Morality Unobjectified

Author: keithprosser ,

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  • keithprosser
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    If morality is real (or 'objective',or 'objectively real') then either 'slavery is good' is true or 'slavery is bad' is true. 

    Importantly if morality is real then 'slavery is bad' even if people - such as the ancient Romans - don't think so. (Note: In theory slavery could be objectively good, but I'm keeping things simple!)  

    That is to say our (or the Romans') moral judgement of slavery is independent of the [objective] morality of slavery .   Hold that thought for later!

    Now, as an example of something that definitely is an objective truth, let's take 2+2=4, (or more generally the mathematics which apllies in our universe which includes 2+2=4).   Now suppose a genie changes the rule from 2+2=4 to 2+2=5. The effect would be catastrophic - very likely the universe would blow up as billions of extra things pop into existence each time a 2+2 addition happens.

    The point is that if you change an objective fact it is noticeble - there is a real effect. 

    So let the genie change 'slavery is bad' to 'slavery is good' - what would be the effect of that?  Would we immeditely restart the slave trade? 

    In fact, there'd be no effect at all.  Our laws and our attitudes towards slavery derive from our collective judgement of slavery.  

    Remember what I i'd said above - "[our (or the Romans') moral judgement of slavery is independent of the [objective] morality of slavery.
    The genie changed the objective morality of slavery (from bad to good) but he didn't change our collective judgement of slavery (slavery ids bad) upon which our laws attitudes are based so nothing actually changes.

    In other words it doesn't make any difference if slavery is objectively bad (as per pre-genie change) or objectivly good (post-genie change).

    But if something objective changes it does make difference, as discussed in the case of 2+2=5.  So there is a seeming paradox, which can be resolved by realising that objective morality can't change because it does not exist.





  • Lernaean
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    --> @keithprosser
    While I'm a moral relativist, I don't think this argument is sound.

    Consider that physical laws govern the way the world behaves, physically. (That is their namesake.) If you changed such a law, then clearly the world would behave differently, possibly to our detriment. However, we have no reason to believe that moral laws, if they exist, would necessitate any sort of change or modify any observable physical phenomenon. 

    The existence of an objective/absolute moral law does not automatically require that we obey it, nor does it necessarily entail consequences for failure to obey. This is why it's not apparent that a paradox would arise if a genie magically changed the moral rules -- physical laws are directly tied to physical behavior while moral laws are not. Thus, it's not unexpected that changing one would cause an observable change whereas the other would not. 

    (As a brief note, I chose to interpret your non-moral example as a physical law rather than mathematics. Mathematics itself is entirely based upon a small collection of axioms, those being "rules" we just assume to be true and that we cannot prove. Technically speaking, mathematics is a bunch of objective conclusions drawn from a set of arbitrary "facts".)
  • keithprosser
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    --> @Lernaean
    I can only agree that my non-moral metaphor doesn't work, but I think it's the metaphor that is bad, not the argument.

    Ditch the old metaphor and consider the universe to be full of planets, some of which have slavery and others which don't. 

    On slave-holding planets slavery is not thought of as bad: they are like ancient rome or southern cotton planters, quite oblivious that 'slavery is objectively bad' because everything is based on subjective morality, ie on people's 'moral judgement' of slavery.
     
    Then one day slavery becomes objectively good (ie the morality genie says 'From today slavery is objectively good').  Nothing changes on any planet, slaving or non-slaving, as a result.  If slavery can change from being objectively bad to objetively good and 'nothing happens' what does that say about [objective] morality?  I think it tells us there is no such thing.

    Hence, no such thing as morality - there are only moral judgements.



  • Lernaean
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    --> @keithprosser
    I understand the argument, but I'm not sure it gets us all the way to the conclusion you offer. Let me explain.

    I agree with the implications of your scenario on these various planets. That is, I suspect you are correct that if a genie changed the moral status of murder, it would be unlikely to affect anything at all. In fact, if this scenario is meant to parallel the real world, it certainly wouldn't change anything because we have no way actually accessing moral truths. The genie would change the law, but nobody would be the wiser anyway.

