Instigator / Pro

THBT: Morality is not objective


Waiting for the contender's second argument.

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Morality = a set of rules, explicit or implicit, governing the intrinsic good or bad nature of an action
Objective morality = morality exists as a universal property outside of an individual perceiver


Ossa_997: Morality is likely not objective
Contender: Morality is likely objective

1. No Kritik.
2. No new arguments are to be made in the final round.
3. Agreeing to this debate entails agreement to the rules.
4. Be decent.
5. A breach of the rules should result in a conduct point deduction for the offender.

Round 1
Thanks for accepting, and apologies for the late argument, it's been a busy week. 


I’ll keep this quite short. Two arguments to begin with. First on the subjective nature of what is good, and
second on the very nature of truth morality asserts itself onto. 

I. The subjective nature of good and evil
Opening argument is quite simple:
P1. Morality is a measure of good
P2. What constitutes good is not objective
C1. Morality is not objective

P1: As per the definition and Oxford

     P1: What is objective is immutable

    ‘All philosophers suffer from the same defect, in that they start with the present-day man
    and think they can arrive at their goal from analyzing him’

-  Fredrich Nietzsche (Human, All too Human)

    Young children are proficient at learning through imitation from a very early age. PRO posits that morality is an idea ingrained by society in susceptible children through an osmotic process. A world where totally different ideas of morality exist is easily conceivable under our current state of the universe, and therefore possible. 

      C: What is good is not objective
      Hence P2 holds. 
C1: Follows from (P1) and (P2)

II. Argument on the epistemological class of morality
The very nature of morality prevents any possibility of the assertion of its objectiveness. 

  a. The descriptive prescriptive divide

P1What is objective must describe a descriptive (pertaining to statements of reality) statement about the universe 
P2: Morality does not describe, but rather prescribes a course of action by making a qualitative statement about said action's nature. 
C: Morality both is not objective, but moral truths also exist in a class of epistemological statements that cannot even attempt to lay claim to objectivity. 

Statements that are unanimously agreed to be objective describe a set of existence propositions. (See definition 2a) For example, if PRO asserts that they are a human being, the objectivity of such a statement cannot be denied if true. On the other hand a statement about the quality of a fact can have no assertion to objectivity. Take for example the statement 'red is the best colour' or even 'red is good'. Even if every human being suddenly agreed to such a statement, that would not make it any less subjective. In the same vein, morality is merely an assertion to quality and so cannot exist outside of human subjectivity. Nature speaks the language of 'is', not 'good' or 'bad'. 

See definition. 

Follows. The burden is now on CON to establish that morality is in fact describing something that IS. 

     b. Burden on CON to establish an objective source of morality
Morality as it exists seems to be a conception of human thought. In order for CON to satisfy their burden in this debate, they must demonstrate a way that human morality has formed following some objective standard, i.e an external, human-indepent source of morality. 

In fact, this objective source does not need to even be proved, but merely demonstrated to be more viable than alternative options. Such a source does not seem possible, but I'll leave that to CON to contest. 

I have shown that morality is not only based off a subjective measure,  but also why it cannot lay claim to objectivity whatsoever. 
I pass onto CON to open their case. 
Thanks ossa_997 for instigating the debate. No worries on the late argument, I think I’m just as late as you are if not more.
I. Objective Morality Is Our Default Assumption

This argument comes in three forms.

Argument from Taste: We treat morality differently than we do our subjective preferences, such as our opinions on food. If I don't like noodles, it doesn't make much sense to say "I'm glad I wasn't born in China, because than I would like noodles!" However, it does make sense to say something like "I'm glad I wasn't born centuries ago because then I would think the Earth is flat!" It also makes sense to say something like "I'm glad I wasn't born in 18th century America because than I would have thought that slavery was okay." Thus, we treat moral facts much the same way that we treat descriptive facts. 

Argument from Disagreement: We disagree about morality differently than we do our subjective preferences. If my favorite ice cream flavor is strawberry, and my friends is chocolate, than it feels like I am merely stating a preference, and maybe that I am trying to convince them of that preference. If we're having a discussion about whether global warming is or is not real, it feels as though we are getting at some objective truth of the matter. Finally, if we are having a discussion on whether or not abortion is right or wrong, it again feels like we are getting at some sort of objective truth, in the same way as the debate about global warming. 

