A Few More Words About Morality

You really must check in on the big morality discussion over at Uncommon Descent. Barry Arrington has done another post on the subject. It’s just more snarling and buffoonery, but I do suggest browsing the comments. RDFish, the “idiot” who caused Arrington’s latest fit of apoplexy, has shown extraordinary patience and lucidity in responding point by point. He’s administering quite the spanking, actually. Arrington, for his part, has nothing beyond abuse and insults to offer in reply. He’s just making a fool of himself. For a taste, check out this comment from RDFish, and this reply from Arrington.

Let us recall that Arrington is the front man for the premiere ID blog on the internet. Truly, ID is dead.

So let’s leave that aside for a moment and ruminate on some of the issues I passed over in my last post.

When moral philosophy is discussed in the abstract, it can seem like a very complex subject. But for most people most of the time, morality is actually very simple. Most of us can go our whole lives without having to confront a situation in which distinguishing right from wrong is genuinely murky. (Though we might face situations where the right thing to do is not the easy thing to do). And when we do confront genuine moral dilemmas, it’s rarely helpful to ruminate over the differences between consequentialism, deontology, virtue ethics and all the rest. If your moral system, in its entirety, is “Don’t hurt people unnecessarily,” you’ll do just fine in nearly all situations.

One of the most overwrought questions in moral philosophy is the question of whether morality is objective or subjective. People get really worked up about it, but I’ve never understood why. Partly, I suppose, it’s that people suspected of moral relativism are often thought to be saying that anything goes, but that is just a ridiculous misunderstanding of what is being claimed.

My own view is that there is one sense in which morality is just obviously subjective. But there is another, more important sense, in which morality can reasonably be said to be objective. The subjective sense is this: After you have carefully laid out your moral system, what do you say to the critic who just folds his arms and replies, “Sez you!”? Moral assertions have to be defended on some basis, and in any system of reasoning something has to be taken as axiomatic. If someone just flatly rejects your moral foundations, I don’t see how you can argue that he has erred on a matter of fact. I might think he is being very unreasonable, and I might think that moral systems different from my own will lead to bad consequences, but that is not the same as saying the critic is flatly mistaken for rejecting my premises.

But this is not really very important, since, to a striking degree, most people actually do share the same basic premises. That’s why the religious and nonreligious alike mostly agree on basic moral questions.

So let’s think about objectivity for a moment. Usually we say that something is objectively true if it is true independently of what anyone thinks about it. That’s not a very helpful definition, however, since it’s hopelessly abstract. Instead we should be asking about how we ever come to agree that something is an objective fact.

If I say there is a table in my kitchen and someone else denies it, we can readily resolve the dispute. We get a bunch of competent observers to go into my kitchen and see if there is a table. When large numbers of people report seeing and feeling a table, we take that as establishing it as a fact that there is a table in my kitchen. We would have no trouble saying that the skeptic is just wrong in this case. We would not worry about the possibility of a mass hallucination on the part of the observers, nor would we worry that we are living inside the matrix. We would say simply that the consensus of so many competent observers establishes the objective existence of the table as well as anything can be established.

We would say something similar about objective facts in science. We gain confidence that science is telling us something objective about the world when large numbers of scientists repeating the same experiment get the same results. Once again, it is large-scale consensus that gives us confidence we have discovered an objective truth.

There is always a lingering danger that the consensus is wrong, of course, but that is neither here nor there. The point is that appealing to the consensus is just the best we can do when trying to distinguish what is objectively true from what is a subjective belief.

I see no reason why we cannot apply the same standard to discussions of morality. It’s not simply that there is large-scale agreement on basic moral principles, it’s that we feel these principles instinctively and recoil from anyone who demurs. As C.S. Lewis famously pointed out, we all have an innate sense of fair play and decency. Virtually everyone understands basic empathy, and understands that it is just wrong to inflict pointless suffering on sentient creatures. Why is that not a reason for feeling confident that there are objective moral truths, just as surely as a scientific consensus makes us confident that there are objective physical truths?

Some people will demur from the consensus, but so what? Scientists argue about all sorts of things, but no one takes that as evidence that science is just about subjective preferences. There can be objective truths without everyone agreeing about what those truths are.

Others might retort that standards of moral goodness have changed over time. Might makes right was once an operative moral principle, and still is in some parts of the world. Again, so what? There can be objective moral truths even if people don’t realize what they are. Perhaps we can only learn about such truths by observing the doleful consequences of getting it wrong.

This sort of argument is why I feel perfectly comfortable speaking about objective morality. It had better be sufficient, because I don’t see where you’re going to find anything better. Certainly bringing God into the mix isn’t going to help. If the near universal agreement of humanity on basic moral questions is thought to be a subjective and arbitrary standard, then I don’t see how it’s an improvement to hypothesize God into existence, declare that He has the authority to speak definitively on morality, and then further hypothesize we have some way of knowing what He wants from us.

Comments

  1. #1 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    April 16, 2015

    One of the most overwrought questions in moral philosophy is the question of whether morality is objective or subjective. People get really worked up about it, but I’ve never understood why.

    Well, from my perspective a reason to get worked up about it is that the kind of person who claims that morality is objective (not always but) nearly always also believes that (1) they personally have the objective morality all sorted out and (2) it includes women not having control over their bodies, gay people not being allowed to marry, and further stuff along those lines.

    At that point it seems helpful to point out that these claims actually don’t have any foundation at all, just like you did in your Vacuity of Natural Law posts.

    Most of your above post mirrors what I think; as for the change of morals over time, that mostly seems to be about details. The broad outlines – don’t cause harm without good reason, be nice and respectful, laziness is bad, cowardice is bad, lying is bad, etc. – are reliably constant across history and across cultures.

  2. #2 zebra
    April 16, 2015

    JR, you say “Virtually everyone understands basic empathy”, but you don’t appear to, since empathy is experienced, not understood.

    Assume that a person is a perfect empath– that is, she feels the pain of another person exactly as the person does. Now, she causes this person to feel pain, in service of her own pleasure, which means the motivation of the pleasure outweighs the negative motivation of her (derived) pain.

    Is this a ‘moral’ act, in your system of near-universal, ‘objective’ morality?

  3. #3 Richard Wein
    April 16, 2015

    Jason: “It’s not simply that there is large-scale agreement on basic moral principles, it’s that we feel these principles instinctively and recoil from anyone who demurs…. Why is that not a reason for feeling confident that there are objective moral truths, just as surely as a scientific consensus makes us confident that there are objective physical truths?”

    This seems to be merely an appeal to instinctive intuitions. I’m sure that many people have just such an instinctive intuition that God exists, and at times in the past that intuition was probably as universal as the intuition of moral truth, or nearly so. That should give you pause for thought in leaning so hard on instinctive intuitions. Where’s your usual skepticism?

    It’s not scientific consensus per se that makes us confident in our ability to form objective beliefs about the physical world. It’s more generally our experience of successfully interacting with our environment, starting with our ordinary everyday interactions. Science is a more methodical and precise extension of this ordinary interaction. There is no such successful interaction in the case of moral truths. We have no evidence for the truth of moral beliefs, beyond our intuitive feelings that they’re true. And those intuitive feelings can be better explained as being the result of non-truth-tracking (evolutionary and social) processes than as the result of truth-tracking processes. Ordinary descriptive discourse is in the business of modelling reality, or at least it’s rooted in the modelling of reality. Our beliefs about our environment need to be broadly truth-tracking to be useful. False beliefs tend to result in much less successful interactions with our environment. Moral discourse is in a quite different business: motivating behaviour. And for that purpose it has no need to be truth-tracking. A belief that murder is morally wrong will be equally effective at discouraging murder irrespective of whether it’s true or false. Your analogy of moral truth with physical truth is a misguided one.

    This is the beginning of an argument against moral realism. But my main goal here is only to cast doubt on misguided arguments for moral realism, not to argue for the contrary view. Perhaps, though, it will make some people a little more open to the contrary view.

  4. #4 Sean T
    April 16, 2015

    Richard,

    Your analogy is flawed. There is not now, nor was there ever a near-universal, instinctive belief in God. It may be true that there at times has been a near-universal belief in God in some places and during some time periods (Medieval Europe, for example), but that ignores the fact that there is no such belief among most of the world’s population. There are millions of Buddhists, for instance, who really are atheists – Buddha is not worshipped as a God in Buddhism, but rather is revered as a wise teacher. Certainly Hindus would not have an instinctive belief in a SINGLE God; Hinduism is polytheistic.

    In contrast, almost all human societies past and present have agreed on certain basic moral premises. Lying, stealing, laziness, and cowardice, for instance, have near-universal disapproval in human societies independent of place and time, unlike religious beliefs.

  5. #5 Tulse
    April 16, 2015

    we feel these principles instinctively and recoil from anyone who demurs. […] Virtually everyone understands basic empathy […] Why is that not a reason for feeling confident that there are objective moral truths

    I think it’s important to understand that the scope of “objective” here is rather limited. It may be an “objective” fact that all humans share such sense of empathy, but that’s a matter of our specific biology (and in turn our evolutionary history) — it is a contingent fact for our species. Most of those who demand “objective” morality, by contrast, seem to want there to be principles built into the very ontology of existence, woven in the fabric of universe from its beginning like physical laws. They want there to be moral capital-T “Truth” beyond our historically-contingent biology.

    I think morality grounded in our biological heritage is all we can expect, and all that we need. Notions of providing morality with foundations based on the ontology of the cosmos seems profoundly misguided, and deeply misses the point of morality.

  6. #6 zebra
    April 16, 2015

    #5 Tulse:

    “I think morality grounded in our biological heritage is all we can expect, and all that we need. ”

    This sounds like the vacuous “natural law” arguments previously discussed– you have a conclusion, and you wish to associate it with something that makes it more appealing. Might as well invoke God.

    Our “biological heritage” involves lots of violence and abuse; picking and choosing some aspects that coincide with your ‘morality’ doesn’t create a philosophical argument.

  7. #7 Verbose Stoic
    April 16, 2015

    Jason,

    If someone just flatly rejects your moral foundations, I don’t see how you can argue that he has erred on a matter of fact.

    The major issue here is that your examples of how morality is objective actually flat-out contradict your notion of how morality is subjective. You treat morality as a matter of fact when you use methods that assume that as examples of how we come to conclusions on the basis of consensus. The reason that we get other people in to look at the table and come to a conclusion is that we think that there is a fact of the matter about whether or not there is a table, and that that fact does not depend on the viewpoint of any particular person (that “hopelessly abstract” view of objectivity). Because we think that there is a fact of the matter about whether there is a table in your kitchen, and we think that that fact is independent of one person’s view of the matter, we get more people in and note that the view that most people have is likely to be the one that is correct, given that we have a way to get at those sorts of matters of fact at all. If we really thought there was no fact about the matter, we wouldn’t care about any sort of objective conclusion at all, and so wouldn’t ask anyone else. It would be the equivalent of someone saying that they don’t like the colour of the table. You don’t bring in other people to say anything in that sort of disagreement.

    The same thing applies to science. The repeatable experiments part is not to get more people seeing it — science already presumes that empirical observation done in a scientific manner is reliable, and already has other people observing most experiments — but is an attempt to ensure that it is done properly and without confounds. Running the experiment in radically different environments will hopefully catch out variables and confounds that you didn’t see. So, again, scientific consensus is not what makes it objective, but is the result of dealing with actual objective propositions, things that are true independently of the people doing the observing.

    Thus, your whole methodology is one that is derived from an assumption that the propositions in question are matters of fact independent of any person’s perspective, and in fact works only because it is dealing with such things. So to then say that you can get that sort of objectivity on things that are not those sorts of things is a tad contradictory.

    Now, you can say that the starting axiomatic premise is not a statement of fact in that way, but that what you conclude from it in fact is. But since all of those conclusions have to follow from that starting point, it doesn’t seem reasonable to say that matters of fact can be proven from things that aren’t a matter of fact. You can argue that the axiom IS a matter of fact, but not one that you can prove, like our reliance on our senses or the fact that there is an external world; whether or not we can prove it, we need to start from that assumption or else we either can’t get anywhere, or if we start from any assumption we’re going to end up in the same place anyway. However, this doesn’t work for morality, because I can deny that morality MEANS “Don’t hurt others unnecessarily” without having to give up any discussion of morality, and yet picking other starting points will lead to sharp differences in what actions we think are justified and which aren’t. So we can’t get there.

    And even your starting point is controversial. As stated, it’s horribly abstract and vague, mostly because it isn’t clear what “unnecessarily” means; it can range from “Never do it” to “Do it when I’d benefit from doing it”. But when you try to work it out, you run into issues where it can seem self-contradictory. But even worse for you is the fact that often when this is fleshed out it leads to conflicts with our intuitions, such as in trolley cases. Don’t ever take an action to sacrifice one life for five others? We tend to think that morally wrong. But do accept that? Then you push the person in front of the train, which we tend to think wrong. This isn’t that serious a problem for most moral philosophies because they can deny that our moral intuitions are right in those cases where we have a conflict. You, however, build your entire system ON moral intuition, and so don’t have that out.

    Additionally, you have issues when you try to apply your consensus model to people. If you can’t start from a proven principle, then you would be relying on consensus to drive the conclusions. This would run into the issue that when most people thought that slavery was morally justified by your view they were, in fact, objectively right, while those who disagreed were objectively morally wrong, and it was only when most were convinced — ie the consensus changed — that that changed. That’s not what we think of when we think of morality; we think that they were, in fact, always wrong, but didn’t realize it, just as we think people were wrong to think the world was flat or that caloric existed. If morality is subjective, then you are essentially imposing morality on people without any objective basis, but if morality is objective then you are saying that the truth of that proposition is determined by vote … which is not how we look at truth. And there doesn’t seem to be any middle round you can carve out here.

  8. #8 Richard Wein
    April 16, 2015

    @Sean T

    OK. My “near universal” was an over-statement.

  9. #9 G
    April 16, 2015

    Oh my!, Jason does the “IS from OUGHT” exercise, and does it well! I don’t feel so lonely (or foolish) any more;-)

    Agreed, objective morality. Some of which is easily extracted from observables, for example:

    Life seeks to live. Organisms act to preserve their own existence, with rare exceptions (altruistic self-sacrifice) that don’t invalidate the generalization. Therefore killing other sentient organisms is wrong, with rare exceptions (for example food, and defense of self or innocent others).

    Organisms seek pleasure and avoid pain. This is axiomatic and works at least as far down as planarians (flatworms in a T-maze test with sugar water on one side and an electric shock on the other side). Therefore inflicting suffering on other sentient organisms is wrong, with rare exceptions (for example prison as penalty for crime).

    None of this depends on any sort of beliefs about supreme beings.

  10. #10 G
    April 16, 2015

    Bloody hell, dyslex-error as I was briefly distracted:

    “IS from OUGHT” above, should be “OUGHT from IS.”

  11. #11 proximity1
    April 16, 2015

    RE: “If your moral system, in its entirety, is “Don’t hurt people unnecessarily,” you’ll do just fine in nearly all situations.”

    I disagree. This rule of thumb, I believe, gives us the world we see all around us–past and present and future.

    “Unnecessarily” is all most people need to basically do whatever is convenient–even if it’s immoral. Read Robert Trivers’ work ( e.g. The Folly of Fools) on how easily and how well we lie to ourselves.

  12. #12 Richard Wein
    April 16, 2015

    @Jason and VS

    I didn’t pay sufficient attention before to the the first (“subjective”) part of Jason’s account. Now that VS has drawn my attention back to it, I’m inclined to agree with him that the two parts are inconsistent. It seems to me Jason has proceeded by first treating moral discourse as being like mathematics (axiomatic) and then treating it as being like science (not axiomatic). In fact, I would argue that moral discourse doesn’t fit into the same mold as either mathematics or science, and needs to be considered on its own merits. I’ve already disputed Jason’s analogy with science. Now for mathematics (or axiomatic systems in general).

    As VS pointed out, Jason seems to think we can deduce moral conclusions that are objectively true from moral axioms that are not matters of fact, and so are not true. He is probably led to this by the example of mathematics, where mathematical results are objectively true (in some sense), while mathematical axioms are more like stipulated definitions than statements of fact. Mathematical axioms define or specify which axiomatic system we are going to work in. Given a certain axiomatic system, there is a corresponding set of valid statements or “formulas”. A sequence of symbols which constitutes a valid formula in one system may not constitute a valid formula in another system. But its important to bear in mind that the meanings of the symbols depends on the system in which we have chosen to speak. Consider alternative systems of geometry: Euclidean and various non-Euclidean. “Straight line” does not mean quite the same thing in one geometry as in another. Naively it might seem that different axiomatic systems “disagree” about the facts. But the reality is that different systems speak different languages, so there is no contradiction between them, even when a certain sequence of symbols constitutes a valid formula in one system and an invalid (but well-formed) formula in another. This is very different from moral discourse. The meaning of “morally wrong” doesn’t depend on your basic moral beliefs. People who assert different basic moral statements are not talking at cross-purposes; they are taking contrary positions.
    Person A: “The morally right thing to do is try to maximise total well-being.”
    Person B: “No, the morally right thing to do is act according to God’s will.”
    In other words, basic moral statements are assertions of substantive fact, and not just definitions. (If you haven’t already read it, I refer you to my comment in the previous thread, where I argued that Jason was mistaking substantive moral claims for definitions.)

  13. #13 Jason Rosenhouse
    April 16, 2015

    Richard and VS —

    I think you both missed my point.

    I’m basically borrowing a line from Daniel Dennett by arguing that morality has the only kind of objectivity worth wanting. You’ll notice that at no point do I say flatly that there are objective moral truths. Instead I say things like there is a sense in which morality is objective, and I said I feel comfortable speaking of objective morality, and I talked about how we ever gain confidence that something is objectively true.

    In science, it is everyone’s subjective experience that there are physical facts about the world. But when we try to ascertain what those facts are we eventually have to appeal to a consensus. Our subjective experiences of the world become objective truths when large numbers of competent observers report having the same experiences. Likewise for morality. Everyone’s subjective experience is that there are basic moral truths (hence my reference to C.S. Lewis, who I think was right on this point if not on the conclusions he drew from it). We then gain confidence that we know what those truths are by the fact that at a basic level everyone seems to agree on fundamental moral premises about fair play and justice.

    It think this widespread agreement, coupled with the revulsion we feel for anyone who demurs from these basic premises, deserves language stronger than “arbitrary, subjective preference.” Things that are described as arbitrary preferences rarely have this level of gravitas attached to them.

    The reason I’m being somewhat casual with the meanings of objective and subjective is that the usual meanings seem very unhelpful in the context of morality. Hence my assertion that the usual definition is hopelessly abstract. If something more than what I have described is necessary, then I don’t see where you intend to get it from. Suppose someone asks if it is true that murder is wrong. We could tell that person that of course it is, because it deprives people of their basic rights, or it is a threat to society, or a dozen other reasons we could probably come up with. But if that person now shakes his head and says, “No! I didn’t ask you what’s good for society, or how you think people ought to be treated. I asked if it’s true! how could we reply? How can you possibly explain why murder is wrong without referring to some fundamental notion of what it means to be right? I don’t know what it means to discuss right and wrong in the abstract.

    Of course, a religious person might say murder is objectively wrong because God says so. But this approach has all sorts of problems with it that I’m sure I don’t need to spell out. If we’re seriously worried that widespread agreement on basic moral premises is just groundless and arbitrary, it does not solve the problem to hypothesize God into existence.

  14. #14 eric
    April 16, 2015

    We would say something similar about objective facts in science. We gain confidence that science is telling us something objective about the world when large numbers of scientists repeating the same experiment get the same results. Once again, it is large-scale consensus that gives us confidence we have discovered an objective truth.

    I think you’re leaving out an important part of science which in fact does distinguish it from moral philosophy and highlights why morality cannot be thought of as objective in the same way, even if some moral claim has large-scale consensus.