    What I'm not seeing is how this implies that objective moral laws don't exist. Does something only exist if modifying it changes other things as well? In other words, does the change in state of an "thing" necessitate that some other "thing" changes as well? 

    It is entirely conceivable (though admittedly unlikely) that there is some deity who determines moral truth who, every Saturday, randomly chooses for murder to be right or wrong for the next week. We could be living in a universe at this very moment where that is the case and there doesn't seem to be any reason to believe this is impossible. If you change an absolute moral law, but don't tell anyone, should we be surprised that it doesn't change anything else?
  • keithprosser
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    It seems your saying that either we live in a universe with no objective moral laws or we live in a universe indistinguishable from a universe with no objective moral laws.


  • Lernaean
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    --> @keithprosser
    Precisely.

    And in either case, it seems reasonable to default to the assumption that there are no objective moral laws. But I think it's important to appreciate the distinction between a lack of belief due to scant evidence and a lack of belief due to evidence to the contrary. 
  • keithprosser
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    --> @Lernaean
    It would be nice to be more rigorous, but I think should forget all about 'objective morality' - indeed forget about moraity as a 'thing' at all.  I repeat my current mantra:  "There's no such thing as morality - there are only moral judgements."
  • Fallaneze
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    --> @Lernaean
    It seems more reasonable to believe that moral realism is true. All the evidence we have, evidence meaning information indicating whether something is true, weighs in favor of moral realism. Prima facie intuition, aggregate trends in human behavior, our moral sense, and ability to rationally discern moral from immoral behavior all support the idea that there are objective facts we're referencing rather than morality as a product of pure imagination. 
  • Fallaneze
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    To believe there is no innately rational basis with which to discern moral from immoral behavior runs contrary to the evidence.
  • Fallaneze
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    My response to the OP:


    Knowledge of something is independent of what's true. However, knowledge justifies belief in independent truths. We should concern ourselves with what's most rationally compelling. 

    If there is no epistemic justification for moral realism, it should not be accepted as true. This also applies to moral non-realism. If there is no epistemic justification for moral non-realism, it should not be accepted as true. 

    Conceivably, if a magic genie snapped his fingers and made slavery some kind of objective moral obligation, there would suddenly exist a rational basis for it and it would ring true for whomever thought about or witnessed slavery. We would also begin to see trends reverting to slavery.
  • keithprosser
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    --> @Fallaneze
    It seems more reasonable to believe that moral realism is true. All the evidence we have, evidence meaning information indicating whether something is true, weighs in favor of moral realism. Prima facie intuition, aggregate trends in human behavior, our moral sense, and ability to rationally discern moral from immoral behavior all support the idea that there are objective facts we're referencing rather than morality as a product of pure imagination.

    To believe there is no innately rational basis with which to discern moral from immoral behavior runs contrary to the evidence. 
    That's good, but my OP is actually about something slightly different.
     
    There is no doubt in my mind that there is a rational basis for our moral judgements (at least most of the time).  For example it is obvious that a society that did not discourage (eg) murder would be unstable and probably not last very long.  My OP claims that the reason we judge murder as evil is that we instinctively identify it to be detrimental to stability.

    There is no such thing as evil.  Evil is not some sort of nebulous 'stuff' that bad things have and good things don't; evil is indeed imaginary; we talk to each other as if evil is a thing but it's just a figure of speech.

    There are acts that cause harm or hurt and wecall them evil; acts of benevolence we call good, but good and evil don't actually exist.  If good and evil do not exist then morality does not exist.  However moral judgements do exist - because we make them.  But we don't make our moral judgments because (eg) murder is infused with 'the stuff of evil' (there is no such stuff).  We make them because our brains are wired up to judge things as good or evil.

