upon without contradiction. Step 3 allows vague rules and ambiguous decisions to be clarified more clearly, so that my moral system can be applied on a day to day basis, case by case. Whereas other moral systems may be flawed due to extreme circumstances that cause logical inconsistencies. Even a robot system can apply the logic. You don't need humans to resolve logicalism. Therefore, morality is objective.
RESOLUTION: An Objective Basis for morality

As my opponent has failed to define any terms, I will define all key terms from the resolution:
Furthermore, my opponent has failed to provide an interpretation of the resolution, I will therefore provide my own, along with observations of the resolution: "The most important idea which a standard for the good or bad character is derived which is not dependant on the mind for existence," Though my opponent doesn't clarify, we can presume that they are purposing a basis for objective morality. In other words, my opponent must demonstrate that A) the purposed basis is moral, and B) that morality is objective at all.

  • In order to establish my BoP, I can either demonstrate morality not objective in general, or the specific basis argued here as not objective
  • In order for my opponent to fulfill their BoP, they must do more than merely suppose a standard, they must demonstrate that the standard is objective 

It is, perhaps, most comfortable for the average thinker that our moral laws be immutable. That whenever we say that something is bad, we mean it in every sense of the word. They are wrong, we are right. You'd find such thinking in a plethora of other ways of thinking, and I do not fault anyone for falling into this cognitive trap of comfort. As humans, we want to embrace what is comfortable because of our harsh world. However; it would be a fallacy to conclude that because something is comfortable or intuitive that is true. It would also be a fallacy to conclude that because it is intuitive or comfortable that is untrue. 

There is key reasoning behind the subjectivity of Morality, the fact that you cannot derive a moral command from an objective statement. This is a fundamental part of moral and ethical considerations, without it, our modern understanding of ethics would not be what it is. I want to stress to the voters and my potential opponent (as he has of yet, not provided any arguments in favor of the resolution) that despite how intuitive it seems to connect objective fact and morals, they do not correlate, and connecting them inside of one syllogism is necessarily a non-sequitur.My opponent has inherently took hold of this burden the moment they claimed the standard to be objective.

Philosopher David Hume is regarded as one of the most important writers and essayists in the history of moral philosophers, and his work which is most widely recognized is the aforementioned guillotine [1]. The work this comes from is Hume's Treatise of Human Nature [2] [3], what students might know as the "Is-ought dilemma". The dilemma goes as follows: There are two ways to categorize reality, describing and prescribing it, describing reality is to speak of the objective nature of the universe, for example; we live in a galaxy. To prescribe reality is to speak what you wish of reality, for example; You ought to live in the galaxy. 

These two categories of reality are often mixed, and even used to support one another, that does not mean that these two are linked validly. A description of reality is referred to as an "if", and a prescription of reality is known as an "ought". The dilemma goes that you cannot derive an is from an ought, nor an ought from an is. I am claiming this to be true, and this, therefore, requires substantiation. Why can you not derive an is from ought or vice versa? For a simple reason, every moral description is saying that you ought to do or not to do something, because that thing is either morally valuable or morally harmful.

From that fact, we know that "things", "actions", or "behaviors" are closer or further from the ideal moral behavior. Deductively then, we know that every single "ought" is associated with an ideal behavior. The differences between moral oughts are which behavior or goal is prioritized, but these goals are then, by definition, subjective. They are what people prioritize over another. Therefore attempting to come to conclusion regarding how reality should be from what it is left out this essential component, there is no "ideal behavior", if you were to insert an ideal behavior or a goal, then you would get an ought from an is and ought.

Let's simplify this idea:
PREMISE I: Moral commands are only possible with a subjective "goal" or "ideal"
PREMISE II: Factual statements of the universe are not linked to these goals by themselves
CONCLUSIONS: Therefore you are unable to link an objective statement to a moral command

You can solve this problem by inserting an idea into the factual statement, let's look through an example to clarify what I mean:

PREMISE I: Driving is dangerous
CONCLUSION: Therefore you ought not to drive

The conclusion does not logically lead from the premise, it is a non-sequitur, this is the is-ought dilemma

EX 2:
PREMISE I: Driving is dangerous
PREMISE II: You ought to avoid danger
CONCLUSION: Therefore you ought not to drive

Notice that now the premise follows from the conclusion, IF driving is dangerous, and IF you ought to avoid danger, THEN you necessarily ought not to drive.

What I'm saying is that though, an IS-OUGHT premise conclusion is invalid, an IS-OUGHT-OUGHT premise conclusion is not. So I've substantiated my claim, but how does this tie into objective morality? A great question, with a very simple answer, any objective morality would mean that some ideals are objectively better than others; however, the reasoning for one ideal's objectivity is necessarily subjective in nature. Perhaps it is possible to outline objective moral ideals, but it would be impossible to link these without subjective nature, you have the same problem that you do while attempting to connect an is and ought.