    In science, we do not merely test claims by repeating the same experiment over and over again. That is no proof against systemic errors in the theory or the method. To weed out the systemic errors, we need to come up with methodologically independent methods of evaluating the same claim. As a simple example, instead of using the same machine 10 times to detect some particle, you use two machines with utterly different working principles 5 times each to detect the same particle.

    Moral claims often (but not always) fail to be objective in this manner. For example, a system with a “first, do no harm” categorical imperative and utilitarianism are going to have radically different things to say about sacrificing an innocent person to bring utility to others. Two independent “instruments” trying to “measure” the same phenomena, and they give different results. That’s an indication of subjectivism.

    The other method science uses to try and ensure objectivity is to extrapolate deductive conclusions from some proposed theory and test them too: if the theory is “objectively” true, then they should all be correct. A scientific theory can be mostly (but not always) accurate. It an be useful without being perfect. And those two factors are very important in science. But to be considered objectively true (a third factor), it must never fail the reductio ad absurdum test: even its most ridiculous predictions must pass empirical muster. In contrast, in my experience moral systems (i.e., theories or hypotheses) almost always fail the reductio test. No matter how well we try to craft them, each system has some deductive conclusion about what is moral or immoral that it “gets wrong” according to normal human judgment.

    Now, that’s okay. The fact that we have yet to find a perfect moral system doesn’t mean moral philosophy is useless (indeed, it might mean its more important than ever) or that we should throw out all moral systems because we can’t find a perfect one. But it does mean that morality looks like it is subjective in a way that, say, QM is not.

    The point is that appealing to the consensus is just the best we can do when trying to distinguish what is objectively true from what is a subjective belief.

    Well, its not. We have at least two other appeals we can make. Both could be called “independent verification of the same claim” but what I mean by saying there is two is (a) confirming the exact same claim via some independent methodology and (b) confirming a different but deductively linked claim.

    I see no reason why we cannot apply the same standard to discussions of morality.
    We can, but IMO they often fail one of the above tests in way a scientific theory like QM does not.

  15. #15 proximity1
    April 16, 2015

    # 12:
    Richard, we could also introduce other (interesting?) factors which complicate (or render more realistic) the picture with which we a dealing. Languages, for example, and how they influence thought, expressions and conception–including what may be thought, expressed and conceived in the first place. Evolution, for another example, and how it implies that we’ve evolved not just “physically” but also, as a consequence of our intellects’ basis in the brain, intellectually; it would follow that our moral sense is also a feature of our physio-intellectual evolution and development.

    When seen in that way, so much about natural law and objective morality is simply and definitively mooted. Indeed, in the divide between those who subscribe whole-heartedly to science and, with it, to biology and evolution, and those who reject these out of hand, there’s little point in a debate over morality since, for the fomer, it’s inevitably sourced in the same precursors which have given us our morphology and, for the latter, it isn’t–it’s literally super-natural in origin.

    At that point, it may be best to try and limit the potential conflicts by concerning ourselves only with the minimum moral prescriptions required to achieve an orderly, fair and sustainable social world—which of course still leaves a world of complex issues open for some necessary consensus as well as the fact that the matters of determining what constitutes “the minimum” probably cannot be divorced from other issues of direct or inirect importance and over which some people will feel a supreme importance is inherently attached.

    I might begin by asking others, “What sort of moral order or arrangements (socially) do you seek to establish and why do you regard those as necessary or desirable?” And, secondarily, pose specific hypothetical situations which draw out how others would address certain important and predictable moral issues which are bound to arise.

    —————–

    Also, to all participating generally, regarding JR’s view that everyone generally agrees on the most basic moral concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, I recommend the following for insight into the problems of such an assumption:

    Links : http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Bob_Altemeyer

    http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

  16. #16 Tulse
    April 16, 2015

    a system with a “first, do no harm” categorical imperative and utilitarianism are going to have radically different things to say about sacrificing an innocent person to bring utility to others. Two independent “instruments” trying to “measure” the same phenomena, and they give different results. That’s an indication of subjectivism.

    While analogies are always inexact, I don’t read this point the way you do. It is our moral intuitions which are the measuring instruments, and the various moral philosophies which are the theories about how morality works. We use our moral intuition to test the conclusions of specific accounts. For example, if one produced a moral theory that was perfectly internally consistent, but caused revulsion in its conclusions (e.g., justified routine genocide), we’d argue that that account of human morality was incorrect — when we test it with our intuitions, the data we get doesn’t match the theory proposed.

    Now, you are certainly correct that our moral intuitions may at times give conflicting or ambiguous outcomes for competing moral theories, but I don’t think that completely undermines the analogy — there are various natural phenomena for which we have competing theories and not enough data, or data that suggests incommensurability. The job of science is to find an account which rationalizes and resolves these conflicts, and I think so to with moral philosophy.

  17. #17 eric
    April 16, 2015

    RW:

    People who assert different basic moral statements are not talking at cross-purposes; they are taking contrary positions.
    Person A: “The morally right thing to do is try to maximise total well-being.”
    Person B: “No, the morally right thing to do is act according to God’s will.”

    If we’re going to analogize to science, I would say that they are asserting competing theories for which nobody can design a generally acceptable cross-theory test. And the fact that nobody can design a generally acceptable cross-theory test is at least a reasonable rule-of-thumb indication that we may have a subjective judgment here. If we contrast moral theorizing with the many variants of string theory, we could say that the problem with string theory is that we humans agree on what a stringtheoryometer would look like, but we just don’t have the engineering know-how to build it. In contrast, a goodometer…well, we can’t even agree on what that would look like. Some people think its a book. Others think its one or more people, or human intuition, or empathy, or a set of axioms and their logical derivatives. And so on.

  18. #18 MNb
    April 16, 2015

    “One of the most overwrought questions in moral philosophy is the question of whether morality is objective or subjective.”
    I’m only interested as far as the argument “objective morality hence god” goes. I call my own morals subjective, simply because I recognize the element of personal preference. I dislike hitchhiking; hence hitchhiking for me is something bad. Someone else might like it: for that person it is something good. That’s utterly trivial of course, but it seems to me that exactly trivial issues like this help to clarify. Now someone may argue one way or another that this example still shows objective morals, but just shrug. Again relabeling doesn’t change the content.
    As I already have written I have developed my ethic pure for myself – I want to avoid inconsistency, because I noticed pretty often people make moral decisions pure out of self-interest and hence use ad hoc arguments. That doesn’t necessarily make them bad persons, but it made me doubt my own moral judgments.
    If someone else uses a different moral system that’s mostly fine with me. I don’t aspire at the least to impose my morals on anyone else, one reason being that doing so would violate my morals.

  19. #19 MNb
    April 16, 2015

    “Virtually everyone understands basic empathy, and understands that it is just wrong to inflict pointless suffering on sentient creatures.”
    I think you’re way too optimistic here. I have seen way too many examples of people lacking such empathy and understanding. Read

    http://www.amazon.com/Bloodlands-Europe-Between-Hitler-Stalin/dp/0465031471

    to find many of them. And I’m not so arrogant to think that I am not capable of committing such horrible deeds, so that’s another reason to formulate ethics for myself.

  20. #20 eric
    April 16, 2015

    I think you’re way too optimistic here. I have seen way too many examples of people lacking such empathy and understanding.

    From personal experience with kids, while some minimal empathy and sense of fairness comes ‘with the biological package,’ a lot of it has to be developed and is not a sure thing. Whether your empathy for others grows as you mature or is stunted early depends very much on your environment. And contra Zebra @2, yes it can be learned as well as experienced. That seems pretty clear to me whenever I point out to my kid some moral equivalency (“if he did that to you…”) and I can practically see the light going off in his head…and by the fact that this sort of feedback is just as important for his moral growth as interacting with other kids is. Probably in some cases the learning (through discussion of right and wrong) is more important and effective than the experiencing.

  21. #21 Richard Wein
    April 16, 2015

    Jason,

    I’m afraid I found your last comment (#13) unresponsive to mine. My comments put very little weight on your use of the word “objective”. I addressed your analogies with science and axiomatic systems, and argued that those analogies were both inconsistent with each other and individually misguided. (Perhaps your comment crossed with my last one, #12.)

    “How can you possibly explain why murder is wrong without referring to some fundamental notion of what it means to be right?”

    Well, you’re assuming it’s true to say that murder is morally wrong, an assumption I reject. So it’s not my job to tell you how to explain why murder is morally wrong. I’m just trying to stop you giving invalid explanations/justifications. Sorry I can’t be more helpful.

    Here you still seem to be making the same error of conflating moral claims with definitions (statements about meaning). We don’t usually have to define our words. If I say, “there’s a table in the next room”, and you doubt the truth of my claim, I may need to justify my claim to you, but my justification won’t include defining the word “table”. Our experience with the use of ordinary words makes us competent in the use of those words, so we don’t normally need to define them. And that includes moral terms. (Sometimes we need definitions because words are ambiguous or vague, so we need to disambiguate. But you’re not in the business of disambiguating between two meanings of “morally wrong”.)

    I think the reason many people resort to definitions when trying to justify their most basic moral claims, is simply that they can’t find any valid justification. When you can’t find a justification for your claim, and it seems to you obviously true, it’s tempting to just insist that it’s true by definition.

  22. #22 Jason Rosenhouse
    April 16, 2015

    eric–

    When I speak of having to rely on the consensus I’m talking about something at a much lower level than what you’re talking about. I’m not talking about testing theories by ferreting out their logical consequences or anything fancy like that. I’m talking about why we’re confident at all that our senses give us accurate information about a reality external to ourselves. I’m basically endorsing Bertrand Russell’s statement (made in the context of a discussion on religious experience):

    I should reply to that line of argument that the whole argument from our own mental states to something outside us, is a very tricky affair. Even where we all admit its validity, we only feel justified in doing so, I think, because of the consensus of mankind. If there’s a crowd in a room and there’s a clock in a room, they can all see the clock. The fact that they can all see it tends to make them think that it’s not a hallucination: whereas these religious experiences tend to be very private.

    Likewise for the table in my kitchen. If someone asks me how I know there’s a table in my kitchen I would say that I can see it and touch it, and that everyone else who has ever been in my kitchen has seen it and felt it as well. But if the person now says, “I didn’t ask you about your sense impressions or anyone else’s sense impressions. I asked you how you know there’s a table in your kitchen!I want evidence, not your own subjective impressions!” We would find that challenge weird. The consistency of everyone’s sense impressions just is how we know there’s a table in the room, and you will search in vain for any better evidence than that.

    Likewise for morality. The fact that virtually everyone innately understands that certain things constitute fairness and justice, and quickly arrive at the same conclusions on basic moral questions deserves language much stronger than “subjective, arbitrary preference.”

  23. #23 Jason Rosenhouse
    April 16, 2015

    Richard–

    Well, you’re assuming it’s true to say that murder is morally wrong, an assumption I reject.

    But I’m sure you agree that murder should be illegal, and that the state should punish anyone guilty of it. So I’ll change the question to, “Why should murder be illegal?” I suspect whatever answer you summon forth will be strikingly similar to the kinds of answers people give to the question, “Why is it morally wrong to commit murder?”

    As for your various other points, I’m not sure what you’re going on about. Where did I say this, for example:

    As VS pointed out, Jason seems to think we can deduce moral conclusions that are objectively true from moral axioms that are not matters of fact, and so are not true.

    Not only did I not say that, I’m not sure what I said that could be misunderstood as that. My only reference to axiomatics was when I said that morality has to be with respect to some standard. I don’t know what it means to say that something is just right or just wrong. You have to say that something is wrong because X, where X might be is contrary to natural law, or is contrary to God’s will, or has harmful consequences, or any of a dozen other possibilities people have put forward. My point was that I don’t see how you can reasonably assert that there is a matter of fact as to what X should be. But if everyone happens to agree on X, and in practice people mostly do, then we can certainly arrive at sound moral conclusions within that system.

    One place where we seem to have a substantive disagreement is this:

    People who assert different basic moral statements are not talking at cross-purposes; they are taking contrary positions.
    Person A: “The morally right thing to do is try to maximise total well-being.”
    Person B: “No, the morally right thing to do is act according to God’s will.”
    In other words, basic moral statements are assertions of substantive fact, and not just definitions.

    Person A and Person B are not arguing over a question of fact. They are expressing different opinions about the proper basis of morality. Each will no doubt think his system is superior to the other, but I don’t see how you can show that ether is factually wrong.

    Moreover, we should take note of how moral philosophers actually discuss the merits of these different moral systems. The way you discredit someone’s moral system is by contriving a scenario in which the system says X is right, but everyone realizes instinctively that X is wrong. In other words, our sense of right and wrong comes first, and the abstract moral systems are judged by the extent to which they confirm our instincts.

    That’s why there is such massive, widespread agreement among all of the major moral systems that people defend. All give the same answer on big questions like murder, rape, theft and assault. All will encourage basic respect for people and will lead to some notion of basic human rights. Any moral system that did not give the right answer on such questions would be dismissed for that reason alone.

    I don’t want these comments to become absurdly long, so I’ll stop here for now. For the record, though, in the paragraph beginning:

    Here you still seem to be making the same error of conflating moral claims with definitions (statements about meaning).

    I’m afraid I don’t understand your point. How am I conflating moral claims with definitions?

  24. #24 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    April 16, 2015

    What Jason seems to say is that morals are obviously non-objective from a formal deductive moral philosophical perspective but at the same time the broad outlines are sufficiently agreed-upon by all sane people that one can pragmatically treat those broad outlines as objective.

    There is no contradiction, but apparently pragmatism is difficult to accept for the solipsist mindset.

    Somewhere between high school and university most of us realise that we pretty much cannot know anything with the certainty required by pure deductive reasoning. And then most of us get over it and pragmatically accept heuristics and inductive reasoning, some of us flee into the warm embrace of divine command theory, revelation and the like, and some of us turn into nihilists or solipsists.

    Memo to the second and third groups: just because the first group isn’t part of yours doesn’t mean it is part of the third or second, respectively.

  25. #25 Jason Rosenhouse
    April 16, 2015

    Alex SL–

    What Jason seems to say is that morals are obviously non-objective from a formal deductive moral philosophical perspective but at the same time the broad outlines are sufficiently agreed-upon by all sane people that one can pragmatically treat those broad outlines as objective.

    Yes! That’s exactly what I’m saying. If only I had said it so concisely.

  26. #26 couchloc
    April 16, 2015

    “It think this widespread agreement, coupled with the revulsion we feel for anyone who demurs from these basic premises, deserves language stronger than “arbitrary, subjective preference.” Things that are described as arbitrary preferences rarely have this level of gravitas attached to them.”

    To me this is the right point to make and it’s good to see Jason making it. I am of the view that one of the greatest limitations of discussions by many people in venues like this is the poor analysis they give to morality. The idea that morality is merely subjective leads to perverse consequences and makes it very difficult to explain our ordinary support for principles of justness, fairness, kindness, etc. So I think Jason is right to emphasize the sense in which morality is objective, and, though I think people around here will not like the view, I think this is a sensible approach and should be more widely considered.

  27. #27 couchloc
    April 16, 2015

    @24 “at the same time the broad outlines are sufficiently agreed-upon by all sane people that one can pragmatically treat those broad outlines as objective.”

    Despite Jason’s note @25 it is worth pointing out that he is going beyond “agreement” as a basis for ethics. As he says in the original article, “It’s not simply that there is large-scale agreement on basic moral principles, it’s that we feel these principles instinctively and recoil from anyone who demurs. As C.S. Lewis famously pointed out, we all have an innate sense of fair play and decency…..” This should be taken into consideration.

  28. #28 See Noevo
    April 16, 2015

    I’ll ask a question of Jason Rosenhouse in the slim hope he will respond and respond substantively:
    What is the Jason Rosenhouse’s moral reasoning on abortion?

  29. #29 See Noevo
    April 16, 2015

    To Tulse #5:
    You write: “Notions of providing morality with foundations based on the ontology of the cosmos seems profoundly misguided, and deeply misses the point of morality.”

    What is the point of morality?

  30. #30 Verbose Stoic
    April 17, 2015

    Jason,

    I think you both missed my point.

    I’m basically borrowing a line from Daniel Dennett by arguing that morality has the only kind of objectivity worth wanting. You’ll notice that at no point do I say flatly that there are objective moral truths. Instead I say things like there is a sense in which morality is objective, and I said I feel comfortable speaking of objective morality, and I talked about how we ever gain confidence that something is objectively true.

    No, I got that. My point was that the sort of objectivity that you say is the only kind worth wanting is, in fact, just objectivity. It is that sort of mind-independent. non-subjective, supposedly abstract idea that says that there is, indeed, a fact of the matter about such things, and a fact of the matter that doesn’t depend on the views or base principles of the people thinking about it. The reason I say this is that the methods that you try to adopt are ones that relate to cases where there is a fact of the matter, and only work because of that. If you think those methods work for morality, then you have to accept that there is a fact of the matter about morality, because appealing to the consensus of people who are applying a certain method only works to get us confidence or truths if there is fact of the matter and the method generally works to get those facts. If, on the other hand, you think that there is no fact of the matter for moral claims then those methods won’t work, and you can’t even get the objectivity that you think is worth wanting.

    In science, it is everyone’s subjective experience that there are physical facts about the world. But when we try to ascertain what those facts are we eventually have to appeal to a consensus. Our subjective experiences of the world become objective truths when large numbers of competent observers report having the same experiences.

    The only way you can mean “subjective” here is the strict sense where our sense impressions are impressions that we only have ourselves, and so argue that therefore they are suspect, and so we need to justify them, which is something that Russell and Dewey argued over. Contrary to your quote, it was DEWEY who argued that we can settle it by consensus, by getting other people to observe the same thing and if they see the same thing then we have support. Russell pointed out that we only have access to their experiences through our own subjective experiences, and while this may be my reading into it the problem is that since we only get them through those subjective sense perceptions we can’t use them to justify them, as that would require us to assume that our subjective sense perceptions are, in fact, giving us accurate facts about the world and then using that to prove that our subjective sense perceptions are giving us accurate facts about the world; if we were going to do that, then we might as well have just assumed that our senses were accurate and eliminated the middle man.

    (There’s a whole essay on that on my blog, if anyone’s interested).

    So if you start from that strong a line, then consensus doesn’t help you. But if you don’t start from that line, then there is no need for consensus to justify our sense perceptions. They seem to accurately reflect the world and that’s all we need. I don’t need to ask others to look to see if your kitchen table is still there unless I have reason to think that my senses are deceiving me. As I said, the repetition in science is not to get more eyes looking at it, but to test it in more and different conditions, to catch out factors that might be playing a role but that might not be known about. Getting more eyes to look at what you see is, generally, not required. So, no, we don’t use consensus to justify scientific claims, but instead use an evidence based approach that hopefully leads to consensus once everyone accepts the evidence. Because we start from an assumption that there is a fact of the matter and that the evidence and arguments lead us to those facts, science can thus overturn consensus not just by convincing others that the consensus is wrong, but instead by providing evidence and arguments for why the consensus is wrong.

    This is what moral philosophy is asking for wrt morality, and what I argue you’re missing and arguing that you don’t need to provide.

    It think this widespread agreement, coupled with the revulsion we feel for anyone who demurs from these basic premises, deserves language stronger than “arbitrary, subjective preference.” Things that are described as arbitrary preferences rarely have this level of gravitas attached to them.

    Well, it depends on what principles you are talking about here. You have a point in saying that for the most part people agree on very basic moral propositions, like that murder is wrong, but they DON’T agree on much more than that. For example, some think that abortion is murder, and some think that it isn’t, with the precise same level of gravitas as they apply to murder and self-defense. When we get into claims about morality being about empathy or about limiting harm, we have even more and even stronger disagreements. If you’re going to appeal to what we all agree on, you’re going to have a very short list, unless you limit it to one culture … but then it isn’t surprising that most of the people in one culture agree on what is moral because they inherit their views on morality from the culture, so that then doesn’t really provide much evidence for the view being right. Science is trusted precisely BECAUSE it’s cross-cultural, remember.