  • keithprosser
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    --> @Fallaneze
    Conceivably, if a magic genie snapped his fingers and made slavery some kind of objective moral obligation, there would suddenly exist a rational basis for it and it would ring true for whomever thought about or witnessed slavery. We would also begin to see trends reverting to slavery.
    It is argued by some that the morality of things is defined by a genie (or God!) independently of a rational basis.  It is that poistion i am mostly concerned with currently.

  • Fallaneze
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    --> @keithprosser
    I don't believe morality boils down to "If you desire X, then you must Y." If you desire stability, then you must punish those who decrease stability and reward those who increase it. Moral obligations often run contrary to our desires. Was Martin Luther King immoral for "disrupting" society to campaign for equal rights? Were dissenters in Nazi Germany the ones behaving immorally? 

    Morality is a complex subject. When we refer to something as moral or immoral we're making a judgment about somebody's disposition or will. So in any case, moral or immoral behavior is tied to someone. If morality is subjective, it's tied to ourselves. If morality is objective, it's tied to something independent of us (otherwise it would be subjective). But if morality is tied to someone's disposition and will beyond us, then we're talking about an arbiter of humanity - an ultimate moral authority (i.e. God).





  • Fallaneze
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    In these discussions I feel the need to remind people that moral realism is the prevailing moral theory amongst academics and your average person.
  • keithprosser
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    --> @Fallaneze
    If morality is subjective, it's tied to ourselves. If morality is objective, it's tied to something independent of us.
    But what if there is no such thing as morality?

  • Fallaneze
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    --> @keithprosser
    Well I would question why we're able to cognize* moral discussions at all if morality neither subjectively nor objectively exists.
  • keithprosser
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    --> @Fallaneze
    In these discussions I feel the need to remind people that moral realism is the prevailing moral theory amongst academics and your average person.
    I wonder how many 'isms' morality suffers from!  objectivism, subjectivism, realism, relativism, nihilism, consquentialism, non-realism, utilitarianism, old uncle tom cobleigh and all ism...

  • Fallaneze
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    There would be no moral dimension to speak of. We'd just describe morality in terms of what underlies "good" or "bad' but without having an understanding of what "good" or "bad" means.
  • Fallaneze
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    --> @keithprosser
    Yep, it's very confusing. Discussion should center on moral realism and non-realism since that encompasses literally all moral theories (except for quasi-moral realism!)
  • keithprosser
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    --> @Fallaneze
    Well I would question why we're able to cognize* moral discussions at all if morality neither subjectively nor objectively exists.
    Something - or somethings - exist on which we base our moral judgements but whatever it is that actually exists is not 'good' or 'evil'.  What exists are things like 'life etending' and 'harm causing'.
      

  • Fallaneze
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    --> @keithprosser
    Simplifying morality to "life extending" and "harm causing" will always run into exceptions. This is why morality seems like an eternal discussion around here, there are always holes to poke.

    The only unqualified "good" and "bad" things are dispositions. Dispositions like being compassionate, honest, courageous, are objectively morally good while dispositions such as cruelty, dishonesty, and cowardice are objectively flaws in moral character.
  • keithprosser
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    --> @Fallaneze
    Discussion should center on moral realism and non-realism
    I'm ok with that.  But what is your position on universals and abstracts - ie do they exist?  I say that if X is a universal or abstract then X doesn't exist but the 'concept of X' does exist.

    The only unqualified "good" and "bad" things are dispositions.
    Hm... is genocide a disposition? 

  • Fallaneze
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    --> @keithprosser
    My position is that yes, they exist but are imperceivable. Rational discussion presupposes that truths are invariant, abstract, and universal. Otherwise we would be unable to share knowledge at all. 

    No, genocide isn't a disposition. Perhaps genocide is seen as immoral because the act exhibits immoral dispositions? How can something like "genocide" exhibit being compassionate?





  • keithprosser
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    --> @Fallaneze
    Hmmm... maybe genocide isn't evil... but people who do geocide are evil?

  • Fallaneze
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    --> @keithprosser
    Genocide means the deliberate killing of a large group of people. You can't refer to genocide without simultaneously referring to the people doing the killing. So, yes genocide is evil and yes the people doing it are evil.