Argument from Counterfactuals: Top hats are out of fashion. However, consider an alternative world where everyone wears top hats, everyone thinks they're cool, and everyone is showing off their favorite top hat. Would it still be true that top hats are out of fashion? No. Smoking causes cancer. Consider a world in which everyone is okay with smoking, and we considered it to be quite harmless. Would it still be true that smoking causes cancer? Yes. Finally, gender-based discrimination is wrong. (Hopefully I don't lose any voters on that one.) Take a hypothetical world in which we believed gender-discrimination was okay, and everyone tries to gender discriminate as much as they can. Would it be true in this world that gender discrimination is morally permissible? Hopefully you're noticing a pattern by now. 

Basically what we're doing here is vibe-checking morality, and in doing so we can start to see that morality at least feels the same way that descriptive facts do. In fact, moral premises are some of the premises we are most confident in. This claim feels more secure than claims of moral relativism. Thus, in the absence of a total knock-down of objective morality, there is no reason to abandon it.  

Throughout this debate, I hope to show why PRO has no argument against objective morality to reject it, and to show why feeling that morality is objective is enough to prove that it is objective (without any appeal to a higher power) 

II. Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, Objectivity and Subjectivity

     P1: What is objective is immutable
To be immutable means to not change over time, which is a standard that clearly does not apply to objectivity. At one point in time it may be objective that an apple is red, while later it is objectively true that the apple is brown, because it rotted. Do not allow PRO to apply the standard of immutability to objectivity.

While true, conceptions changing does not mean facts changing. Conceptions of the shape of the Earth has changed overtime, yet the Earth has remained round. Just because slavery used to be considered good, does not mean that it was good. Thus, conceptions of what is good changing does not prove that what is good is subjective. 

    Young children are proficient at learning through imitation from a very early age. PRO posits that morality is an idea ingrained by society in susceptible children through an osmotic process. A world where totally different ideas of morality exist is easily conceivable under our current state of the universe, and therefore possible. 
This requires significantly more burden of proof than simply "young children learn through imitation, therefore the entirety of morality is merely learned through imitation. Additionally, it's been shown that infants as young as 3 months old respond very differently to people who help others, versus people who harm others, showing that it's likely that we make moral judgements from birth. 

III. The Is/Ought Divide Doesn't Actually Matter

I'm using the term is/ought divide instead of descriptive/prescriptive because it's what is used in the philosophical literature I'm familiar with, and as a neat bonus it saves on the character count lol. 

P1What is objective must describe a descriptive (pertaining to statements of reality) statement about the universe 
This is not a given. In fact, there is so much philosophical discussion around this idea that the source my opponent linked is over 15,000 words, doesn't include an argument for why things that are descriptive are true, and is immediately followed by an overview of anti-realism, which argues that all truth is non-objective, and thus what is descriptive is not neccassarily objective. The burden of proof is on PRO to explain why what is objective must describe a descriptive. 

Statements that are unanimously agreed to be objective describe a set of existence propositions.
Unfortunately, there are no statements that are unanimously agreed to be objective. This is because it's incredibly easy to play the role of what I call the infinite skeptic. Take a statement that describes a set of existence propositions: "The apple is red."

Normal Person: The apple is red.
Infinite Skeptic: How do you know?
Normal Person: I can see that it is red.
Infinite Skeptic: Why can you trust what you see?
Normal Person: Because my eyes transfer information about the world.
Infinite Skeptic: How do you know that the world is?

In fact, the only descriptive statement that is near-unanimously agreed to be true by philosophers is Descartes's "I think therefore I am." (Hopefully I haven't been too convincing here and sold you on anti-realism) Fortunately, we can find descriptive facts to be objective my presupposing that it is objective that the world exists. If the world exists, then it's true that the world is observable, then it's true that we can observe the world, then it's true that the apple is red. This is an oversimplification but it will do for now.

We can do the same thing for ought statements. In order for ought statements to be true, it is possible that  "we ought do no harm." If we ought do no harm than we ought not kill, because to kill would be to do harm. Through this framework, we can create an infinite number of objective moral statements. If you're not convinced, consider a different type of statement that is generally held to be true: a "will-be" statement. It is impossible for us to know that something will be in the same way that it is impossible for us to know that something ought to be. However, if we presuppose that things will be, at least to an extent, as they have been, than we can infer an infinite number of will-be statements, i.e. "Because the sun rises every day, it will rise again tommorow." 

In order to reject the epistemology of ought statements, we must also reject the epistemology of many other statements which my opponent holds to be objective in R1. 