    Suppose someone asks if it is true that murder is wrong. We could tell that person that of course it is, because it deprives people of their basic rights, or it is a threat to society, or a dozen other reasons we could probably come up with. But if that person now shakes his head and says, “No! I didn’t ask you what’s good for society, or how you think people ought to be treated. I asked if it’s true! how could we reply? How can you possibly explain why murder is wrong without referring to some fundamental notion of what it means to be right? I don’t know what it means to discuss right and wrong in the abstract.

    The issue is that that fundamental notion of what it means to be right must be justified in some way. It can’t be just what most people happen to think it is because they could be — and often have been — massively wrong about that. Science, again, allows for arguments to justify overturning the consensus, and so catches errors. How do you propose going about catching errors in the consensus?

    Anyway, there are three main ways that someone could protest your claim about murder:

    1) They share your view of morality, share your interpretation of what the base principles imply, but don’t care; they are willing to act immorally and agree that taking that action is immoral.

    2) They share your base principles, but disagree over what they imply.

    3) They disagree with your base principles.

    Consensus doesn’t help to settle any of these disagreements. For the first, consensus is already there, they just don’t care, so you aren’t going to get anywhere trying to convince them that it’s immoral. All you can do is walk away and note that they are acting immorally. For the second, the argument for why what you think is immoral doesn’t follow from the shared basis is what has to be addressed, and that everyone else might share your interpretation doesn’t make your arguments any better or theirs any worse. For the third, you need a justification for why your base principles really do reflect what morality means. If you can’t provide a justification, then why should anyone accept your stance and, just as importantly, why should they accept it just because everyone else does? An unjustified argument is still an unjustified argument, no matter how many people think it vaguely right. That way either leads to pure subjectivism or to the imposition of moral views on people without justification. Neither is what you want, I think.

  31. #31 Verbose Stoic
    April 17, 2015

    Alex SL,

    What Jason seems to say is that morals are obviously non-objective from a formal deductive moral philosophical perspective but at the same time the broad outlines are sufficiently agreed-upon by all sane people that one can pragmatically treat those broad outlines as objective.

    Oh, so it’s a STRAWMAN then! Well why didn’t you say so? [grin]

    Look, it’s a common misconception that philosophy demands this sort of strict deductively logical approach. It doesn’t. As I said to Jason, the kind of objectivity he’s talking about is PRECISELY the sort of objectivity that moral philosophy is demanding here: there is a fact of the matter that is independent of what anyone happens to think is true, meaning that you can be wrong about what it means to be moral. In short, what they’re after is that morality is not just one person’s opinion — like, say, whether chocolate tastes good — but that there is an answer that is right, like whether or not the world is round, and that if people disagree they a) can be wrong or b) can be convinced that they are wrong by appealing to the arguments.

    So this sort of objectivity is NEVER just about what people think is true. You NEVER appeal to what most people think is true to justify the contention. In fact, one of science’s raisons d’etre is to test what most people think is true to determine if, in fact, what most people think is true really is. So if we want objectivity like science has, and science doesn’t appeal to what people think is true or what the consensus is to decide if something is true, why would we do that for morality?

    Now, our base moral intuitions are important, so let me address this from Jason:

    Moreover, we should take note of how moral philosophers actually discuss the merits of these different moral systems. The way you discredit someone’s moral system is by contriving a scenario in which the system says X is right, but everyone realizes instinctively that X is wrong. In other words, our sense of right and wrong comes first, and the abstract moral systems are judged by the extent to which they confirm our instincts.

    That’s ONE way to do it, and while it’s rhetorically powerful argumentatively it’s weak. What it does best is force the person to reassess their view, but they are always able to “bite the bullet” and say that our moral intuitions are, in fact, wrong, just as we can accept that our senses and consensus on sense perceptions are right and yet point out that sticks don’t really bend in water despite the fact that they look like they do. Ultimately, in order to do that they need to provide a reason for us to think that our moral intuitions are wrong or misleading us in this case. So, for example, one of the counters against Searle’s Chinese Room is that inserting the person into the room misleads us into judging it from their perspective, not that of the whole system, which is why our intuitions fail in that case. For a specific moral example, in trolley cases it can be argued that physical contact engages an emotional response, which is why our intuitions are against pushing the person in front of the train even though by Utiltarianism that’s what we ought to do.

    Let me go through a more detailed example. Under the Stoic view, if someone puts a gun to your head and says to steal $10 or they’ll kill you, it’s morally wrong of you to steal the $10. This contrasts sharply with our moral intuitions. But the Stoic argument is based on these two principles: 1) life in and of itself is not morally valuable, so you should sacrifice your life in order to be moral if necessary and 2) you are only responsible for your actions, not the actions of others. Thus, even under threat of your life, you still stole, and if stealing is morally wrong, then it’s still morally wrong here. If you refuse and they kill you, then that’s their fault, not yours. This also applies to cases where they threaten to kill other people; if they kill them based on your refusal, that’s their moral responsibility, not yours. Our moral intuitions get it wrong because we place too much value on our lives and get the assignment of responsibility wrong. So, given this, simply saying that my view clashes with intuitions isn’t sufficient; you have to argue against my arguments. So, no, our sense of right and wrong does not come first. It provides the starting point and starting framework, but when faced with arguments it has to step out of the picture.

    Somewhere between high school and university most of us realise that we pretty much cannot know anything with the certainty required by pure deductive reasoning. And then most of us get over it and pragmatically accept heuristics and inductive reasoning, some of us flee into the warm embrace of divine command theory, revelation and the like, and some of us turn into nihilists or solipsists.

    Memo to the second and third groups: just because the first group isn’t part of yours doesn’t mean it is part of the third or second, respectively.

    Of course, no one demands that. The closest moral philosophy gets is that you can’t appeal to what people think is the case or to simple facts about the brains of humans to decide what is morally right or wrong because any and all of our evolved traits or ingrained intuitions and ideas of morality could very well be wrong. You can’t go from an is to an ought when you’re dealing with values or even concepts. If that implies that we need a deductive style argument, then so be it, because you can’t get anywhere with the purported alternative.

    That being said, most people can indeed live by folk morality just as they live by folk physics. But let’s not pretend that the folk view there has some kind of intellectual credibility that trumps argument and examination.

  32. #32 Verbose Stoic
    April 17, 2015

    Jason,

    You have to say that something is wrong because X, where X might be is contrary to natural law, or is contrary to God’s will, or has harmful consequences, or any of a dozen other possibilities people have put forward. My point was that I don’t see how you can reasonably assert that there is a matter of fact as to what X should be. But if everyone happens to agree on X, and in practice people mostly do, then we can certainly arrive at sound moral conclusions within that system.

    Just to highlight this, X is exactly what most people DON’T agree on that suggests that morality might be subjective, if X refers to natural law or God’s will or harm or whatever, as you note here. Most people in specific societies and cultures might, but that’s only because they inherit their views from the culture itself, and so OF COURSE they all have roughly similar ideas on what morality is if they learn what reality is from the same source. That doesn’t make them right or mean that you can use that consensus to talk about anything other than what they all happen to agree on. Yes, we can all act according to those rules, but if you take that as a strong view you run into major issues when someone points out that the consensus is WRONG wrt morality, such as when they argue that slavery is wrong.

  33. #33 Richard Wein
    April 17, 2015

    Jason,

    (I’m trying out blockquote tags. I hope they work.)

    But I’m sure you agree that murder should be illegal, and that the state should punish anyone guilty of it. So I’ll change the question to, “Why should murder be illegal?” I suspect whatever answer you summon forth will be strikingly similar to the kinds of answers people give to the question, “Why is it morally wrong to commit murder?”

    I’m not so sure that people’s answers to those two questions would generally be so similar. But even if that’s true, how’s it relevant? We’re discussing morality, not legality. I can’t see what point you’re making.

    BTW, in comment #13 you wrote:

    How can you possibly explain why murder is wrong without referring to some fundamental notion of what it means to be right?

    I think most people would not answer the question “Why is it morally wrong to commit murder?” by invoking some fundamental notion of what it means to be morally wrong, or answer the question “Why should murder be illegal?” by invoking some fundamental notion of what it means to be illegal.

    How am I conflating moral claims with definitions?

    Please see my comment #44 under your previous OP, where you talked quite a lot about definitions and meaning. But the passage I just quoted above suggested to me a similar confusion over the role of definitions (statements about meaning).

    My only reference to axiomatics was when I said that morality has to be with respect to some standard.

    Well, you used the word “axiomatic”, but perhaps I read too much into that. Still, I think there are serious problems with the assertion that “morality has to be with respect to some standard”. It’s not even clear what you mean by it. But it sounds like you are taking some sort of relativist position (relative to a standard), and that seems at odds with your attempt to draw an analogy between moral discourse and science. Do you think that science is like moral discourse in this respect? I don’t think you’ve responded to my comment about your analogy with science (#3). I object more strongly to the second part of your OP, with it’s analogy to science, than I do to the first part, with it’s relativism, so it’s a bit unfortunate that our discussion has concentrated on the latter.

    Person A and Person B are not arguing over a question of fact. They are expressing different opinions about the proper basis of morality. Each will no doubt think his system is superior to the other, but I don’t see how you can show that ether is factually wrong.

    I note that here you haven’t mentioned “meaning” or “definition”. You’re not claiming that these people are telling us what it “means” to be morally right/wrong. That’s a step in the right direction. Let’s suppose for a moment that you’re right in saying that they are “expressing different opinions about the proper basis of morality”. Why can’t these opinions be wrong? Even if there is no such thing as a proper basis for morality (on which I would agree), then surely everyone is mistaken who holds the opinion that his basis is the proper one.

    In fact I don’t accept that they are “expressing different opinions about the proper basis of morality”. The following two statements seem to be of the same sort; one is just more general than the other:
    C: “The morally right thing to do is try to maximise total well-being.”
    D: “The morally right thing to do is give money to charity.”
    It seems to me that you are determined to take the most general moral statements (such as C) as being a completely different type of statement than less general ones (such as D). I say that all of them are “moral claims”, i.e. assertions of substantive moral facts. I’m not saying that there actually are any such facts. I say that such statements cannot be true, and therefore there are no such facts. What I’m objecting to is the false distinctions I see you making between the most general moral claims and less general ones.

  34. #34 Richard Wein
    April 17, 2015

    P.S. I wrote:

    In fact I don’t accept that they are “expressing different opinions about the proper basis of morality”.

    Let me revise that. When someone makes a statement like “The morally right thing to do is try to maximise total well-being”, he is quite likely to be engaging in philosophy, and may well have the goal of providing a proper basis for morality. So, yes, he may well be expressing his opinion as to the proper basis for morality. But that doesn’t change the fact that he is making a moral claim, a substantive assertion that certain sorts of things are morally right. He can be doing both. The two are not mutually exclusive.

  35. #35 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    April 17, 2015

    Verbose Stoic,

    You may be right about the most sensible of professional philosophers but, at least in my experience, not about the majority of internet commenters discussing moral philosophy (or epistemology for that matter).

    There is a tremendous number of people who either consider it absolutely necessary that a deductive-reasoning level of certainty be achieved, and a certain subset of that number dismisses science, naturalism, secularism etc. because they are unable to provide that level of certainty, while another subset derails any productive discussion towards the (to them) earth-shaking insight that we cannot really ground anything on 100% certainty.

    To demonstrate the last point, you just need to look into the previous thread…

  36. #36 couchloc
    April 17, 2015

    VS says in response to Alex SL:

    “Look, it’s a common misconception that philosophy demands this sort of strict deductively logical approach. It doesn’t.”

    As a professor of philosophy I will merely confirm VS’s point here that philosophy doesn’t demand a strict deductive approach.

  37. #37 Richard Wein
    April 17, 2015

    Alex wrote, and Jason approved:

    What Jason seems to say is that morals are obviously non-objective from a formal deductive moral philosophical perspective but at the same time the broad outlines are sufficiently agreed-upon by all sane people that one can pragmatically treat those broad outlines as objective.

    Well, that’s sufficiently vague that it’s hardly worth objecting to. 😉

    I like the fact that the second part emphasises pragmatism, bordering on fictionalism. It’s pragmatic to pretend that moral discourse has a degree of objectivity that it doesn’t actually have. (I suspect Alex and Jason will say that’s not what they mean. I’m choosing to interpret a vague text in a way that makes it something I can agree with.)

  38. #38 Verbose Stoic
    April 17, 2015

    Alex SL,

    You may be right about the most sensible of professional philosophers but, at least in my experience, not about the majority of internet commenters discussing moral philosophy (or epistemology for that matter).

    As someone who has been on the receiving end of such accusations, from my perspective it more often appears to be the case that people react to demands that they prove or justify their position with “You’re asking me to provide deductive certainty!” when the real demand is that the position be supported with something more than “Everyone knows it’s true!”. Jason could be — uncharitably, I think — accused of trying to formalize “Everyone knows it’s true!” when it comes to morality, but we certainly don’t want to rely on that.

    The same things comes to a lot of the objections to purported scientific answers to philosophical questions. With respect to morality, it’s great that science can find neurological and evolutionary correlates/causes for the mechanisms that we usually use to judge the morality of an action, but that doesn’t somehow mean that those mechanisms we use are thus somehow magically justified as being RIGHT about what morality is, or that that trumps all issues that the moral views that rely on those principles have.

  39. #39 zebra
    April 17, 2015

    #38 VS

    What you are saying, correctly, is that if it isn’t arbitrary, it isn’t morality.

    (Also going by your “oomph” comment.)

  40. #40 Verbose Stoic
    April 17, 2015

    zebra,

    What you are saying, correctly, is that if it isn’t arbitrary, it isn’t morality.

    (Also going by your “oomph” comment.)

    I’m an objectivist, so no, which is why I didn’t comment on the other comment. I don’t know what view you’re associating me with here, so am just confused at this point.

  41. #41 proximity1
    April 17, 2015

    …”the broad outlines are sufficiently agreed-upon by all sane people that one can pragmatically treat those broad outlines as objective.”

    Which I guess is a roundabout way of saying that, if one, for whatever reason or no reason at all, doesn’t subscribe to one or more of the most important of the elements of those broad outines, then one isn’t sane in the work-a-day world sense of the term.

    But it happens that certain of those who don’t subscribe–notably, arch-authoritarian personalities–are as indifferent to the question of whether they qualify as members of sane society as they are to the question of whether they are deemed to be in good moral standing in the eyes of what their fellow men and women would refer to as “their fellow men and women” but who, rejecting all such aspects of conventional morality, the authoritarians wouldn’t even deign to consider in those terms. “Rules are for suckers and the dim-witted,” would be their motto. They consider that whatever they can get away with is, by definition, rightfully theirs, if one may use such a pedestrian term as “rightfully.”

  42. #42 zebra
    April 17, 2015

    #40 VS

    Your previous comment:

    “Because satisfying your wants is what pragmatics and practical reasoning is for. If moral reasoning is all about that as well, then moral reasoning is pointless and you might as well just talk about practical reasoning without adding on the extra oomph from making it a moral claim.”

    You appear, in general, to reject any validation or input to your ‘morality’ other than its initial premise. So you are describing in essence a mathematical or logical construct.

    You choose to follow its rules, but you can supply no reason for doing so.

  43. #43 zebra
    April 17, 2015

    #41 proximity1

    I don’t recall if you are the one who referenced Altemeyer in this or previous thread but I don’t follow what you are saying here with respect to authoritarians, if it is the same psychology we are talking about.

    The essence of “morality” is the willingness/need to follow arbitrary rules and structures without question, which is what authoritarians thrive on.

  44. #44 Verbose Stoic
    April 17, 2015

    You appear, in general, to reject any validation or input to your ‘morality’ other than its initial premise. So you are describing in essence a mathematical or logical construct.

    No, I just don’t think that we decide what is moral based on what is practical or most benefits us, either personally or as a group.

  45. #45 zebra
    April 17, 2015

    #44 VS

    Yes, I understand that. You decide what is moral based on “oomph”.

    Which means that you arbitrarily choose some premise, generate a set of rules, and follow them.

    So, if it is “right” to kill someone, for example, you would not allow empathy, for example, to prevent you from doing so.

  46. #46 Verbose Stoic
    April 17, 2015

    zebra,

    Yes, I understand that. You decide what is moral based on “oomph”.

    No. I think morality has oomph because, as moral agents, we should want to be moral and value that highly. I decide what is moral based on what the concept of morality entails, so not arbitrary because I think there is a right way to work out that concept, that must be argued for and defended.

  47. #47 eric
    April 17, 2015

    Jason @22: I’ll agree that in day to day life we don’t (at least consciously) use formal methods to decide if we know a table is there or if some action is right or wrong. I’ll also agree that 20th-21st century western adults probably share a great deal of similar moral intuitions….because they are learned and we all learned from the same sources/environment. I think you are on much less firm ground if your “virtually everyone” is intended to include humans from all age groups, times and cultures. Why is sexism on the decrease? Because 21st century adult westerners do not share the same ethical attitudes towards women that virtually everyone in the western world had a few hundred years ago.

  48. #48 eric
    April 17, 2015

    VS @246 – you might look at the earlier thread before engaging with Zebra. In practice, he appears to use “arbitrary” to mean “subjective” and also seems to think anything arbitrary (by his definition) is meaningless.

  49. #49 Verbose Stoic
    April 17, 2015

    eric,

    That shouldn’t be an issue for me since I’m not claiming that it’s subjective, so it would be just a misunderstanding.

  50. #50 zebra
    April 17, 2015

    #46

    “No. I think morality has oomph because, as moral agents, we should want to be moral and value that highly. I decide what is moral based on what the concept of morality entails,…”

    “We should want to be moral.” ?

    That’s a moral claim in itself, no?

    “I decide what is moral based on what the concept of morality entails”

    Again, “what the concept of morality entails” is a moral claim. I refer you to our guest lecturer Richard Wein at #33, as I did for eric.

    You are making the error of thinking that your initial premise X is privileged, and then saying: “See, I developed Y by sound reasoning from X, so how can you say Y is arbitrary?”

  51. #51 See Noevo
    April 17, 2015

    As I expected – no response from Jason Rosenhouse on his moral reasoning for abortion.
    And none from anyone else, either.

    I haven’t read every post above, just skimmed most of them. Apparently, lots of talk on generalities and hypotheticals. Apparently, not much on specific, concrete moral issues, like abortion.

    I’ve never seen a single argument in favor of abortion that made any sense. Yet, we continue to allow over a million a year, 50+ million human lives deliberately extinguished since 1973.

  52. #52 Verbose Stoic
    April 17, 2015

    zebra,

    You are making the error of thinking that your initial premise X is privileged, and then saying: “See, I developed Y by sound reasoning from X, so how can you say Y is arbitrary?”

    No. I’m trying to justify X by sound reasoning from the concept of morality, and if I do that you can’t say that my X is arbitrary.

    Doing that is difficult and I don’t claim to have it yet, but that is my goal, and my objections here are about people who don’t think they need to do that.

  53. #53 Michael Fugate
    April 17, 2015

    SN, you would stop an abortion even if it cost the mother her life – two deaths are better than one?

  54. #54 zebra
    April 17, 2015

    #52 VS

    You’ve got it backwards. What you call “the concept of morality” is what I am calling X. Y is what you arrive at by reasoning, from X.

    What exactly do you think “the concept of morality” is, anyway?

  55. #55 Verbose Stoic
    April 17, 2015

    I’m arguing that we have to argue for and examine what the concept of morality is, and then we get to notions like “What is moral is what brings the most happiness/fulfills duty/eats crackers” and from there to specific ideas of what is and isn’t moral. So that last question IS, in fact, the question.