Even if there is an "IS" an objective moral idea, every time you would claim that is is connected to a command is a subjective measure of what that objective ideal is. Is that ideal objectively good or bad? Is that ideal objectively authoritative or only true some of the time? There are so many subjective measures, that even if you find an objective ideal (which has not been demonstrated by Pro to exist), it would not point to the existence of objective morality. It is simply not the case that you can connect an objective description of reality to a prescription of reality. 

Given the fact that Pro has not given any argument regarding the objectivity of morality, he has practically conceded the first round, as he has yet to actually demonstrate that any moral basis can be objective, let alone his specific standard.  Furthermore, I have only offered one argument, but it has syllogistic soundness backing it up, as well as a well-established principle in ethics. Voters must note that I have demonstrated that any moral basis is neccessarily subjective - this can essentially be taken as a kritique, as my opponent's resolution assumes there are objective basis's in morality to be had. 

Over to Pro


Round 2
Con's basic argument is that any morality's justification can only be used based on an is-ought-ought relationship, but he assumes that the "ought" is always going to be subjective. Just as I am a man of science, I believe that Logicalism's derivation of simple statements can prove to be very close to desired realities. Through determining contradictions, we can reach very close to the truth, and the "ought" would be extremely close to the reality. For example, the speed of light measured 100 years ago was probably inaccurate and much closer to 300000 km/s. However, now we have precise enough measurements to know it is approximately 299792458 meters per second. We thought the speed of light ought to be 300,000 km/s, and we were not completely right. But it was close enough that only substantial space missions would matter with this level of inaccuracy. Based on this standard then, if there is no substantial contradiction given human's subjective interpretation, then this should be treated as the objective morality. Even though most scientists believe that Earth's gravitational acceleration is 9.8 m/s^2 (ignoring air friction, other variables, etc.), we could still be wrong compared to the true reality. But unless we show a substantial contradiction, we must assume that this is correct. 

Of course, Con could then argue that Logicalism would still be inconsistent overall, since a single piece of crucial evidence could completely over turn a moral decision. He would likely ask how much evidence would it take to prove that it's important to reduce our suffering within danger. But once again we return to the reasoning and the explanations given by science. The natural world has given rules that are nearly impossible to violate; people hesitate to kill themselves unless the circumstance is dire, and my previous debate has shown that people naturally value their own cultures, themselves, and their ideals. (

The main difference between my previous science based morality is that Logicalism continuously improves by looking for contradictions and being very specific with regards to the situation: the people, the culture, the actions may all differ and the reasoning plus facts would change similarly. For clarification, yes, it might take a brain to decide whether or not a premise is logically contradictory, but the contradiction is objectively there. Just as Math can objectively have if p then q, resulting in "if not Q then not P", my moral system can still be objective in the end. Con argues that the persons' values and interpretations will all be different, but it's hard to see why morality would differ from science. Just as the facts exist as empirical evidence, it seems hardly contradictory for people to be given essential rights, for example, life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If he would argue that all humans deserve to die, he would have to find a non-contradictory premise that justifies killing all humans.

Con's framework is interesting, but it ignores my plausible solution by first assuming the groundings for morality is true, then going forth to look for contradictions. Are there any issues with implementing seat belt laws? What about car crash protection for manufacturers? None? Then where is the problem? Yes, humans assumed the conclusion that we should not go into danger. But let us suppose the reverse is true, that danger ought to be sought. Countless people would die from car crashes. We would be unable to have a functioning society due to lack of laws supporting safety. In this world, we assumed that danger was best for us, but a significant amount of people died, and they can't even look for danger any more. So they clearly contradicted their beliefs. Therefore, we can only assume that danger is not the best practice. Clearly, Logicalism works by refutation as well.
CON - Thanks Pro.

First, I will rebut my opponent's response to my framework (as he mostly ignored it), then rebut his standard in general. Keep in mind voters, if my argument from round 1 is true, then it does not matter how logically consistent or inconsistent any given moral framework is - we are not proving that a framework is "consistent", we are proving that it is objective. Recall from round 1: Objective - "Not dependent on the mind for existence; actual." [B]. My opponent must demonstrate that their framework is objective. 

Ought - "used to say that it is necessary or desirable to perform the action expressed in the verb:" [A]
As the voters can clearly see, an ought is simply describing what is "desirable" or what is "necessary", however, even by a purely human-centric framework, what is necessary or desirable is different based on the situation at hand, by the person at hand. Perhaps Pro could argue that living is always desirable, but by what metric is "living" an objectively "desirable" thing - why is that "living" wanted in general - not just by humans - morals are not describing solely humans: recalling my definition from round 1: Morals - "standards for good or bad character and behaviour:". 