Follows. The burden is now on CON to establish that morality is in fact describing something that IS. 
Incorrect, the burden is on PRO to prove that descriptive facts are objective while prescriptive facts are not. 

IV. Conclusion

Morality as it exists seems to be a conception of human thought. In order for CON to satisfy their burden in this debate, they must demonstrate a way that human morality has formed following some objective standard, i.e an external, human-indepent source of morality. 

In fact, this objective source does not need to even be proved, but merely demonstrated to be more viable than alternative options. Such a source does not seem possible, but I'll leave that to CON to contest. 

We can feel that there is something that dictates our opinions on morality, our sense of right and wrong, justice and fairness, what people ought to do. With the absence of a strong enough argument from PRO to reject this argument, we should assume it to be true, in the same way that we assume things such as the world exists. As for the possibility of an external source, it is easy to posit an infinite number of external forces for morality. It's possible that that source could be linked to other unsolved questions, such as where something like consciousness comes from. From our intuitions, it certainly seems more likely than objective morality not existing. 
Round 2
Thanks BDPTheGreat, the epithet in your username is starting to make sense now…

1 Rebuttal

I. Immutability and objectivity 
Morality is a set of rules that govern a situation. To argue that morality can be objective yet mutable is a tenable position, but not under the assumption set out by con, namely:

if we presuppose that things will be, at least to an extent, as they have been

Taking con’s example of the apple, if the apple was reproduced in the exact same molecular arrangement, and had the same set of light rays reflected into the eye of the observer at the same angle etc., it can be reasonably assumed that the ‘objective fact’ that ‘this apple is red’ will not change. That the laws regarding light reflection and wavelengths will not somehow change. 
The same reasoning can be applied to morality, being something that governs a situation. If the exact same situation was reproduced at a different time, the choice of what would be right should stay the same under the same reasoning that one expects the sun to rise the next day. Con must forfeit either 1: Morality can be mutable or 2: The sun can be reasonably expected to rise. 

a. Forfeiture of mutability
CON argues for objectivity of ‘ought to be’ statements through an analogy with ‘will be’ statements. I will argue by the same analogy.
‘Ought to be’ and ‘will be’ statements are not different at all by the definition CON proposes. If what ‘ought to be’ is that which fulfills a certain axiom, an ‘ought to be’ statement is the statement that an action will cause something to happen.

 If ‘will be’ statements are only objective under the presupposition of immutable natural laws, then so too are moral laws (ought to be statements). 
Yet, moral laws have already been shown to be mutable (or at least with their conceptions accepted to be mutable by both sides of the debate)  so now CON’s case rests on the fact that previous cultures’ conceptions of morality have been wrong, which I will discuss in 1.II.d. 

b. Forfeiture of inductive reasoning
To forfeit the rationality of inductive reasoning is to forfeit the axiomatic system of morality that CON outlines, as there will not be any reasonable way to guarantee that there is a way of fulfilling the axioms, and therefore no way to guarantee a right action, hence any moral framework derived from presuppositions is rendered redundant. 

II. The Majority
In appeal to philosophers to rebut the potential existence of descriptive facts CON, makes the realisation that the majority is simply not always correct. The majority would probably not like to forfeit the idea that ‘this apple is red’ is objective. Similarly, even if the majority might act like morality is objective (which I will contend later), the fact that philosophers actively debate such a proposition alludes to something deeper lying behind what people take for granted. 

a. Rebuttal from Taste
It is true that if a statement is objective, it will be treated like it is objective. CON affirms the consequent, however, when they attempt to claim that if a statement is treated objectively then the statement itself is objective. 
As a counterexample, I’ll invoke how people treat money. 
The proposition ‘I have $10 in my bank account’ is one that is treated objectively, in that it affects the way one acts, is treated etc.
Any statement of monetary value, however, can hardly be objective as money is a medium of exchange whose worth arises in human instilled values. Money is inter-subjective, and would no longer function if the entire world woke up not believing in it. Yet that would never happen, as the system of money has been so ingrained into society that it is treated as objective. 