  56. #56 zebra
    April 17, 2015

    #56 VS,

    “I’m arguing that we have to argue for and examine what the concept of morality is”

    But I can equally and with as much justification argue that “we have to argue for and examine what the concept of glarb is”.

    Why “moral” and not “glarb”?

    Because we are “moral agents”? But I say we are “glarb agents”, and so “glarb” is what we should be addressing.

  57. #57 eric
    April 17, 2015

    I’ve never seen a single argument in favor of abortion that made any sense.

    …and ladies, he’s single!

  58. #58 dean
    April 17, 2015

    SN, you would stop an abortion even if it cost the mother her life – two deaths are better than one?

    Sure he would – the second one is just a woman. They don’t count for him.

  59. #59 Michael Fugate
    April 17, 2015

    If people like SN really wanted to stop abortion or at least drastically reduce the numbers, they would invest in education especially for girls, add realistic sex education to all schools starting early ( no “just say no” nonsense), access to birth control, prenatal care and child care for all, anti-rape education. That’s just off the top of my head – I am sure I missed something.

    When you church joins the real world and starts treating women as something more than means of the next generation of believers, stop back by.

  60. #60 See Noevo
    April 17, 2015

    To Michael Fugate #53, dean #59:
    “SN, you would stop an abortion even if it cost the mother her life – two deaths are better than one?”

    Does this mean you find abortion morally wrong except when the mother’s life is in danger?

    And just out of curiosity, of the million plus abortions every year in the U.S., how many are because the mother’s life is in mortal danger because of the pregnancy?

  61. #61 Michael Fugate
    April 17, 2015

    SN, did you answer my question? No I don’t think you did. Are you an absolutist?

    I don’t think there are any moral absolutes – so one needs to take things like abortion on an individual basis. There is no one size fits all. I honestly can’t say that being born is better than not being born and I don’t think religions have thought this through very well. Consider how many sperm are produced (each could be a potential being) and even the number of eggs – will all of these “potential” beings be in your heaven? If not, why not? Why the arbitrariness of eternal life associated with your belief? Given the enormous number of potential beings that never gain consciousness – is one less significant?

  62. #62 See Noevo
    April 17, 2015

    To Michael Fugate #62:

    “I honestly can’t say that being born is better than not being born…”

    Spoken like a true atheistic evolutionist. Well, at least you appear to be honest on this critical point.

  63. #63 Michael Fugate
    April 17, 2015

    Spoken like a true weasel – unable to answer even the simplest of questions. Come on SN , stand up for you faith – be a man.

  64. #64 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    April 17, 2015

    Verbose Stoic,

    I guess what you might want to focus on is that JR (and I, for that matter) is totally on board with the moral scepticism and highly sceptical of trying to derive oughts from ises.

    But then we are still left with the urgent need for rules; it is all very nice to armchair reason that there is no absolute foundation for morals, but I still don’t want anybody to walk in, punch me in the face, and walk out with all my money. So we make up and collectively negotiate rules that work to make our lives more secure and productive.

    Some people seem to feel that that is somehow cheating or so – that we should not make those rules up but get them from outside, or that at a minimum we should constantly flagellate ourselves while shouting about how those rules have no ultimate foundation.

    But those rules are exclusively for us humans and they are exclusively enforced by us humans. So what exactly is wrong with us making them up? They are ours. And it is not as if there is another place to get them from. There is nothing odd about this.

    Because people are fairly similar across the planet, certain rules just seem obvious to everybody; but because we get to make the rules anyway, because we are talking self-set rules instead of external facts, this is in an important sense different from everybody believing that the Earth is flat.

  65. #65 See Noevo
    April 17, 2015

    Abortion is inherently evil. Thus, it is ALWAYS wrong, in ALL cases.

  66. #66 Michael Fugate
    April 17, 2015

    So murdering an actual human to save a potential one is ok. Nice to know. Will you be forcing sperm onto ovulating women next – can’t let potential humans go down the toilet? Bringing murder charges for every miscarriage? Brave new world, here we come.

  67. #67 See Noevo
    April 17, 2015

    To Michael Fugate #67:
    That is one insane comment.

    To Jason Rosenhouse:
    You’re quite a man.

  68. #68 Michael Fugate
    April 17, 2015

    Anti-abortion fanatics have already introduced legislation to investigate miscarriages as potential murder. I am surprised you haven’t donated money to their campaigns.

  69. #69 eric
    April 17, 2015

    Abortion is inherently evil. Thus, it is ALWAYS wrong, in ALL cases.

    So when God stands by and lets a miscarriage happen, he’s sort of like the backup nurse in the room where an abortion is being performed. Right?

  70. #70 Another Matt
    April 18, 2015

    You can’t go from an is to an ought when you’re dealing with values or even concepts.

    How do you get to any ought without appeal some is’s? You can’t deduce an ought from an is — this is the point.

    There’s always a danger in these discussions to try to reduce morality to some kind of essence. I think even our moral intuitions are far too complex to be distilled to some kind of Tacit Foundation Of Morality. Being the social creatures we are, all of our interactions with each other are situational. Principles like the Golden Rule are arrived at inductively from the millions of mutually agreeable interactions as a heuristic that is likely to lead to future mutually agreeable situations. This is getting an ought from millions of is’s. Sometimes it will fail, as all social concepts do in behaviorally complex situations.

  71. #71 Another Matt
    April 18, 2015

    Most of those who demand “objective” morality, by contrast, seem to want there to be principles built into the very ontology of existence, woven in the fabric of universe from its beginning like physical laws.

    Yes, this is exactly right. I don’t think this is a dangerous idea on its own, though — it has to be combined with the idea that these principles can be known for certain and that someone has already discovered them.

    A year or so ago a relative told me that the books of the New Testament, being the most perfectly written pieces of literature in the history of the cosmos, are in some sense empirically discoverable because what they contain is woven into the very nature of existence: if they hadn’t been written when they were, eventually someone would write them and they would be just as obviously superior and divinely-breathed. This is the kind of dangerous thinking I’m talking about.

  72. #72 Richard Wein
    April 18, 2015

    @Alex

    I really liked your most recent post (#64). Avoiding the word “objective” helped you express yourself very clearly. 😉 I can’t help feeling that much confusion in this discussion has arisen from Jason’s having set out to justify using that word, instead of simply expressing his views on morality in the clearest language possible. In particular, his desire to use the word “objective” led him into what I see as a very misguided analogy with science.

    Some people seem to feel that that is somehow cheating or so – that we should not make those rules up but get them from outside, or that at a minimum we should constantly flagellate ourselves while shouting about how those rules have no ultimate foundation.

    Let me say that I certainly don’t think we should flagellate ourselves, and I wouldn’t shout such things in the course of ordinary moral discourse. I try to take a very pragmatic approach. But if the subject comes up in a philosophical discussion, I find it difficult to resist pointing out significant errors that I think people have made.

  73. #73 zebra
    April 18, 2015

    #64 AlexSL:

    “But then we are still left with the urgent need for rules; it is all very nice to armchair reason that there is no absolute foundation for morals, but I still don’t want anybody to walk in, punch me in the face, and walk out with all my money. So we make up and collectively negotiate rules that work to make our lives more secure and productive.”

    Alex, what are we collectively agreeing?

    1) If we all agree that we will not punch anyone in the face, then there is no “rule”– we have no need to post a sign that says “everyone has agreed not to punch”, whether on stone tablets or the internet. There is no need to assign the label “immoral” to punching.

    2) If we all agree that punching will result in collective punching back, well, that would be called “law”, and punching would be illegal, not “immoral”.

    So what is this thing called “immoral”? Is it that which everyone disapproves of, as some here suggest? Again, as in 1, if everyone disapproves, we have no need to post a list of such things.

    The problem with this topic is that most people can’t disentangle the two questions “what is on the list immoral?” and “what does immoral signify?”.

    If we were to begin with no preconceptions to create a human community, we could readily implement a system of laws to deal with the punching and the stealing. Courts, cops, and so on.

    But what would having “morals” be like? What would we actually *do*??

  74. #74 Richard Wein
    April 18, 2015

    A further thought…

    One point I think Jason was trying to get across was that moral reasoning has some kind of validity to it. I agree it does. Deductive arguments can be valid regardless of the truth-state of their premises and conclusions, so insofar as a moral argument is deductive, its validity doesn’t depend on moral propositions being truth-capable. Moral arguments, however, cannot be strictly deductive. Much moral argument proceeds by generalising or analogising from specific cases. (“You think this action is immoral, so you should think this other similar action is immoral.”) Still, we can apply loose and fuzzy principles of consistency in this sort of reasoning, and consider such judgements to have a kind of validity, as long as we see this as a very fuzzy matter of degree.

    Where I disagree with Jason is in his insistence that our moral discourse be rooted in a fundamental moral proposition (or “basis for morality”). People generally manage without such fundamental propositions. It may be useful to invent them, but they are not the primary source of our moral values. In fact, attempts by utilitarians to come up with a fundamental moral proposition and then derive conclusions from it often lead to conflicts with our moral intuitions, and such conflicts are often taken as casting doubt on the fundamental proposition. It would be better to employ the metaphor of Neurath’s Boat, seeing good moral reasoning as an attempt to find some sort of “reflective equilibrium”.

  75. #75 Richard Wein
    April 18, 2015

    Zebra,

    I agree with you that moral codes are not a result of “collective negotiation”, as Alex said, at least not in a more literal sense of “negotiation”. The moral values of a society are harmonised (to some degree) by people influencing each other. But we don’t “negotiate” moral codes in the sense of coming to a compromise over something seen as subject to human decision. It’s in the nature of ordinary moral discourse that people take themselves to be discovering or asserting the facts, not creating them.

    There is no need to assign the label “immoral” to punching.

    I think you and I pretty much agree on the metaethics, but I see moral discourse more positively than you do, seeing it as a socially valuable activity even though its claims cannot be true. Making moral claims activates our moral faculty, and helps to instil a sense of moral obligation. We can feel a sense of moral obligation without there actually existing any moral obligations. We can feel a sense of moral obligation even if we believe (at an intellectual level) that no such obligations exist. Without a sense of moral obligation, institutional systems of obligation (like the law) would be much less effective. People would break the law whenever they felt they could get away with it.

  76. #76 Verbose Stoic
    April 18, 2015

    zebra,

    But I can equally and with as much justification argue that “we have to argue for and examine what the concept of glarb is”.

    Why “moral” and not “glarb”?

    No reason. You can try to figure out and argue for and examine what the concept of “glarb” is, too. Or even “grue” and “bleen”. We already have an idea of a concept that we associate with the term “morality”, and so when we’re talking about that and the emotional impact that has on us we need to figure out what that means. For “glarb”, either you mean it in the same way as we generally mean “moral” at which point it’s just a different word for the same concept, or else you mean it as something different at which point we can discuss and argue over it as soon as you give me even some idea what you mean by it. Other than that, it’s all good.

    So this doesn’t seem to be an objection to me. I’m treating “moral” like any other concept we have, and so asking “Why not ‘glarb’ instead?” only means that you have to tell me what “glarb” is before I can even start thinking about it, while for moral we already have an idea (that may be totally wrong).

    Alex SL,

    But those rules are exclusively for us humans and they are exclusively enforced by us humans. So what exactly is wrong with us making them up? They are ours. And it is not as if there is another place to get them from. There is nothing odd about this.

    I already did talk about how you can indeed rely on folk morality since we don’t have anything better, which means that we can rely on our general moral intuitions. But talking about humans just “making them up” to apply to humans has a couple of problems:

    1) We know that it is possible for there to be moral agents that are not humans. We don’t know of any yet, but treating morality as something that is invented by humans for humans means that if we encountered other moral agents we’d have to toss that all away, or else not consider them covered by our view of morality. This does not seem like a good prospect.

    2) The making up of rules and treating them as just made up works right up until we have serious disagreements over the rules. Then we have problems because to take that road means essentially giving up any real way to justify the rules to someone who disagrees with them. So either you have to go on a “live and let live” policy, or you impose the morality of the consensus on those who disagree — which means that you tell people who think slavery is morally wrong to shut up and go away in places and times when most people thought slavery was morally right or reasonable.

    This is, in fact, the issue that brings in the objective/subjective debate . When disagreements arise, we can see that everyone ACTS as if morality is objective, and as if there is a fact of the matter and that the other person is just obviously and crucially wrong about what is or isn’t moral. We see this the most when one person thinks that something is immoral that someone else is doing; they pretty much always insist that the other person is just wrong and are a bad person because of that. But we also notice that the intuition that Jason talks about where it’s hard to see just how you could ever demonstrate that wrongness is strong as well; we really do have no idea how to go about proving that. So, the choices are:

    1) Treat morality as subjective, which means that there is no fact of the matter and so that people who, say, think that homosexuality or abortion are immoral can only be said to have a different idea of morality, and not actually be really wrong about anything.

    2) Treat it as objective and that people can be just wrong about things, but then have to base that assessment on, well, nothing as far as we can see.

    Sure, we can use folk morality to get around a lot of the issues, but not the most serious ones … which is what we really want a moral philosophy or even morality for.

    Another Matt,

    Your comments will be clearer if you address them to the person you’re quoting . I presume that this is in reference to me:

    Being the social creatures we are, all of our interactions with each other are situational. Principles like the Golden Rule are arrived at inductively from the millions of mutually agreeable interactions as a heuristic that is likely to lead to future mutually agreeable situations. This is getting an ought from millions of is’s. Sometimes it will fail, as all social concepts do in behaviorally complex situations.

    To which my reply is that the question is not that. The question is that you can’t say that I ought to do something or that something ought to be a certain way by looking at what it is and saying “That’s the way it ought to be”. You can’t justify that you ought to want X by appealing to you wanting X. You can’t justify that you ought to value X by saying that you value X. You can justify that X ought to be called a planet by saying that it generally IS called a planet.

    So how do you justify your claim that those millions of ises add up to that ought that you are trying to get to, especially in light of a challenge from people who think that they DON’T add up to that and that something else is what ought to be considered? I say you have to do an analysis of the concept as separated from common instances as you can. What’s your approach?

  77. #77 zebra
    April 18, 2015

    #75 Richard,

    The objection is, for me, pragmatic. I would prefer to live in a rational society, where behavior is controlled by rational self-interest (empathy and laws), rather than one in which the members may be motivated by arbitrary labels to which they have been conditioned to respond. As I commented earlier, the latter is an Authoritarian paradigm.

    Like the guy said, “when first they came for the Jews…”.

  78. #78 See Noevo
    April 18, 2015

    In response to my question to Jason Rosenhouse about the moral reasoning in support of abortion, “miscarriage” was brought up three times by two different commenters.

    I guess they don’t see the distinctions between abortions and miscarriages. Or fatal car accidents for that matter.

  79. #79 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    April 18, 2015

    zebra,

    Although there are obvious parallels (see below), you need to differentiate between morals and laws. Yes, laws are just a list and are enforced through threat of punishment. But ‘lying is bad’ or ‘laziness is bad’, for example, do not really have the same kind of enforcement although they are global constants across all of humanity. Enforcement in those areas is mostly through social shunning, which is clearly grounded in the moral intuitions of the majority of people, no more, no less.

    Verbose Stoic,

    (1) That was too literal an interpretation; I merely wrote humans because that is all we have at the moment. If we ever build a mulitcultural society together with the bug beings of planet Zot then we can still phrase such a sentence to be more inclusive.

    I would, by the way, also be extremely surprised if the Zotians wouldn’t have ground rules extremely familiar to us even as they may have odd rituals, eat disgusting food and run around naked. Because a society that counts murder, stealing, lying, laziness and cowardice to be virtues will not work, any society anywhere will have to consider them vices.

    (2) I disagree. To me it works just like laws. Here in Australia people have ‘just made up’ the rule that you have to drive on the left side of the road. If I ignore that rule and cause a terrible accident, and then people want to punish me for breaking traffic laws, nobody will be impressed if I point out that the rule was just made up by humans. Same for Thou Shalt Not Lie.

    See Nuevo,

    The reference appears to be to some anti-choice jurisdictions that indeed do not see a difference between abortions and miscarriages. In Honduras, for example, there are large numbers of women who serve long prison sentences for having had miscarriages.

  80. #80 proximity1
    April 19, 2015

    @ 79 : “But ‘lying is bad’ or ‘laziness is bad’, for example, do not really have the same kind of enforcement although they are global constants across all of humanity.”

    A good example of the problem with so many of the things taken for granted here– No, “laziness is bad” is not a global constant across all humanity”–far from it! Never mind that what should constitute “laziness” does and has varied wildly from place to place and time to time; the point is that “laziness” is not even necessarily a recognized concept in some cultures–consider those (hunter-gatherer) where “work” as we think of it is also a rathe alien idea.

    “Laziness” as a moral failing is something that became an important and familiar part of Christian culture only as recently as the rise to dominance of 15th C. Protestantism –with Puritains as perhaps the best-known proponents.

    If only the Bush family–only one example of numerous possible ones– had raised idle and lazy spoiled know-nothings rather than politically-ambitious dumb-asses!

    There are really only a relative handful of truly universal social customs which are found practically in all cultures at all times. Everything else is a dizzying variety of practices which can often flatly oppose these supposed universal moral truths.

  81. #81 proximity1
    April 19, 2015

    Matt’s points @ 70 speak for me as well.

  82. #82 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    April 19, 2015

    proximity1,

    So in those hunter-gatherer societies they will all happily feed a capable member through over many years who refuses to hunt and gather?

    Sweet deal. Where do I sign up?

  83. #83 proximity1
    April 19, 2015

    RE: “So in those hunter-gatherer societies they will all happily feed a capable member through over many years who refuses to hunt and gather?”

    Uh, well, let’s take your deliberate distortion of my point and see where it goes–“just for fun.” First, nearly all the tribe’s members will be healthy as adults since unhealthy children–and those born with serious birth defects–don’t survive and, in certain cases, if they do, they’re euthanized.

    So, a healthy capable member who simply refused to join in ordinary contributive habits of daily life–refusing to either hunt or gather, for example–would be viewed as peculiar but no one would describe him as “lazy” or point that out as a moral fault. Instead, they’d deal with it pragmatically. Others, if sympathetic, would happily feed him (or her), yes. That would continue for as long as either the person needed or wanted it or the provider was content to provide it. And I think that, yes, years would not be out of the question. It’s practically certain that the so-called lazy person would actually contribute something which others recognize as valuable to the community even if it didn’t include hunting or gathering.

    Save your sarcastic “Sweet deal” until you’ve tried it –though, compared with our kinds of societies, it is a sweet set of circumstances in so many ways (for more about that, read Daniel Everett’s Don’t Sleep–There Are Snakes )

    There’s nothing to sign. These tribes are typically illiterate and rarely have, let alone use, paper, pencils or pens–and if they had them, they’d use them as tokens and ornaments rather than for their itended purposes. Just pay a bush-pilot to drop you off in any of the known Amazon river tributaries–take whatever you’ll need–and look around for a tribal village. Bring plenty of patience and lose your First World assumptions about laziness. People often sleep and wake and talk all through the day and night, eat at any hour (whenever food is available) Hence, “Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes” the customary way to wish others a “good night” in the Pirahã tribe (descibed in the cited book) .

    Links : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Everett

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirah%C3%A3_people

    Besides sarcasm, do you ever concede another person his point?

  84. #84 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    April 19, 2015

    Yes, I was joking, because I cannot believe that you have really convinced yourself that there are entire human societies anywhere on this planet who would tolerate free-loading.

    Even bats punish free-loaders in their midst (that is how universal some moral imperatives really are), but you believe that human ‘noble savages’ are so pure that they don’t, even though if they did it would have lead to the collapse of their societies a tens of thousands of years ago?

    As Terry Pratchett used to write, ‘pull the other one, it got bells on’.

  85. #85 zebra
    April 19, 2015

    #76 VS

    You say:

    We already have an idea of a concept that we associate with the term “morality”, and so when we’re talking about that and the emotional impact that has on us we need to figure out what that means

    If “we already have an idea of a concept that we associate with morality”, OK, what is it? I haven’t had a security clearance for decades, but really, you can trust me with the information.