More concisely - what is logically consistent is not necessarily "desirable" - for example - Premise 1: The wall is white, Premise 2: The whiteboard is the same color as the wall, Conclusion: Therefore the whiteboard is white. Does that then mean that that whiteboard ought to be white? By what metric can Pro prove this to be necessary or desirable? The mere fact that we can arrive at a conclusion logically, does not mean that that fact is actually something we "ought" to do. Furthermore, my opponent reveals their bias. Yes, you can arrive at a conclusion logically, but that doesn't actually deliver any reason that thing is desirable.

For example:
Premise 1: Humans cause massive destruction to the Earth
Premise 2: Being destroyed, in general, is not beneficial for the Earth
Conclusion: Therefore, the Earth would benefit from humans being removed from the Earth

Though the syllogism is perfectly valid, and even sound - if we were to accept its conclusion, then a mass genocide or exodus would be the only moral thing humans could do. Though one could still argue something that is mutually exclusive to this syllogism, and it also is perfectly valid.

Premise 1: Humans need oxygen to live
Premise 2: The earth is the only place where there is enough oxygen for humans to breathe
Conclusion: Humans have to live on the Earth to live

So... we come to the conclusion that humans ought to live, and not live on earth simultaneously given Pro's framework. We don't even need these syllogisms to be precisely true, they simply illustrate my point - the key flaw in my opponent's framework. They assume because some conclusion can be derived logically, it is, therefore "desirable". This ignores some key questions, what thing are these conclusions desirable to? Why would we accept mutually exclusive moral demands? Etc, etc, the answer is very simple - we don't - the thing that the conclusion is desirable to is up to the bias of the "user" of Pro's framework.

The elaboration of my first answer - syllogisms do not prescribe an outcome, they do not provide an answer to "what should we do", they don't even provide an answer to "what is there?" Syllogisms, logic, is a way of interpreting thought - to come to a non-contradictory answer - but water is non-contradictory, the color purple is noncontradictory, the mere fact that something doesn't contradict itself or logic, in general, does not mean that thing is something we "want" or "desire" to have. Pro is merely asserting that because we can come to conclusions that are true, they are therefore desirable. Water is made of H2O, which does not make "water" itself "moral". 

Fundamentally, my opponent does not understand my argument, or so his arguments make it seem. To summarize Pro's response to my argument - he asserts that I assume that the "ought" is subjective, arguing that such a thing is not necessarily true. The problem is that even if that were the case, the fundamental "is-ought" syllogism is necessarily a non-sequitur - the conclusion does not validly follow from its premises. 

That line of reasoning is not needed, however, as my opponent has mistaken my proof for assumption. I did not assume that an "ought" is subjective, I proved it. Recall:
"Why can you not derive an is from ought or vice versa? For a simple reason, every moral description is saying that you ought to do or not to do something, because that thing is either morally valuable or morally harmful.

From that fact, we know that "things", "actions", or "behaviors" are closer or further from the ideal moral behavior. Deductively then, we know that every single "ought" is associated with an ideal behavior. The differences between moral oughts are which behavior or goal is prioritized, but these goals are then, by definition, subjective. They are what people prioritize over another. Therefore attempting to come to conclusion regarding how reality should be from what it is left out this essential component, there is no "ideal behavior", if you were to insert an ideal behavior or a goal, then you would get an ought from an is and  (an) ought (from an is)." [Con - Round 1]
To summarize: Something which we "ought" to do - is something that gets us to some moral "ideal" or "goal" - for something to be "desirable" there has to be a subject that is being benefited, which would have things that are desirable to it. In other words, an idea, person, thing that we can benefit and harm. That thing, the thing which is being benefited (the subject of the "basis"), is the thing that is inherently subjective. 

Any idea we came up with would be subjective by the definition of objective - recall: Objective - 'Not dependent on the mind for existence; actual.". All ideas that exist are necessarily from the mind - there are principles or things that could be the subject of the moral basis, but then it comes to the question of "which" principle - why is the principle of being non-contradictory more worthy to be the subject than say, the law of gravity? 

The thing which distinguished these things are our minds, which would make any "choice" between these principles subjective. 

Back to Pro

Round 3
As my opponent has forfeited the round, I extend all previous arguments

Back to Pro
Round 4
Bleh ran out of time. Procrastination.
My opponent has not rebuked my argument for two rounds consecutively, and my argument remains strong.

  • Hume's Guillotine makes any measure of morality inherently Subjective
  • The use of Ought does not apply to Pro's argument soundly
Therefore, my BoP has been established - while my opponents has been dropped: 
Vote Con!