Similarly, an entire society believing in a moral value causes that value to be held as objective. For example, cowardice in ancient Rome would have been held as objective in that it would be condemned, and unanimously punished.
Furthermore, like how the value of money is instilled through society, so too is morality. The rebuttal CON provided about babies making moral judgements is outside the scope of this debate: moral judgements speak nothing about morality’s objectivity or subjectivity. 
Does a society’s belief really make something right?

b. Rebuttal from Disagreement
When morality is argued about, such as in abortion, the disagreement ultimately stems down to subjective preferences. It is not enough for CON to claim that it seems such discourse approaches an objective truth. 
Why do I claim this? 
When one argues for or against abortion, they make an argument through the frameworks of bodily autonomy or preservation of life. As in this situation, both contradict the other, the arguer is forced to make a choice as to which intuitively feels better, regressing into subjectivity. 

c. Rebuttal from counterfactuals 
 Would it be true in this world that gender discrimination is morally permissible?

Here I must try arguing a fine line without coming off as misogynistic or just a dick in general….

When CON appealed to philosophers, they saw that truths could potentially be uncomfortable. Such a question, however, can simply not be answered by members of present day society due the moral context they are placed in. One only has to look at literature from barely two centuries ago to see that this was the case. Furthermore, systematic discrimination not only occurs but is rampant and accepted in today’s society. Take for example capitalism’s oppression of the poor through almost unbreakable poverty cycles.
Yet capitalism is still accepted, as it allows another value, that of individualism, to flourish. Morality always has been preferences between contradicting values. 
And this further reveals the split between absolute and practical truths. Although one might accept idealism, anti-realism etc., that does not mean one practically goes around as if nothing exists outside their senses, or nothing exists whatsoever. In the same sense, a statement about morality being uncomfortable says nothing towards the truth value of the statement or how we should act accordingly. 

d. Russell’s teapot, empirical unverificability 
The statement that past cultures’ conceptions of morality might have been wrong is untenable as it leads to absurd contradictions. To claim that whole societies might have been wrong about morality, despite feeling objectively in the right, causes any current society’s feelings about what is objectively right to be redundant, as it does not follow how we could be any less mistaken than past cultures. The only judgements that can be passed onto other cultures are those from the perspective of current morality, and so to claim that other cultures were objectively wrong in their morality both begs the question in favour of objective morality, and is also an empirically unverifiable statement. 
Bertrand Russell made an analogy to the claim that: there is a teapot orbiting the sun between earth and mars, too small for telescopes to see. The burden of proof in such a situation evidently lies on behalf of the proponent of the absurd statement. When an empirically unverifiable claim is made, the burden of proof lies towards the one making the claim. Hence, CON must justify not only how culture might treat morality as objective, but why that makes morality more objective and ‘right’ than any past cultures that believed so. 

2. Arguments

I. Definitional 
The definition of objective morality in this debate was not only ‘immutable’ but also ‘external’. Although immutable might be disputable, CON has not offered any satisfactory argument towards the ‘external’ of objective morality. It is not enough to list what such a source could be. Gravity could be millions of invisible angels dragging objects down to earth, yet we know that is not the case (debatable but you get my point). 
Occam’s razor states that the most viable theories are the ones with the least unverifiable presuppositions. To argue for objective morality being external causes all sorts of problems with how one can come to know morality from an objective source. The explanation of it being a set of human emotional preferences is far more likely, as most would agree that morality is felt, a verb which PRO employs substantially.
The burden of proof is still on PRO to provide an account for a source of objective morality. 

II. Nature of moral ‘truths’

As I alluded to earlier, a framework of axioms might lead to truths in relation to that axiom, but that is rarely the case. Further, morality is not built off a single axiom, but rather many. Even if a moral axiom might mean truths can be arrived at in relation to the axiom, morality still falls in the hand of the subject to grapple with contrasting moral postulates to arrive at their own preference . 
Take for example, the French national motto, 'liberty, equality, fraternity'.  Even in the first two words, a contradiction arises. One's liberty means that they are free to seek goods and advantages which threaten to usurp equality
Freedom and legal justice (Marijuana legalisation) , capitalism and equality (Taxing the rich) , modern morality has always been a showdown between contrasting ideas. CON must either forfeit common feelings of morality in order to overcome these contradictions, and in doing so forfeit their main point, or otherwise must accept that morality is a series of contradictions which boil down to subjective choices. 

3. Conclusion 

It is not enough to simply argue that majority wins. In the acceptance that past cultures could have been wrong about morality, CON leaves a flawed argument in not being able to verify or reason towards why current feelings towards morality mean objectivity. It is these feelings, at the end of the day that cause morality, feeling that is subjective choices between moral contradictons.

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