    But then you say that it has an emotional impact on us. Which is of course the real point; what you are talking about is called rhetoric, political speech, propaganda, and so on. We apply pejorative words like “immoral” or “bad” because of their emotional impact; they need have no actual meaning, as long as the result is to modify behavior.

    Which as I say in #77 is why morality is a “bad” way to order society.

  86. #86 zebra
    April 19, 2015

    #84 Alex,

    Yes, I was joking, because I cannot believe that you have really convinced yourself that there are entire human societies anywhere on this planet who would tolerate free-loading.

    Alex, as proximity1 correctly pointed out, individuals can choose to give food to someone without getting something (concrete) in exchange. Also, individuals can choose to not give food without getting something in exchange.

    What does this have to do with “morality” or “moral intuition”? In either case, it is purely a matter of rational self-interest, and would have no meaningful effect on the survival of a group.

    A rational person with an abundant supply of food could very well share consistently because of empathy– feeling distress at the other person’s hunger. And if there isn’t an abundant supply of food, a rational actor would not engage in mutual starvation with the ‘lazy native’.

    NOTE to VS et al: Yes I am learning how to do the html stuff; apologies until I get it right.

  87. #87 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    April 19, 2015

    Ah, but what has ‘individuals can choose to give food to someone without getting something (concrete) in exchange’ to do with ‘laziness is totally acceptable to some societies’?

    (Also, I just realise that my original claim was not even that strong; it was merely that no society can function that rewards and encourages laziness, so we would not expect extraterrestrial societies to do so.)

  88. #88 proximity1
    April 19, 2015

    RE: 84 & 87

    “Ah, but what has ‘individuals can choose to give food to someone without getting something (concrete) in exchange’ to do with ‘laziness is totally acceptable to some societies’?”

    I gather from your comments that you’ve never read the sources I cited and it’s clear from your ignorant reply that you didn’t bother to inform yourself about them since I posted my comment. Why is that? Are you afraid I might be correct in my views–or, that is, that the specialist on whom I rely here might be correct and, perhaps worse, that in reading them he might convince you just as he convinced me?

    I still don’t know what to do about “participants” here who, when challenged with evidence which disputes or refutes their claims, just ignore it and go on as though it didn’t exist. (*) Why, if that’s your idea of intellectually respectable behavior, do you even bother frequenting a site concerning science? Ignore them, I guess.

    You persist in missing the point: while it’s what _you_ consider “laziness”, the term and the concept are alien to the culture I’m describing. The forest provides for all needs. “Cost-benefit” thinking does not compute in these circumstances–in which the entire tribal goup would be, according to your view, “freeloaders” taking free advantage of the forest’s bounty without more effort that walking in and seaching. These tasks are done naturally, not as “work”. No one keeps score, keeps books, on his fellows. Though there is sometimes jealousy among members for reasons of sexual promiscuity, but even that is largely taken for granted. Ownership is an alien concept. And you’re apparently incapable of suspending your own culturally-borne presuppositions.

    To me, while not a moral failing, it is a regretable trait I’ll just describe as stupid.
    ————————–

    (*) The above-starred question is one I’ve been pondering and meaning to ask for some time. I pose it here but I also address it to readers here generally and would be interested to see it discussed more extensively somewhere in a thread in this blog.

  89. #89 zebra
    April 19, 2015

    #88 proximity1,

    In response to your starred question, I note again that while you cite Altemeyer you seem not to perceive in the real world how the traits he discusses manifest themselves.

    See my #43.

  90. #90 proximity1
    April 19, 2015

    89: Yes, I think I do. I also think that if Altemeyer were to join us in this discussion he’d back my general point– that authoritarian personalities often typically do not regard themselves as bound by any moral constraints beyond what they might happen to find momentarily convenient. As for others, they’re entirely pleased that they subscribe to action-limiting constraints of moral codes because, quite simply, that leaves them all the freer to do without so many unscrupulous competitors–and they tend to view things as a zero-sum game in which there is only a winner and the rest, more or less, the losers.

    Could you elaborate on what you meant that I’ve missed?

  91. #91 zebra
    April 19, 2015

    #90

    I think you are confusing Authoritarian Personality with the characteristics of those who exploit those with AP– I forget the exact term he uses. What you are describing is more a sociopathic personality, one who doesn’t actually believe in the group tenets (‘morality’) or hierarchical structure, professing solidarity only because it serves his personal ambitions.

    Altemeyer also says that there is a class which combines the two, the most dangerous “true believer”, who obviously rises to the top of the hierarchy.

    I can elaborate on my own interpretation of personality traits like these in the current context, but I will wait to see where you stand on what I just said.

  92. #92 proximity1
    April 19, 2015

    @ 91: “Altemeyer also says that there is a class which combines the two,the most dangerous “true believer”, who obviously rises to the top of the hierarchy.” (emphasis added)

    They are these types which I have in mind when I refer to “authoritarian personalities” in the context of this thread’s discusion. So, are we closer to agreement?

  93. #93 zebra
    April 19, 2015

    #92

    Although I’m usually comfortable having a discussion where there is stipulated definition by agreement (see all my glarbs and glibborals), as a long-time Altemeyer fan who often references him I am reluctant to disseminate imprecise versions of his actual terminology.

    But it isn’t clear to me, terminology aside, what you are getting at with these people. Are they examples of “not having real (sincere) morals” or something like that?

    BTW, I’m off to enjoy the fine weather outside this afternoon but I will be back later to check in.

  94. #94 See Noevo
    April 19, 2015

    To Alex SL #79:
    “The reference appears to be to some anti-choice jurisdictions that indeed do not see a difference between abortions and miscarriages. In Honduras, for example, there are large numbers of women who serve long prison sentences for having had miscarriages.”

    I can’t imagine what the moral reasoning would be to justify prosecution of miscarriages (i.e. unintended termination of pregnancy). Seems quite irrational to me.

    I’m not interested in dialoging with irrational people. It’s pointless and fruitless.

    Perhaps the two commenters who brought up miscarriages can’t think of a rational argument for abortion (in fact, I know they can’t) so they tried a diversionary tactic with “miscarriages.” But that tactic doesn’t work.

    Also, I need to tell you, in case you weren’t aware, that by saying “anti-choice”, you’re using an objectively false phrase. You’re free to continue doing so, of course. And perhaps you will, if you don’t mind using objectively false phrases. There is no “choice” involved. You can’t choose something you already have (i.e. the right to give birth). Thus, “pro-choice” means one and only one thing: pro-abortion/pro-abortion rights. Better to show some clarity and courage, and say what you mean.

  95. #95 proximity1
    April 19, 2015

    @ 93

    RE: “Are they examples of “not having real (sincere) morals” or something like that?”

    I don’t claim to either speak for or represent Altemeyer’s own views. Nor am I what one would call a purist or more than an admirer of his. I’m taking basic concepts such as I have thought him to support and trying to apply them to the context of this discussion—in which, specifically, it has been argued that there is a fairly clear set of essential morals which effectively govern the voluntary behavior of nearly everyone except perhaps those who are are the outer reaches of sanity. I doubt that this vision of a shared very basic morality is quite as valid as seems to be thought here. And, just as your comments pointed out, those who don’t subscribe who most concern me are, yes, the people which “combine the two (classes) and who, I very much agree, do indeed “rise to the top hierarch” in hierarchical systems because they are amoral or worse, immoral as I regard it, and recognize no moral codes as binding them in their treatment of others.

    I don’t mean to assert more than this summary just above and I don’t contend that this is necessarily precisely Altemeyer’s own view, merely that it is close enough to fall within the broad perameters of his work so far as I understand it. I’m not trying to employ his own specialist terms here as he would, but rather am using them in an informal way.

    If you’re looking for strictness in use of his theories and terminology for the purposes of this thread, I’d be obliged to undertake a refresher reading of his text(s) and that’s more than I’m able to take on at the moment. So for that, please count me out.

  96. #96 Michael Fugate
    April 19, 2015

    Boy SN you are naive – aren’t you? Seriously a woman is pregnant and then she isn’t – how do you know she didn’t have a secret abortion? Radio-tracking during her pregnancy? An absolutist like you can only be so if one lacks empathy. We already talked about the life of the mother – which you would gleefully kill off to save a fetus. There are other reasons, lack of food, severe deformities, even privacy issues with pregnancy and adoption. I can’t see how having a child who will be in severe pain for their entire life dying before 5 is better than not being born. How do you justify that? Does your god have no mercy? These are challenging decisions – they are no easy as Jason said made from a comfy chair with pillows, leg rests, and a nice glass of port. Join the real world with real people – it will make you human – now you are just a caricature.

  97. #97 Michael Fugate
    April 19, 2015

    Another thing is the motivation of the anti-abortionist – is it the “sanctity of life” or is it the control of women? Many want to control women’s reproductive rights as a way to disempower women. Birth control allows a woman to take control of her life in a way many men can’t handle. This is part of the greater civil rights movement – where white, straight males aren’t the only ones in power. All you need do SN is commit to comprehensive education discussing sex and relationships in real world and freely available birth control, then abortion will be rare. The problem is the males running the RCC are completely divorced from reality.

  98. #98 eric
    April 19, 2015

    VS:

    treating morality as something that is invented by humans for humans means that if we encountered other moral agents we’d have to toss that all away, or else not consider them covered by our view of morality.

    You seem to think this is an outcome to be avoided, but I dont’ see how it could be otherwise. Are you really going to call bonobos a bunch of sexually imorral sluts? Would you call them that, even if they all started using sign language to talk to us? No! That would make absolutely no sense.

    Now if we ever do end up with a case of two different sentient species interacting, we’re going to have to develop rules of engagement, a “common morality” or at least common set of laws which come into play when these species are interacting with each other. But it would not make much sense to apply human morality to bonobo-bonobo interactions, or even more ridiculous, alien-alien interactions.

    See Noevo:

    I can’t imagine what the moral reasoning would be to justify prosecution of miscarriages (i.e. unintended termination of pregnancy). Seems quite irrational to me.

    We prosecute the unintentional killing of adult humans, we even have a name for it: manslaughter. So if you folks on the pro-life side really think that a zygote is morally equivalent to an adult human, then you should think that the unintentional killing of a zygote is manslaughter. It is a deductive, logically necessary outcome of your – the pro life side’s – moral premise. This is why we bring it up: to show that your position is paradoxical and not self-consistent. We also bring it up as a ‘hint’ to you to think about what your feelings toward miscarriage might imply. I agree with you that we should not prosecute them, and that that seems irrational. The reason it seems irrational is because a zygote is not a person; the loss of one is not the sort of thing that most of us believe requires a full-sized police investigation in order to determine whether a crime has been committed. Yet, an untimely adult human death does that, right?

  99. #99 See Noevo
    April 19, 2015

    As I said, the two commenters who brought up miscarriages have no rational arguments for abortion.

  100. #100 Alex SL
    April 19, 2015

    proximity1,

    It is not that I don’t care about evidence, it is only that your claim as I understand it has a zero prior probability attached to it. If I were to claim that the sky is green with orange stripes and presented you with two references, I doubt that you would bother reading them.

    Putting on the charitable hat I can only assume that we continue to talk past each other. For example, you have now raised the issue of ownership being an alien concept, which has nothing to do with what I wrote. You have further repeated your statement that certain societies have no concept of ‘work’; that is great, and unless you know German you probably don’t have a concept of Hochzeitsfeier either. But you will presumably have a concept of wedding celebration, so what’s the difference? Because they have to go into the forest and hunt or search for food, and because they need to fashion tools to be able to hunt etc., they have to do work; that is simply what the word means. Playing around with word tricks, such as only defining work as work if it is salaried or suchlike, won’t change that.

    And that directly shows that the group isn’t freeloading on the forest (a concept that would only make sense if the forest were a fellow human anyway), because they have to expend an effort to get their resource. But a human can still freeload on other members of the tribe if they never contribute anything – never search for food, never make a tool, never help raising children, never build a shelter, nothing. Hey, maybe you are right and there are sane people on this planet who would, potentially by themselves, happily bring food and prepare clothing for all the other twenty members of their group while those sit around and never do anything. It just seems the neighboring tribe where all 21 people work would wipe the floor with them at some point, so I can only assume that you are not actually making any claim, or that your references do not support any claim, that contradicts what I wrote, just as I would if somebody made that claim about the sky.

    By the way, I would argue that somebody who insults other people when they don’t immediately agree with them might potentially be more deserving of the term “authoritarian personality”.

    See Noevo,

    This is about unintended consequences; outlaw abortion and every woman who has a miscarriage is automatically suspect. If abortion is outlawed in a jurisdiction, it seems fairly obvious that making it look like a miscarriage, for example by ‘accidentally’ drinking a good helping of pennyroyal tea, would be the safest strategy for a woman who desperately needs an abortion. So how is the police or a judge to distinguish? Can of worms, and the example of Honduras is ample demonstration for where that leads.

    Choice: No, the situation is exactly the other way around. Pro-choice activists are not actually, as the other side likes to insinuate, anti-life; they would only be so if they wanted to force everybody to have an abortion. However, anti-abortionists do want to take the choice of either carrying to term or not carrying to term away from people, whether you think that is how it should be or not. It is thus the case that “pro-life” does not make any sense, but “pro-choice” does. You are merely begging the question by claiming that there is no choice because carrying to term is the only right anybody should have.

  101. #101 dean
    April 19, 2015

    Michael, vermin like sn already have had their little fever dream for a new way to punish women come true.

  102. #102 Michael Fugate
    April 19, 2015

    If one actually believes life begins at conception, then it does lead to all kinds of absurdity – something the anti-abortion zealots can’t fathom. Why have birthdays and not conception days? Why shouldn’t every woman having sex need to register the act with the police? Seriously, if the zygote is fertilized and doesn’t implant it is a potential homicide and should be investigated as such – 38 states in the US now have fetal homicide laws. Need to catch the “body” before it goes down the drain. Why else would the anti-abortion crowd oppose the day after pill, if they didn’t believe it is a homicide?

    What also is absurd is the idea that Christianity has anything resembling “sanctity of life” – their very own God killed people right and left if the Bible is to be believed (e.g. the flood, the passover) and ordered the killing of others for all manner of silly offenses. Then of course, there are the wars fought in the name of and by religions and their support of murderous governments. Sanctity of life, ha!

  103. #103 See Noevo
    April 19, 2015

    To Alex SL #100:
    In the U.S., abortion was outlawed prior to 1973. In those times, I never heard of a can of worms involving miscarriages and police and judges. Can you provide some articles on the alleged widespread witch hunts back then?

    And no, YOU have it exactly wrong. “Pro-choice” IS an objectively false phrase. It’s also a deliberately deceitful one, made to sound nice (i.e. “Choice” is good. Who would ever be against “choice”?)

    “Choice” is the power or freedom to select from two or more things you don’t currently have. In this context, one of the so-called options – giving birth – is not an option at all for it is something the woman ALREADY possesses. You can’t choose something you already have and have always had – the right to give birth. You’re statement that “… anti-abortionists do want to take the CHOICE of either carrying to term or not carrying to term away from people…” is a lie.

    To dean #101:
    “Michael, vermin like sn already have had their little fever dream for a new way to punish women come true.”

    What do you do with vermin, dean?
    http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007819

    P.S.
    Legalization of abortion was a great gift to certain men. The cowardly, selfish, sex-obsessed, immature, womanizing, dishonorable kind.

  104. #104 proximity1
    April 20, 2015

    @ 100:

    “It is not that I don’t care about evidence, it is only that your claim as I understand it has a zero prior probability attached to it. If I were to claim that the sky is green with orange stripes and presented you with two references, I doubt that you would bother reading them.”

    I assume that’s not another one of your jokes. But even if it were, it would still be just ridiiculously hilarious in a pathetically sad kind of way. Your retort is a stunning example of a failure of logic, and yet, it seems that you are completely oblivious to that failure. What am to think?

    To give you a straight answer to your speculation– “If I were to claim that the sky is green with orange stripes and presented you with two references, I doubt that you would bother reading them” — you can be sure that I would read them if they’d been the work of reputable meteorologists or, as the case may be, if the authors were scientists or other advanced specialists in the relevant disciplines as is the case here. What I would not do is what you’re doing: concerning a field of study about which you apparently know or have read next to nothing–if your comments are any indication–you’re presumptively dismissing out of hand a reference to wok done by an acknowledged specialist.

    Am I the only one here who considers that sort of behavior bad enough when it’s done by Young Earth Creationists but, when done by a supposed trained scientist (Phylobotanist) it’s a genuine disgrace ?

    Tell you what–I’m going to invite Professor Everett to have a look at our exchange of views. Maybe he’d even care enough to enter a comment of his own–though he’s very busy and it wouldn’t surprise me if he decided it wasn’t worth his time to comment on this circus-clown logic in which you trade here.

    Then I’m going to look for some blogs where professional anthropologists comment and invite some of them to come have a look at your “sky is green with orange stripes” dismissal of the points in contention and hope that some of them will also care enough to comment. Finally, do your fellow phylobotanists know the sort of image your laughable deficiencies in logical reasoning suggest about the level of intellect which is sufficient to do work in your field? If I were a phylobotanist, I’d be ashamed of having the likes of you as a colleague. It’s a wonder how you ever earned a science degree!

  105. #105 zebra
    April 20, 2015

    #95 proximity,

    Very clear. There’s no problem WRT Altemeyer since I too would have to refresh if we were going to seriously have at it over his formal language. We can provide our own version of terms and sort things out as we go.

    Here are some of mine:

    -Empathy: Responding to the discomfort of others; an instinctual (not “intuitive”) response which can be developed and reinforced, which can operate immediately and emotionally or incorporate cognition, and which can expand from close family to all living entities.

    WRT Personality:

    -Sociopathic/Narcissistic: Lacking empathy or having a very limited scope of empathy, and a limited empathic response relative to the desire for self-gratification.

    -Empathic/Compassionate: The opposite of S/N.

    -Authoritarian 1: Self identity highly dependent on group identity; discomfort with ambiguity, and therefore requiring rRules to navigate life and interactions. Comfortable when there is a hierarchical structure within said group. Kisses up, kicks down, has an unrealistic and pathological view of those outside the group.

    -Authoritarian 2: A1 + S/N.

    Here’s where we disagree: When you use “amoral” or “immoral”, you are falling into (what I consider the trap) of conflating [what is on the list “immoral”] with [what “immoral” signifies]. You are saying that these A2 people are being hypocritical or dishonest or exploitative– something that’s on your list “immoral”. But to me, they are simply doing what they do– it is the parable of the scorpion and the frog, writ large.

    To me, moral or amoral simply means authoritarian (A1) v not-authoritarian. Follows rules or not.

    Think about the categories and you will see that one can be amoral and E/C, or moral and S/N, as in A2, the true believer. You can even be A1 and have limited E/C as well; the classic Mafia hit-man who loves his dog and children.

    I don’t usually write so much, so to sum up: We don’t need no stinkin’ morals.

  106. #106 eric
    April 20, 2015

    SN:

    “Choice” is the power or freedom to select from two or more things you don’t currently have. In this context, one of the so-called options – giving birth – is not an option at all for it is something the woman ALREADY possesses. You can’t choose something you already have and have always had – the right to give birth

    That’s absurd.

    Choice (noun): (1) the act of choosing : the act of picking or deciding between two or more possibilities. (2) the opportunity or power to choose between two or more possibilities. (3) the opportunity or power to make a decision. [Mirriam-Webster]

    Choice has nothing to do with past posession of something. I had a choice on which shirt to put on this morning, even though I “currently had” many of them. If you want to stick with biology and sex organ capacity, I had the choice of whether to masturbate this morning even though I already possessed that capability. The term ‘pro choice’ obviously and clearly refers to the policy position that women should be legally permitted to get abortions if they choose to have them. The fact that the woman making that choice has the biological capability to have a child does not make it “not a choice.” I have rarely or never heard anything more ridiculous in my life.

  107. #107 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    April 20, 2015

    proximity1,

    I find it very unpleasant to continue a conversation that proceeds at the level to which you have dragged it. Again, I believe we are simply talking past each other. I have not claimed more than that certain moral imperatives defining vices or virtues – don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t be lazy, don’t be a coward when defending your group in battle – are essentially constants across humanity and that I expect them to be constants across all sentient beings because the opposite wouldn’t make a functioning society.

    That is not a very strong or revolutionary claim at all. You have worked yourself up into a rage-driven frenzy of insults and condescension over a simple disagreement on the imperative not to be lazy simply because you do not define hunter-gathering as ‘work’. Isn’t that a bit disproportionate? (To cite Jason Rosenhouse: “People get really worked up about it, but I’ve never understood why.”)

    Now perhaps you truly believe, to belabour that example again, that if one work-capable member of a hunter-gatherer tribe spent years sitting in the village and having others serve their every whim without contributing anything* they would not in that way annoy the other members at all. If that is truly the case, I find your capability to believe that very impressive, but still find it totally implausible. No, that is no joke, that is just how it is, and disagreements like that happen, and generally nobody flies into a spittle-flecked fury over them. I wouldn’t even react like that to somebody believing in special creation, and that would be a much more momentous disagreement.

    Even group-living animals are known to penalise free-loading, it is that universal and selection-favoured an instinct. Are you sure you did not misunderstand anything? That it is not a matter of tit-for-tat where somebody may not have to contribute for a day because people know they will contribute again another day, or do something else instead? Have you perhaps observed yourself such a case of a society happily incentivising perennial free-loading but remaining functional?

    *) Priests, shamans and witch-doctors don’t count, by the way. Although an atheist may argue they don’t contribute anything worth the investment the other members of a society usually believe that they do.

  108. #108 Tulse
    April 20, 2015

    SN, do you believe that fetuses have souls? If so, where do the souls of aborted fetuses go?

  109. #109 zebra
    April 20, 2015

    #107 Alex,

    If you keep repeating exactly the same argument with slight variations, that may be construed as trolling, passive-aggressive, or to use my terms middle-school ipse dixit level of argumentation.

    I disagree with proximity1 on what I perceive to be some of the substance of his comments, but we are, I hope, trying to find some common ground from which we can characterize our disagreement. Maybe you should try to do the same.

    I pointed out to you that there is no practical reason why a culture that lives in conditions of abundance could/would not support free riders. There is also no reason that individuals in such a condition would not share food, because they might just “feel good” about doing so. Proximity1 is referencing anthropology/sociology which has observed such behavior, which can persists for longer or shorter periods, again depending on environmental conditions.

    You show no interest in understanding how that would work, or examining the flaws in your logic. My advice to proximity is to ignore you and others like you here, after you have been given multiple chances to interact constructively.

  110. #110 Alex SL
    April 20, 2015

    proximity1,

    Hm. I cannot easily acquire Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes of course, but the Wikipedia entry on the Piraha does not appear to make any mention of them welcoming or even just tolerating free-loaders, merely that they don’t care much about possessions (followed immediately by the contradiction that they trade for goods with other societies).

    It is possible that where we are talking apart is that you consider laziness meaningless to them because they may not have any collective projects if individuals can just walk into the forest and come out with food for themselves. So from a certain perspective that could be taken to make sense. However, that would still leave child rearing (unless mothers expect no help whatsoever from anybody else, which seems unlikely), and I might also point out that everybody caring for themselves is the opposite of laziness, and that being able to feed oneself would still not necessarily mean that somebody capable can simply sit around and expect others to happily feed them all the time. Quite the opposite actually; if it is so easy to care for yourself then I’d expect it to be even more offensive if you don’t.

  111. #111 Alex SL
    April 20, 2015

    zebra,

    I was hoping that I for my part had pointed out that there is no society that exists under conditions where nobody has to work (unless you count groups of plants, corals or fungi). Berries and fish do not magically jump into anybody’s mouths, nor do the clothes that, according to Wikipedia female Piraha like to wear appear out of thin air.

    Further, I do not need to find the flaw in my logic; as proximity1 himself points out, I need to reassess the evidence, but really I think it is rather a matter of differing definitions or of differing perceptions of the same evidence.

    And it is not as if proximity1 has ever seen the need to address anything I wrote beyond anonymously hurling insults at me and claiming that I fail as a scientist because I disagree with him over a matter of complete, utter and total irrelevance, so you may want to re-evaluate our behaviours vis a vis the definition of internet troll.

  112. #112 zebra
    April 20, 2015

    #111 Alex:

    “Further, I do not need to find the flaw in my logic”

    Ah, the cunning of the insane… (joke, OK)

    and that being able to feed oneself would still not necessarily mean that somebody capable can simply sit around and expect others to happily feed them all the time. Quite the opposite actually; if it is so easy to care for yourself then I’d expect it to be even more offensive if you don’t.

    But what you would ‘expect’ is not scientifically or rationally meaningful; it is called “argument from incredulity.”

    There are perfectly pragmatic, scientific, explanations for the existence of exactly such behavior. I gave one, you ignored it.

  113. #113 Alex SL
    April 20, 2015

    Well, I am sorry that I cannot currently ask the Piraha directly or acquire and finish reading the book proximity1 recommended before we have all moved on. That is how it goes. We exchange our opinions, we go away hopefully with pointers and something to think about which may lead to a long-term change in opinion, and nobody calls each other names. At least that is what would be desirable.

    Yes, you gave the explanation that they live in plenty. And then I pointed out that they nonetheless have to work to obtain that plenty because it doesn’t move into their stomachs out of its own accord. If I keep reiterating that observation, as you noted, then it is not because I ignored something.

  114. #114 proximity1
    April 20, 2015

    @ 107

    “You have worked yourself up into a rage-driven frenzy of insults and condescension over a simple disagreement on the imperative not to be lazy simply because you do not define hunter-gathering as ‘work’.”

    Oh baloney! My annoyance is with your amazingly anti-intellectual attitudes and, only secondarily, your readiness to take such definitive positions on things which you don’t really know much of anything about–that and your disdain for others’ competence in a field outside your own and then there’s the fact that your logical reasoning skills are so amazingly deficient.

    If you came back with some sort of logically sound reason to

    reject a source without bothering to even examine it (that doesn’t require a full reading, just an effort to learn enough to have some basis for an opinion as to whether it’s worth more time–but you dismissed that, at least at first.

    ————————-

    Zebra’sa points @ 109 state my sentiments, too. It’s a pity I didn’t read it before writing the above. He wries,

    “You show no interest in understanding how that would work, or examining the flaws in your logic.”

    Exactly. That, in a professional scientist, is what I just don’t get–except of course for the fact that, after all, scientists have practically all the failings found in non-scientists if one looks long enough.

  115. #115 zebra
    April 20, 2015

    Alex,

    The explanation I gave was that an individual benefits from free riders because it offers him the opportunity to be ‘generous’, meaning that he gets a positive feedback from the act of feeding this hungry person.

    And, at a group/species survival level, feeding a (potentially productive) free rider makes more sense than feeding e.g. a crippled old woman with dementia. If the free food stops coming, because some hunters get hurt, the FR will get off his butt or starve.

    That’s what you are ignoring. Only as many people need to hunt as is necessary to feed the group. That, if you like, is what’s “natural”.

  116. #116 See Noevo
    April 20, 2015

    To eric #106:

    You responded:
    “The term ‘pro choice’ OBVIOUSLY and CLEARLY refers to the policy position that women should be LEGALLY PERMITTED to get ABORTIONS if they choose to have them.”

    Yes!

    “Pro-choice” means one and only one thing: Pro-ABORTION/pro-ABORTION RIGHTS.

    I’ll advise you what I said to Alex SL: Better to show some clarity and courage, and say what you mean.

    You should also drop “right to protect women’s reproductive health”, “right to do what I want with MY body”, etc. Very disingenuous. Just say you’re pro-abortion rights.

  117. #117 proximity1
    April 20, 2015

    Z. @ 105

    That was a helpful comment and gives me some idea of where my comments skipped over certain things I didn’t suppose required expression–but see that perhaps they did.

    RE: “Here’s where we disagree: When you use “amoral” or “immoral”, you are falling into (what I consider the trap) of conflating [what is on the list “immoral”] with [what “immoral” signifies]. You are saying that these A2 people are being hypocritical or dishonest or exploitative– something that’s on your list “immoral”. But to me, they are simply doing what they do– it is the parable of the scorpion and the frog, writ large.”

    I’ve used “immoral” (esp. WRT A2 types) as a kind of short-hand for any person who is seriously deficient in empathy and if you found my comments questionable it may be because nowhere in all that did I bother to indicate that, for me, it’s only incidental whether the person’s lack of empathy springs from a calculated approach or is rather due to his inherent physical make-up and its deficiences–nor do I even know if those are two distinguishable things in the first place. I suspect that, at bottom, it’s all of a piece.

    So, in brief, it’s the practical outcomes which concern me as much as if not more than the individual’s own motives– or, that is, his ability to be empathic but preference to ignore those feelings, or, on the other hand, his general lack of empathy which is beyond his own awareness or control.

  118. #118 dean
    April 20, 2015

    ““Pro-choice” means one and only one thing: Pro-ABORTION/pro-ABORTION RIGHTS”

    Pro-choice means women can decide what they want: your view is that women should do what you want, and nothing else.
    Your religion has long espoused “the value of women” only when they
    * keep their mouths shut about stuff men should decide
    * stay pregnant and giving birth

    Anything else and you’ve cast them aside as trash. It is a good thing that changed. It’s a pity you have no ethics.

  119. #119 Another Matt
    April 20, 2015

    Alex SL:

    Now perhaps you truly believe, to belabour that example again, that if one work-capable member of a hunter-gatherer tribe spent years sitting in the village and having others serve their every whim without contributing anything* they would not in that way annoy the other members at all. If that is truly the case,

    *) Priests, shamans and witch-doctors don’t count, by the way. Although an atheist may argue they don’t contribute anything worth the investment the other members of a society usually believe that they do.

    Why do shamans not count? Imagine this in a simpler animal behavior scenario with a social species that has a mating hierarchy or other similar kind of “class” system. It doesn’t seem too implausible that one class could develop a masked free-rider strategy where the other animals in the group either do not notice the free riding or the deception is good enough to fool the other animals. It’s still free riding even if the others in the group believe the free-riding class is pulling its own weight.

    I think that there is a phenomenon in the West where free riding is very richly rewarded: royalty. Not everyone in a royal family is involved in matters of state or anything else of import, but they still get the royal treatment.

  120. #120 eric
    April 20, 2015

    Alex:

    I have not claimed more than that certain moral imperatives defining vices or virtues – don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t be lazy, don’t be a coward when defending your group in battle – are essentially constants across humanity and that I expect them to be constants across all sentient beings because the opposite wouldn’t make a functioning society.

    This is something of a stripped-down variant of Kant. One problem is that that your argument deals very poorly with behavior people may do sometimes. It only considers whether society would break down if everyone did it all the time. Thus, if everyone runs around killing other people, society breaks down. If the occasional person kills in self-defense, it doesn’t. If we lie constantly, it is hard to form constructive relationships. If we tell a loved one they are going to pick up a box at a friends’ house when they are actually going to a surprise birthday party, society rolls along just fine. If everyone attempted to free ride all the time, society would break down. If we all do it some small amount of the time, society gets along just fine. Society doesn’t collapse if your boss doesn’t punish you for getting to work late occasionally. In fact tolerating some free ridership may be less disruptive/more economical than rigid enforcement (of a no-free-rider rule), because monitoring and punishment also has an economic cost, and we recognize that humans aren’t machines and aren’t psychologically or socially capable of running at ‘peak efficiency’ all day every day.

    While we have certainly become more knowledgeable about many subjects since the stone age, its worth remembering that we aren’t any smarter. If we are perfectly capable of taking a nuanced and complex position on free ridership in society – tolerating some of it some of the time, and recognizing that external stresses may cause otherwise productive and honest people to free ride some of the time – the folk living in hunter-gatherer groups probably were too.

  121. #121 eric
    April 20, 2015

    SN:

    “The term ‘pro choice’ OBVIOUSLY and CLEARLY refers to the policy position that women should be LEGALLY PERMITTED to get ABORTIONS if they choose to have them.”

    Yes!

    I’m glad we agree that ‘pro-choice’ does in fact mean ‘pro women having a choice’ and is not a deceitful or false phrase.

    Other than that, I’m not sure what your most recent point is. Are you still trying to claim or imply that pro-choice advocates are like the organ donor enforcer in Meaning of Life, and we secretly want to go door to door with a chainsaw removing zygotes from uteri forcibly and against the woman’s will?

  122. #122 zebra
    April 20, 2015

    #117 proximity

    it’s only incidental whether the person’s lack of empathy springs from a calculated approach or is rather due to his inherent physical make-up and its deficiences–nor do I even know if those are two distinguishable things in the first place.

    In my construction, E/C is simply the nature of the individual at that point in her development– there is no such thing as ‘intentional lack of empathy’.

    It took me a long time to figure this out, so I realize it is not an easy trap to escape, but you are still thinking of empathy in terms of where it fits in your version of “good” and “bad” behavior. Again, what is on the list instead of what is signified by the label of the list.

    Way back at #2 I posed the question about the perfect empath. No takers, perhaps because it is an uncomfortable thing to think about.

    Clearly, if I (perfect empath) say “your money or your life”, it is possible that, even if I feel exactly the pain that you and your family would experience by you being killed, the gratification of having your money could be greater, and I will pull the trigger.

    So, what to do? Morality or Compassion*? I would suggest that your hunter-gatherers (or, stable communitarian societies) are actually employing the latter, because they promote less self-regard than Alex’s Puritan Morality.

    *By Compassion, I mean that self-gratification independent of empathy becomes less motivating. The less I want money, the less likely I am to shoot you for it.

  123. #123 proximity1
    April 20, 2015

    @ 122

    I’m really not sure that I do understand your points but I find them very interesting just as I did your commet @ 2, above.

    I may indeed be ” thinking of empathy in terms of where it fits in your version of “good” and “bad” behavior. Again, what is on the list instead of what is signified by the label of the list.”

    You’re quite right, too, the way you characterize what I referenced. This tribe does not have any complicated moral system–and that is putting it mildly. Everett’s original mission (he was a missionary then) was two-fold: 1.) learn their language–only other missionaries had any knowlege of it outside the tribe’s own members, and 2) convert them to Christianity. I don’t wish to spoil it for those readers here who haven’t read his account and would like to have all the suspense which the book carries so

    SPOILER ALERT! Do not read beyond if you haven’t read Everett’s “Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes” and you don’t want to know its outcome!

    ———————-









    In the end, Everett does not succeed in converting a single member of the tribe. It’s rather the converse. Their view of life is a very literal one. They do not accept second-hand reports of events. They live in the present to an extent that most of us would find not just strange but impossible. Their morals–as we think of that–are a world away from what seems natural and normal to us.

    I’m really not sure how Everett would describe their tendencies or capacities for selfish behavior. Again, personal property isn’t something that makes sense to them as I seem to recall. They have things but they don’t consider that they “own” them.

    I’d be interested in reading more of your views on morals and, esp., your giving me some reading suggestions–your writings if that is the case or that of others who’ve had a key role in forming your understanding on these points–in addition to Altemeyer’s.

  124. #124 See Noevo
    April 20, 2015

    To eric #121:

    “I’m glad we agree that ‘pro-choice’ does in fact mean ‘pro women having a choice’ and is not a deceitful or false phrase.”

    Of course not. “Pro-choice” IS an objectively false and most deceitful phrase.

    The woman does NOT have a choice for legal birth-giving for the simple reason that she ALREADY HAS the legal right to give birth, has always had it, and God willing, always will have it.

    You might as well say you’re “pro-choice” on you “choosing” to remain yourself. Now, THAT is absurd. But if you insist on continuing in this absurdity, you should revise it to something like “pro-self-annihilation.”

  125. #125 Another Matt
    April 20, 2015

    SN – there is a difference between having a right and exercising that right. The latter is what is chosen.

    Suppose that someone advocated that it be illegal to be anything other than a Catholic. Call that side the “pro-Rome” side, and its opposition the “pro-choice” side. You’re trying to say something akin to “the right to choose one’s religion is a blatant lie: you do NOT have a choice for legally belonging to the Catholic church for the simple reason that you ALREADY HAVE the legal right to be Catholic.” Well yeah, I have the right, but that is not what is at issue: it is whether I am free to choose to exercise that right or not.

  126. #126 dean
    April 20, 2015

    “The woman does NOT have a choice for legal birth-giving for the simple reason that she ALREADY HAS the legal right to give birth,”

    She also has the right to become pregnant. By your lack of thought it is impossible for a woman to choose between getting pregnant and not getting pregnant.

    on this I don’t believe your lack of intelligence is causing your statement: it is your awful world view.

  127. #127 eric
    April 20, 2015

    SN, nobody is trying to take away anyone’s current right to give birth. You understand that, right? You understand that the “choice” part of pro-choice is not referring to giving women a choice to bring the foetus to term, right? You understand that ‘pro-choice” is referring to giving women a choice different from that, right?

    It seems to me like you’re saying they should not be allowed a choice to do something humans are not biologically capable of doing on their own. Is that what you’re trying to say?

  128. #128 Michael Fugate
    April 20, 2015

    SN, is it murder – if it is done in self defense?
    Did you know that a fetus can kill? And does on a regular basis?
    https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2223rank.html
    Even in the US, the rate is 0.02% which is 1 in 5000.
    In South Sudan it is 1 in 50! The US could with all its resources do better; Estonia comes in at 1 in 50,000.

    The murder rate in Washington DC is about 1 in 10,000 for comparison. In the US, a fetus is much more like to kill than an adult.

    This in and of itself isn’t a defense of abortion rights. It is part of the argument. What you want is for everything to be easy, but making moral decisions is not easy. We can’t make context-free decisions, but need to look at individuals and their lives.

  129. #129 Verbose Stoic
    April 20, 2015

    Alex SL,

    1) That was too literal an interpretation; I merely wrote humans because that is all we have at the moment. If we ever build a mulitcultural society together with the bug beings of planet Zot then we can still phrase such a sentence to be more inclusive.

    I highlighted that to avoid the attempts to appeal to either our biology to justify the folk morality, or the particulars of our social evolution, as some people do. You can’t use the “by humans for humans” to make it dependent on things that are particular to humans, or else you run into issues with moral agents that are not human. Which is why I’d object to classifying it that way.

    (2) I disagree. To me it works just like laws. Here in Australia people have ‘just made up’ the rule that you have to drive on the left side of the road. If I ignore that rule and cause a terrible accident, and then people want to punish me for breaking traffic laws, nobody will be impressed if I point out that the rule was just made up by humans. Same for Thou Shalt Not Lie.

    The example you’re using it here turns it into exactly what I was accusing it off: something imposed on the minority by the majority but that they can’t actually justify with anything like good arguments or good reasons. If someone says that driving on the left is bad for X reason, saying “That’s the way it is and so do it or we’ll punish you!” is precisely NOT the way we want to deal with morality, as that way punishes people for, say, saying that slavery or ritual sacrifice or whatever is wrong and refusing to do that. We want to be able to convince people that they’re wrong if we are going to impose morals on them, or else we really shouldn’t force them to act the way the majority does just because the majority acts that way.

    zebra,

    If “we already have an idea of a concept that we associate with morality”, OK, what is it? I haven’t had a security clearance for decades, but really, you can trust me with the information.

    Since I already said that we need to figure out what it is in detail, I can’t give you a detailed reply. But we definitely have an idea of what morality is, because we talk about it all the time, and make moral judgements. There’s SOME concept there that we’re trying to appeal to. So we need to figure out what that is and if it really exists.

    Which is of course the real point; what you are talking about is called rhetoric, political speech, propaganda, and so on. We apply pejorative words like “immoral” or “bad” because of their emotional impact; they need have no actual meaning, as long as the result is to modify behavior.

    Which as I say in #77 is why morality is a “bad” way to order society.

    To say what you say here is to concede that we have an idea of what we think morality is, but that it reduces to emotion or rhetoric, which is an argument that you need to support. Note that some have indeed reduced morality to emotion-like things, but this seems to be belied by the psychological concept of the moral/conventional distinction, where we think that morals are rules that move beyond mere conventions and/or laws. But you could make a case for it, but at that point your “glarb” argument fails because you are attaching the word to a meaning that presumably you point to in actual behaviour, and we can then argue if your understanding is right or not.

    eric,

    You seem to think this is an outcome to be avoided, but I dont’ see how it could be otherwise. Are you really going to call bonobos a bunch of sexually imorral sluts? Would you call them that, even if they all started using sign language to talk to us? No! That would make absolutely no sense.

    Why not? If they are moral agents, and are capable of understanding morality, and if it is a correct moral judgement to call someone/something a slut, then why WOULDN’T we make that same sort of moral judgement of them as we would of humans? To use another example, if we come across an alien race that believes in sacrificing innocents once a year just ’cause, wouldn’t we want to say that that was immoral of them and not have to say that that’s not an issue?

    There are only two ways to claim that we couldn’t judge the morality of another species. The first is to make morality tightly tied to biology, but then we run into the issue that humans with different biologies should be equally exempt. The second is to note the vast differences in culture, but then radically different human cultures again should be equally exempt.

  130. #130 Deepak Shetty
    April 20, 2015

    I see no reason why we cannot apply the same standard to discussions of morality. It’s not simply that there is large-scale agreement on basic moral principles, it’s that we feel these principles instinctively and recoil from anyone who demurs.
    Hmm? given our history, consensus is not a very good argument for objective morality. I don’t think you can easily bypass this with we were wrong – Since we have been horribly wrong on some matters (like slavery) and we had a majority consensus and no one “instinctively recoiled from the practice”

  131. #131 eric
    April 20, 2015

    VS:

    Why not? If they are moral agents, and are capable of understanding morality, and if it is a correct moral judgement to call someone/something a slut, then why WOULDN’T we make that same sort of moral judgement of them as we would of humans?

    Seriously? Wow.
    Okay, you wouldn’t do that because they are a genetically different species with different brain structures, different instincts, and different adaptations to the world.

    I can see how, if one thinks moral rules are objective, this could cause a problem. But that is (IMO) a reason to reject morals as objective properties, not a reason to think of bonobos as sluts.

  132. #132 Michael Fugate
    April 20, 2015

    I suggest a read of Olivia Judson’s Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation great fun and the narrow-minded anthropocentrics might actually lighten up about sex. Maybe SN can send a copy to his priest, bishop, etc. – after he reads it, of course.

  133. #133 Verbose Stoic
    April 20, 2015

    eric,

    Okay, you wouldn’t do that because they are a genetically different species with different brain structures, different instincts, and different adaptations to the world.

    And why does that NECESSARILY matter? Again, think about the ritual sacrifice angle. If they limit that to inside their own species, can we not call that immoral?

    I think that there are a number of confounds that are tweaking your intuitions. One of them is likely that you are dealing with bonobos and you find it odd to criticize them morally because they aren’t moral agents, but then you use that to support a subjectivist view, which is not what’s driving the intuition. The second is that I think you have an incorrect idea of objectivist moralities in that you think that the rules cannot take context or circumstances into account when determining what is or isn’t moral. So let’s use an example from Mass Effect to try to clear this up:

    In Mass Effect, there’s a race called the Krogan. They were deliberately infected with a disease that greatly restricts their reproduction. Only a small percentage of sexual acts and even conceptions, I think, produce children.

    Now, given this, it is clear that if there is a moral rule against promiscuity, that for the Krogans the amount of promiscuity allowed will be higher than that for other species, simply because they’d have to have more sex to simply replenish those who die than other species. This is perfectly compatible with at least some objectivist moralities. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find a Krogan that you can call promiscuous, nor does it mean that species without those restrictions cannot be accused of being promiscuous in a morally judgemental way.

    Thus, we could call some Korgans sluts, and some Turians, and so on and so forth, without doing anything wrong … if that is indeed a valid moral judgement. So the last issue that you might be having is that you don’t consider the judgement reasonable even for humans. But that says nothing about objective morality; you can’t use something that you don’t think objectively morally wrong to insist that objective morality leads to a contradiction for considering the thing that you don’t consider objectively morally wrong objectively morally wrong. That might be a problem with the specific objective morality, not with objective morality as a whole.

  134. #134 Stenosemella
    April 20, 2015

    The only reason I comment against objective morality over at UD is because of how they define objective. Your idea that near unanimous consensus being the same as objective is a reasonable one. But at UD, objective means handed down by God (but only the Judeo-Christian variety) and unchanging.

  135. #135 Alex SL
    April 20, 2015

    zebra,

    The explanation I gave was that an individual benefits from free riders because it offers him the opportunity to be ‘generous’, meaning that he gets a positive feedback from the act of feeding this hungry person. And, at a group/species survival level, feeding a (potentially productive) free rider makes more sense than feeding e.g. a crippled old woman with dementia. If the free food stops coming, because some hunters get hurt, the FR will get off his butt or starve.

    Okay, it is good that you elaborated so clearly this time, because now it becomes absolutely crystal clear that nothing in your argument contradicts mine. If that is a good summary also of proximity1’s position, then we are really talking past each other.

    If somebody is demonstrating their generosity to get a better reputation, then that is a good explanation for why somebody might be motivated to feed a free-loader, but it is not evidence that the values of society include “laziness is a virtue” or even just “achieving something is not a virtue”. In fact it may be evidence for the opposite; somebody who can afford to be generous is signalling is that they are fit and industrious enough to have the resources to be generous, and that only works if being industrious is something that is valued.

    And it totally goes off when you introduce the idea that the free rider is potentially productive, because that means that they aren’t a free rider at all but a labour reserve. We are simply not talking about the same thing here.

    Another Matt:

    Well I wrote why I wouldn’t count them: if the free-loading is well masked then the others won’t recognise it, and that is all that matters for exploring whether they consider free-loading to be morally bad.

    eric:

    One problem is that that your argument deals very poorly with behavior people may do sometimes.

    Not at all, because when we discuss morals and their origin, we never assume that anything that is sometimes done or tolerated is automatically desirable to the society.

    This is another reason why the example of somebody demonstrating their generosity through feeding a free-loader is as irrelevant as somebody forgiving a lie: the real question is whether, when pressed, an observer would or would not say something like this: “Yes, I don’t mind so much Heather doing all the work for Charlie, I know she enjoys it for some strange reason, but really he is a bit of a tool for not doing anything ever, and I sure hope my children don’t turn out like him”. It’s about what the society considers good and bad behaviour, not whether the bad behaviour is never tolerated.

    Also, the claim is not that that is where we should get our morals from intellectually, but merely that this is how we did actually get them evolutionary and historically.

    Verbose Stoic,

    But that stuff isn’t arbitrary; it is based on what works and on what people want, all filtered through a kind of slow-mo negotiation process. And as for the rest of what you wrote, yes, it would be nice if there were a gold standard from outside of humanity that declared slavery to be bad, but I simply don’t see any evidence that such a standard exists, so that’s that.

  136. #136 See Noevo
    April 20, 2015

    Merriam-Webster defines “morality” as
    “beliefs about what is RIGHT behavior and what is WRONG behavior;
    the degree to which something is RIGHT and GOOD: the moral GOODNESS or BADNESS of something.”

    The atheist evolutionists here believe that all life resulted from a mindless, un-designed process within which no such thing as “right” or “wrong” or “good” or “bad” exists. Then, with their alleged rationality, which they say came from the aforementioned NON-rational process, they hold court here on morality.

    Priceless.

  137. #137 eric
    April 20, 2015

    Alex @135:

    [eric] One problem is that that your argument deals very poorly with behavior people may do sometimes.

    [Alex]: the real question is whether, when pressed, an observer would or would not say something like this: “Yes, I don’t mind so much Heather doing all the work for Charlie, I know she enjoys it for some strange reason, but really he is a bit of a tool for not doing anything ever…

    See, you just did it. In order to make your point valid, you had to say Charlie doesn’t do anything ever. If instead, Charlie is a freeloader a few days a year, the problem is not hard to deal with at all. In fact we all probably freeload a few days a year, and as far as I can tell, society hasn’t imploded yet.

  138. #138 eric
    April 20, 2015

    VS @133:

    And why does that NECESSARILY matter?

    It doesn’t necessarily matter. Its possible to consider some alien species with identical morals, but its also possible they are not so identical. That’s what’s needed to undermine the notion of objective morality: the acknowledgement that different species may have different moralities.

    And it should matter because otherwise you end up with possibilities such as species that are fundamentally, biologically forced to do evil however you define evil. Now if your response to that is to say something like ‘if they are biologically forced to do something, then given that context we shouldn’t consider it evil the way we would if a human did it,’ then I think you have a subjective morality, not an objective one.

    I think you have an incorrect idea of objectivist moralities in that you think that the rules cannot take context or circumstances into account when determining what is or isn’t moral.

    I’m willing to accept that an objective morality can take some context into account, but if one of the key ‘contexts’ is the thinking, the opinion, or feelings of the actors themselves, then I think you’ve got a subjective morality almost by definition.

  139. #139 eric
    April 20, 2015

    Then, with their alleged rationality, which they say came from the aforementioned NON-rational process, they hold court here on morality.

    Yep. And humans will continue to work through human problems because there is no other option. Even religion doesn’t provide another option, as most religions just rely on an argument from authority…the authority of other humans.

    Look, we can stop discussing and attempting to develop our own moral codes when your God shows up and starts insta-lightning bolting sinners at the moment of sin. Until then, we humans must develop our codes because we are the only ones around to do it.

  140. #140 Alex SL
    April 21, 2015

    eric,

    But please then point me to where I ever claimed that such a problem would be hard to deal with? In fact I would not even define your Charlie as a freeloader or as lazy in the first place!

    The question is if an evolutionary and social-evolutionary account of the origin of moral instincts works, and perhaps even works better than any other accounts such as divine command or morals being random. For that question it is totally irrelevant if a society can be stable with one person here who lazes for ten out of 365 days. But it is relevant that three million years ago there might have been people who attempted to laze for 365 out of 365 days, and those hominids who tolerated them would have suffered from their tolerance while those who shamed them or, if necessary, kicked them out of the tribe would have fared better.

    Is this rocket science? Or am I such a poor writer that I have inadvertently made the claim that evolution works like the Kantian categorical imperative? Because that is not what I believe at all. It is simply that there is a limited number of stable situations; they include that everybody does it for themselves and that people reward contributors but punish shirkers, for example, but they do not include that people reward shirkers. For obvious reasons those of our predecessors who had that kind of moral instinct mostly didn’t manage to become our ancestors.

  141. #141 Verbose Stoic
    April 21, 2015

    Alex SL,

    But that stuff isn’t arbitrary; it is based on what works and on what people want, all filtered through a kind of slow-mo negotiation process. And as for the rest of what you wrote, yes, it would be nice if there were a gold standard from outside of humanity that declared slavery to be bad, but I simply don’t see any evidence that such a standard exists, so that’s that.

    Which means, then, that if a society accepts slavery you can’t say anything about that, no? If you want to accept that, that’s fine, but you need a little more argument for that then “I don’t see any way to get there”. You’re not just talking about using a folk morality because we don’t have the objective morality fully developed yet, but are pushing for full-on relativism. You need to therefore give a stronger argument for why an objective morality is impossible, and ensure that you aren’t acting like morality is objective — ie condemning others strongly for moral views that they don’t share with you — while arguing that you can’t and don’t need to defend those actions because morality is not objective.

    eric,

    It doesn’t necessarily matter. Its possible to consider some alien species with identical morals, but its also possible they are not so identical. That’s what’s needed to undermine the notion of objective morality: the acknowledgement that different species may have different moralities.

    That’s insufficient, though, because it’s just the idea that they might have different ideas of what is moral, but that’s not strong enough to say that therefore they all must be in some way RIGHT about what is moral. And if you argue that, you didn’t need to go to different species, because different societies/cultures and even different people have different ideas of what is moral and what isn’t, and in the latter case that might even be biologically driven — psychopaths and autistics tend to have a different view of morality than those who are neither, for example — so if you really thought that undermined objective morality you could easily have used them as examples.

    Note also that you haven’t addressed the ritual sacrifice example. Would you really refuse to call that immoral just because it was a different species with different biology?

    And it should matter because otherwise you end up with possibilities such as species that are fundamentally, biologically forced to do evil however you define evil. Now if your response to that is to say something like ‘if they are biologically forced to do something, then given that context we shouldn’t consider it evil the way we would if a human did it,’ then I think you have a subjective morality, not an objective one.

    One of the fundamental principles of morality and one that is critical to all objective moralities is this: Ought implies can. So any objective morality will make exceptions for things that someone is incapable of doing. You don’t even need to go to different species for this, as we can just look at the case of kleptomaniacs. Vanishingly few objective moralities will claim that a kleptomaniac is morally wrong for stealing if that stealing is driven by their uncontrollable urge. They need treatment for their illness, not moral condemnation. That does not make them subjective in any meaningful sense.

    I’m willing to accept that an objective morality can take some context into account, but if one of the key ‘contexts’ is the thinking, the opinion, or feelings of the actors themselves, then I think you’ve got a subjective morality almost by definition.

    Their thinking, opinion or feelings about MORALITY? That would be subjectivist by definition. Their thinking, opinion or feelings about the world in general and not about what they think is moral or immoral? That is likely an objectivist morality.

  142. #142 zebra
    April 21, 2015

    #123 proximity,

    I can’t really give you any specific guidance. You have already seen that there are ways of thinking and being which are not congruent with ‘Western’ paradigms. Learn more about behavior, both human and non-human, and about psychological/spiritual development in non-Western contexts.

    After all, you have the freakin’ internet, dude; I got my start reading musty books and taking notes on index cards to find further references. Too long ago to remember any of it in detail.

    The only famous name I can invoke to clarify my position is Rawls; in this debate I apply a kind of Rawlsian Test: What kind of people would I choose to have in my society? Nothing to do with “good” or “just”, just out of self-interest.

    My preference would be amoral (non-authoritarian) E/C people, and the society would have laws to regulate behavior through punishment and reward. Maybe I would even have a law against “morality”, whether religious or secular.

    Why? Because, once people are conditioned to obey arbitrary rules, it is too easy to pervert the system, and anyone can end up on the “immoral” list. See Martin Niemoller (ok, there’s another famous reference.)

  143. #143 Alex SL
    April 21, 2015

    Verbose Stoic,

    I am not sure why the person who denies objective morality has to do the work of providing a strong argument; usually the burden of proof is on the side of those who postulate the existence of something, not on the side of those who cannot perceive it.

    But I also still see a difference between what my brand of relativism and the moral nihilism you kind of imply me to have. I am not saying anything goes. I am merely saying, there is no outside authority; we humans make, and have no option but to make, our own rules. But then again, I also argue that due to our evolutionary heritage and innate self-interest all non-psychopathic humans pretty much agree on certain broad outlines, and we can start hashing things out from there.

    For example, as far as I can tell slavery offends fundamentally human feelings of fairness to such a degree that cotton plantation style slavery requires a severe othering and dehumanisation of the slaves to appear acceptable. (In antiquity, it was usually prisoners of war, so again outsiders, who were worked to death in the mines and suchlike.) The fact that a slave owner may continue to disagree with me after I have pointed that out is no more surprising that that a creationist may continue to disagree with me about evolution; the former could still be guilty of being intellectually inconsistent in their moral framework and mistaken or dishonest about the facts they use to inform it even if there is no outside authority to appeal to.

  144. #144 eric
    April 21, 2015

    Alex @140:

    But please then point me to where I ever claimed that such a problem would be hard to deal with?

    Sure. Here’s you @84: ” I cannot believe that you have really convinced yourself that there are entire human societies anywhere on this planet who would tolerate free-loading.”

    We tolerate it just fine. I cannot believe anyone could look around at all the social systems we have and think humans don’t tolerate free-loading. Practically every western country is exactly what you claim can’t exist: a human society that tolerates free-loading. We don’t force people to work or contribute to the social well-being at gunpoint. For people without many resources, we have welfare. This does indeed carry some social stigma in many countries (but probably not all, so you’re not even right there). At the high end, getting rich enough that you no longer have to contribute in any way you don’t want to is a goal of many people, and not considered immoral or unethical at all. We don’t merely tolerate that, we admire it.

  145. #145 eric
    April 21, 2015

    VS:

    that’s not strong enough to say that therefore they all must be in some way RIGHT about what is moral. And if you argue that, you didn’t need to go to different species, because different societies/cultures and even different people have different ideas of what is moral and what isn’t, and in the latter case that might even be biologically driven — psychopaths and autistics tend to have a different view of morality than those who are neither, for example — so if you really thought that undermined objective morality you could easily have used them as examples.

    True. The fact that we don’t necessarily impute immorality to autistic folk or the truly insane is an argument against objective morality. The fact that cultures ranging from the ancient Babylonians to the 18th century Puritans came up with some moral rules that would make us shudder points to morality being subjective. I agree that’s the case.

    If there is an objective morality, then the variation observed amongst human cultures would seem to indicate that we don’t have good perceptual access to it. What’s more, if we were to try and assess commonalities, 21st century western morality would not be the result. Compared to all of human history, we have very extreme notions of universal human rights. We impute far less importance to testimony and honor than practically any other society before us. We consider violence far less socially acceptable than any other human culture in thousands of years of recorded history. Our morality is not the average nor even the common elements drawn from human history.

    Note also that you haven’t addressed the ritual sacrifice example. Would you really refuse to call that immoral just because it was a different species with different biology?

    Depending on how different. If mantids and some spiders were to achieve sentience tomorrow, I would not expect the females to stop eating the males after/during sex, and while such an act feels wrong to me, yes I would probably resist the temptation to argue it was evil or call it evil. Some spiders not only eat their mates, they may occasionally (i.e., if they’re hungry) eat some of their own young. If some species evolved from parasitic wasps, I would neither expect it to stop using other animals as gestation chambers nor expect the offspring to stop trying to eat each other. All of these behaviors seem profoundly evil to us, probably in part because we are a social K- type long-lived species. But not all animals are social, are <K- type, or are long-lived. (And to be clear, in neither the spider nor the mantid example does the critter have to do this; not all mantids eat their mates, and not all r- species gobble up some of their own brood). K- type adaptations are just so different from many r- type ones that it seems to me utterly irrational to import K- notions of ‘acceptable childrearing behavior’ onto an r- species.

  146. #146 proximity1
    April 21, 2015

    @ 144:

    Exactly, Eric. In addition, he claimed that such societies couldn’t compete effectively with others which did not tolerate those who wouldn’t pull their weight and that such more demanding societies would “wipe the floor with” those who indulge the indigent, the loafers. He also asserted that the condemnation of “laziness” is one of the universal tenets of basic human morals, found everywhere among all societies at all times. Such were his claims. Nowhere do we find anything in his comments that suggests that he understands that “laziness” is a rather completely arbitrary social concept. Some societies make much of it, some very little and some practically nothing at all–and they all define what constitutes “lazy” in their own differing ways. But our phylobotanist is either unaware of any of that or simply rejects it because it doesn’t sound right to him—green, orange-striped sky stuff. Evidence to the contrary be damned.

  147. #147 eric
    April 21, 2015

    In addition, he claimed that such societies couldn’t compete effectively with others which did not tolerate those who wouldn’t pull their weight and that such more demanding societies would “wipe the floor with” those who indulge the indigent, the loafers.

    Yes I see it as short-term thinking. The reason real societies don’t eliminate/punish freeloaders is because loafers may become productive if given a chance (indeed, our children are in this category); productive citizens sometimes loaf for a while and punishing/exiling such people immediately is counter-productive and typically unnecessary, and thirdly because when people understand they have a safety net to fall back on, they may take initially unproductive risks in order to achieve some highly productive end-state, and some amount of such risk-taking behavior is as net good for society. Jobs and Wozniak both quit college and became ‘unproductive members of society’ while they were designing their computer. They could do that because our society (including their families) did not put them at risk of starvation and death while they did it. Of course many other people take that risk and fail; our costs for supporting them are not recouped. But that’s okay, the net result appears to be generally positive.

  148. #148 Michael Fugate
    April 21, 2015

    Note also that you haven’t addressed the ritual sacrifice example. Would you really refuse to call that immoral just because it was a different species with different biology?

    Those in authority today have absolutely no problem with human sacrifice; it is done in the name of all sorts of greater “goods”. How is it any less moral to raise a child from birth to be a sacrifice to a god than to raise a child to be a patriotic soldier sent off to die for his or her country? In the 20th c, over 100 million dead in wars for what end? In many instances, if you don’t go off to fight you are stripped of all rights, jailed or even shot for treason.

  149. #149 Alex SL
    April 21, 2015

    eric,

    Okay, you are right, I have expressed myself poorly at times. Where I wrote tolerate I should have written something like don’t care about or promote.

    Of course I immediately agree that indeed every society on this planet provides support to those who cannot care for themselves (and one would think that that should have become clear from my repeated specification that ‘capable’ members not contributing is the moral issue). Today it seems sensible to expand the definition of incapable to include not only those who are sick or suchlike but also those who cannot find a job.

    But again, and as I have also repeatedly pointed out, that is totally irrelevant because we are discussing morals. It is NOT about what people do when they feel generous or take the longer view, it is about what behaviour they consider bad or good and want to see penalised or promoted. (I hope that is the last time I have to repeat that.) And while our society, for example, supports you if you are unemployed, the newspapers are full of outrage about supposed welfare moochers. And that is just the point: People don’t like other people who don’t contribute although they could. That is considered bad behaviour, and going out and getting stuff done is considered good behaviour.

    That is not an unusual or revolutionary claim. The claim that no society on the planet would ever care for somebody who cannot work would indeed be unusual, but I do not make it.

    proximity1,

    You are still playing word games. Even if somebody has never heard of anything like laziness, it should be easy to get at the core of the issue by sitting down with them and saying, “imagine somebody who is capable is never searching their own food, never making clothes, never helping with the child raising, etc., but letting others do everything. Is that how it should be? How would you feel if you had provided for them for two years, fell sick, and then found that they don’t lift a finger to help you when you are in need? Is that a behaviour that you would promote or one that you would try to stamp out in your children?”

    There, that does not use the English word laziness at all. Translate it into whatever language you want and you should be able to discuss these scenarios; after all, the relevant researchers managed to get the trolley problem across to people who had never seen train tracks by phrasing it in terms of rivers with crocodiles and suchlike. And if you do discuss these scenarios, I would be very surprised if you found any significant number of humans on this planet who’d say, yes, that person not helping me although they could after I provided for them for two years is perfectly fine behaviour, and that is how it should be, and I hope my children will be just like that person.

  150. #150 Zoe
    New York
    April 22, 2015

    Great post, like it. By Creative Proteomics

  151. #151 zebra
    April 22, 2015

    #149 Alex,

    You make a good contribution here, although perhaps not one that you intend:

    “Is that a behaviour that you would promote or one that you would try to stamp out in your children?”

    That says it all, doesn’t it, people? Much as you will try to deflect and get back to “X is good– no– Y is good”, that’s what you are talking about.

  152. #152 proximity1
    April 22, 2015

    @ 149:

    My contention is a very simple one—and you seem to be going out of your way to refuse to recognize or grasp it :

    There are—and in all probability always have been–societies in which that set of characteristics (however they may be defined) which you refer to as “lazy” are simply not thought of, not considered to be cause for reproach, not by any regard a moral fault or failing –which is the crux of the discussion thread. You’ve made what is simply an outlandish claim about the universality of “laziness” (however defined) and it appears that you’d rather tie yourself into a semantic pretzel than acknowledge that your claim as, after all, not supportable—even by the more familiar cases and evidence which others here have brought to your attention.

    I could add to it. The point is simple: “lazy” is a culturally defined conception and how –or indeed whether–it may be part of a culture’s repetoire of current concepts depends on a whole host of things including environmental conditions and social history of the culture concerned.

    In the not very distant past, no one regarded as a “gentleman” would be expected to do any labor at all. Strenuous labor was reserved for those men, women and children who were not part of the class of gentry–or those (nobility) above them. So all such work –cleaning, cooking, gardening, farming, virtually all manual labor of all kinds–was done by the laboring class. Gentlemen –and ladies–read, wrote, managed other people and things, rode, fenced, practiced fine arts, travelled, sponsored public works, dabbled in amateur science, did all sorts of intellectual things.´ But they neither worked in any way that raised a sweat nor did they do anything so base as to earn their livings through any kind of commerce or trade—for all of those were also unthikable undertakings for any gentlemanly man or lady. No one dared call these people “lazy” nor thought of them as such. But if any laboring class person did as little phyiscal exertion as a gentleman, that person would likely be called lazy in such a society. The point here is clear. Laziness had everything to do with class distinctions and what would be regarded as lazy if done by some would not be seen as lazy if done by others in the same cutlure..

    Why not either drop this or admit that your assertion just doesn’t hold up under even cursory examination—like any even passably decent scientifically-person would do?

  153. #153 zebra
    April 22, 2015

    #152 proximity,

    I don’t think your argument there holds up– in Alex’s worldview, the ‘managerial class’ makes an essential contribution, so the members are not lazy.

    Alex simply has a very parochial, authoritarian, understanding of this. Wrong is wrong, right is right, and by golly we have to stamp out the evil ways of our children.

    And if you think you can exist otherwise, our superior morals (not out guns and germs) have wiped out every culture that has tried.

  154. #154 eric
    April 22, 2015

    Alex:

    It is NOT about what people do when they feel generous or take the longer view, it is about what behavior they consider bad or good and want to see penalized or promoted. (I hope that is the last time I have to repeat that.) And while our society, for example, supports you if you are unemployed, the newspapers are full of outrage about supposed welfare moochers.

    “The newspapers are full” is not evidence that this is a universal moral of humanity, as you were claiming earlier by using examples of stone age group. Its anecdotal. Even in the US, I think it’s generally recognized that such animus towards welfare recipients is not universal but rather associated with a conservative political position…and self-identified conservatives only make up about 40% of the population. Yes, some people think its immoral. That is certainly not evidence that humanity developed this antipathy back in the stone age, that everyone has it, and that cultures who disallow freeloaders will kick the ass of cultures who allow them. Now, if you want to walk back all those grand claims and say that a large plurality of 21st century western capitalists see freeloading and welfare as a social evil, I might agree with that. If you want to say that freeloading has been nearly unanimously rejected by members of certain other specific cultural groups throughout history (the puritans spring to mind), I would also agree with that. But the comment you stated in @79 (about it being universal) and have defended since then? No, I think you’re completely wrong there.

    Let me end on a high note: I agree with some of the other stuff you said in response to VS and others. In particular, I thought this part of @64 was a very eloquent defense of subjective morals, which is often difficult to put in a good light: “those rules are exclusively for us humans and they are exclusively enforced by us humans. So what exactly is wrong with us making them up? They are ours. And it is not as if there is another place to get them from. There is nothing odd about this.

  155. #155 Alex SL
    April 22, 2015

    proximity1,

    It is clear that we will never achieve communication, as clearly demonstrated by your remark “no one regarded as a ‘gentleman’ would be expected to do any labor at all. Strenuous labor was reserved for…”. If I may translate: There were people being highly regarded despite not making any contribution to society, at least after I carefully redefine making a contribution to society to be limited to strenuous labour only, and after I carefully ignore what the labouring classes may have thought about those gentlemen.

    I get it. You are so convinced that I must be wrong that you will not even so much as briefly entertain the possibility that nothing you wrote in the past 154 comments here contradicts what I wrote. No, the fact that I keep suggesting that we are talking past each other must, in your eyes, mean simply that I am dishonest, unscientific, illogical and maliciously unwilling to accept your supreme insight. I looked at the thread Jason Rosenhouse linked to and Arrington actually comes across as quite polite and mellow compared to you.

    There is no progress to be made under these circumstances, and I can only blame myself for setting you off with my comments 82 and 84 whose joking tone was apparently too inflammatory. I will try to be more restrained in the future.

    zebra,

    Alex simply has a very parochial, authoritarian, understanding of this. Wrong is wrong, right is right, and by golly we have to stamp out the evil ways of our children.

    I understand the parochial because apparently it is suddenly an absurd claim around here that humans may share a common evolutionary heritage and that this heritage may include very basic moral instincts, but where did you get the authoritarian? Just because I wrote, with my mind on the deeply dickish behaviour of not helping a benefactor who has fallen on hard times, “stamp out” instead of, say, “gently reprimand”, as I would have if my example had been about stepping onto a flower bed? Or is trying to raise ones children to be decent people as such suddenly authoritarian?

  156. #156 Alex SL
    April 22, 2015

    eric,

    I also apparently need to consider whether I am completely incapable of expressing even a single thought. I did not mean to say that there is a global animus against welfare recipients; I meant to say that the vast majority of people would have a problem with people receiving welfare who do not need it and refusing work that they could do, something that would surely be even more of an issue in times of labour shortage.

  157. #157 zebra
    April 22, 2015

    #155 Alex,

    If “humans may share a common evolutionary heritage and that this heritage may include very basic moral instincts,”

    what exactly are you stamping out in your children?

    If being what you call a decent human is instinctual, we’re all set, right? No stamping out required.

  158. #158 proximity1
    April 22, 2015

    @ 153 “I don’t think your argument there holds up– in Alex’s worldview, the ‘managerial class’ makes an essential contribution, so the members are not lazy.” ; ^)

    So they’d say, wouldn’t they? But Alex has already explained to us that “lazy” means allowing others to do practically all one’s work for one rather than pulling one’s own weight. By his own definition, then, the nobility and the rest of the gentlemanly class are the very definition of “lazy”: though they’re physically fit, they undertake (or in the olden days, undertook) no strenuous physical labor and instead relied on others to do it for them. That labor was in most cases paid for but, as we know, in other cases, both then and in Classic Rome and Athens’ time, the privileged class relied on slave labor and, similarly, did no “work”–which was, by their own definition, undignifed for people of their station. It was for slaves and commoners.

    ———————-

    RE: “There were people being highly regarded despite not making any contribution to society, at least after I carefully redefine making a contribution to society to be limited to strenuous labour only, and after I carefully ignore what the labouring classes may have thought about those gentlemen.”

    See above. It’s not that they made zero contribution, it’s that, as you’ve indicated, they were too lazy to do things for themselves; instead of pulling their own weight, they used and consumed the fruits of others’ labor and depended on that for their own needs. All their wealth and possessions didn’t begin to compensate since, after all, the benefits of their possessions and their privlleges were reserved to themselves.

  159. #159 proximity1
    April 22, 2015

    @ 155 again–

    RE: “There is no progress to be made under these circumstances, and I can only blame myself for setting you off with my comments 82 and 84 whose joking tone was apparently too inflammatory.” (emphasis added)

    Or, in other words, according to you, the faults are all mine and have to do with my having been unreasonable. Nothing to do with your having thrown a completely fatuous assertion into the thread and, when faced with ample counter-argument and evidence, cried foul, dug your heels in, and generally did everything you could from that point forward to avoid and ignore the key term in your assertion, “lazy.”

    By my reckoning, you’re intellectually “lazy” and I regard that as a moral fault. Your resort to all manner of obfuscation and dishonest special pleading is, really, juvenile.

    RE: “I looked at the thread Jason Rosenhouse linked to and Arrington actually comes across as quite polite and mellow compared to you.”

    Yeah? Well, try being intellectually respectable in your arguments and claims, try reading and considering others’ replies honestly and with a mind open to counter-argument and evidence. Just do these things which constitute the minimum of intellectual responsibility and respect for others and yourself and you’d find me the soul of politesse.
    But as things have been from you, you’re insulting to the intelligence of those who show you the favor of engaging in good-faith discussion. Were Arignton to be polite to you, under the circumstances, would be out of place but it wouln’t surprise me. The guy’s reputation for sound reasoning is a joke here. I have higher standards than does he or she, it would seem. Your complaint amounts t,o, “Please stop reducing my claims and arguments to a steaming heap of rubble!” No dice.

  160. #160 eric
    April 22, 2015

    Alex:

    I meant to say that the vast majority of people would have a problem with people receiving welfare who do not need it and refusing work that they could do, something that would surely be even more of an issue in times of labour shortage.

    The problem is, criteria such as “do not need it” and “work they could do” are subjective and vary widely from culture to culture. As others have pointed out, they even vary within a culture with status and class. You would probably consider it immoral for me to work a 13 year old 12 hours a day, but go back to the Victorian era or to some places today, and 12 hours of backbreaking labor would be considered work a 13 year old could do.. According to you, that means there is a universal human instinct to label such 13-year olds as immoral lazy freeloaders? I think not. And if it is easy to see how people might differ in how they consider the work habits of 13-year olds, then really you shouldn’t have a problem understanding how various cultures might also differ in how they consider the work habits of older people, of men vs. women, of high status individuals vs low status, and so on. There is no universal human notion of what constitutes immoral laziness. The same is true for the concept of using public resources you do not need. The definition of “need” and thus what people may consider moral and immoral varies with culture, with religious affiliation, with status, throughout history, etc., etc., etc. There is not universal human moral standard associated with ‘taking more than you need,’ because there is no universal human moral standard on socially acceptable needs.

    What constitutes “need” varies by

  161. #161 Verbose Stoic
    April 22, 2015

    eric,

    I’ll get to the other comment soon, I hope, but I wanted to highlight this as why I think we have the issue over objective/subjective morality:

    The problem is, criteria such as “do not need it” and “work they could do” are subjective and vary widely from culture to culture. As others have pointed out, they even vary within a culture with status and class.

    By using the “subjective” angle there, it looks like you consider this in the same way as you consider morality subjective in general. But it’s not. What we have is a general principle of “Freeloading ought to be discouraged” that is applied differently in different situations. In this case, the objective, universal and general principle seems to be that we want to discourage people from being a drain on resources, essentially taking resources without giving anything or enough back to make it worthwhile. In an individual culture and in individual situations, what that means can vary. In a relatively stable society, we can have people who don’t do physical labour and instead focus on intellectual pursuits because the intellectual pursuits will hopefully pay off down to road, and make everyone else’s life easier. In a society where you need everyone to work as basic physical labour just to survive, that can’t happen and if they want to do that they can only do that in their spare time. We can only justify welfare on the grounds that you and others have given, that all they need is a helping hand due to bad circumstances and then they’ll be productive again. Charity is roughly the same sort of thing. And we can even carve out exceptions, again, for people who are disadvantaged in some way and so aren’t able to produce enough to cover it, because they aren’t freeloaders in that they are draining resources and not giving enough back. These considerations don’t make the morality subjective, and many objective moralities in the sense of having strict rules that they think all should follow allow for this. Utilitarianism, for example, has one absolute principle: do what maximizes utility. But the heart of Utilitarianism is that what maximizes utility depends greatly on the individual circumstances.

  162. #162 Verbose Stoic
    April 22, 2015

    Alex SL,

    I am not sure why the person who denies objective morality has to do the work of providing a strong argument; usually the burden of proof is on the side of those who postulate the existence of something, not on the side of those who cannot perceive it.

    Because we aren’t talking about the existence of some sort of thing in the world, but instead about the nature of some thing that we are talking or trying to talk about, namely morality. I say that it is objective, you say that it is subjective. Assuming that one of us is right and there is a right answer to that question, we both have an obligation to prove our cases. I fully admit to my obligation and fully accept that, at this time, I can’t fulfill it. But you can’t either, and our intuitions about morality pull us in opposite directions here, some supporting objective morality and some support subjective morality.

    I’m not reading you as merely being unconvinced that morality is objective. I’m reading you as being convinced that morality is subjective. If you want to convince anyone else, you have to demonstrate that you’re right.

    But I also still see a difference between what my brand of relativism and the moral nihilism you kind of imply me to have. I am not saying anything goes. I am merely saying, there is no outside authority; we humans make, and have no option but to make, our own rules. But then again, I also argue that due to our evolutionary heritage and innate self-interest all non-psychopathic humans pretty much agree on certain broad outlines, and we can start hashing things out from there.

    This doesn’t help you one bit when people start disagreeing with you, and you don’t even have a reason to dismiss psychopaths in a way that doesn’t potentially exclude, well, anyone with a different brain structure that causes them to disagree over what’s moral. You either end up imposing the personal subjective morality of the majority on people or being unable to say anything about it to anyone. So either authoritarian or nihilist.

    The fact that a slave owner may continue to disagree with me after I have pointed that out is no more surprising that that a creationist may continue to disagree with me about evolution; the former could still be guilty of being intellectually inconsistent in their moral framework and mistaken or dishonest about the facts they use to inform it even if there is no outside authority to appeal to.

    The issue here is that the creationist is denying an objective fact. The slave owner need not be inconsistent in their moral framework or about the facts they use to inform it and disagree, and need not be wrong UNLESS MORALITY IS OBJECTIVE IN THE SAME WAY. If there is a right answer to whether or not slavery is wrong, then you have an objective morality and have to base it on some objective principle. If not, then you can’t accuse the slave owner of just being wrong when they disagree with you that slavery is wrong, no matter how much it offends yours or anyone else’s sensibilities.

  163. #163 Verbose Stoic
    April 22, 2015

    eric,

    True. The fact that we don’t necessarily impute immorality to autistic folk or the truly insane is an argument against objective morality.

    No, it isn’t. We don’t impute immorality to people like kleptomaniacs not because we think they have a different view of morality, but because their actions don’t in fact follow from their view of morality, or because they are incapable of acting morally at all. On the other hand, we often instinctively argue that psychopaths ARE, in fact, immoral, and people have argued that about autistics as well. For psychopaths, I think that wrong because the evidence suggests that they are NOT capable of understanding what a moral action is — they typically fail the moral/conventional distinction — and for autistics I argue that the judgement that they are immoral comes from people taking their own view of what is moral and applying it to them without having established that their view of morality is objectively correct. But none of this actually supports subjective morality. For example, the test that autistics “fail” is that when they are asked if it would be immoral for a woman to steal a loaf of bread to feed her hungry children, they typically say “Yes” where most non-autistics say “No”. But there are a number of perfectly valid moral philosophies — Kantianism and Stoicism, to name the two most relevant to me — that would agree with that. Unless you can say that those views are wrong, you can’t use that answer as an example of a lack of morality.

    And subjectivists can never say those views are wrong.

    The fact that cultures ranging from the ancient Babylonians to the 18th century Puritans came up with some moral rules that would make us shudder points to morality being subjective. I agree that’s the case.

    It would only support it if you don’t accept the idea of moral progress, that our society today is more moral than the societies that we had in the past. But objectivists insist that that is the case, and that just like we’ve advanced from the science of the past to what we have now we’ve also advanced in terms of morality. We’re just BETTER at morality now than we were, just as we’re just BETTER at science that we were. Which means that saying that our current views aren’t the average for all times is not a bug, but a feature: of COURSE it isn’t the average, just as the scientific knowledge we have now is not the average of all knowledge over all times. We’ve gotten better.

    Now, morality does not progress the way science does — or, at least, we don’t THINK it does — but that does not mean that we have not progressed. Most people intuitively think that we’ve gotten better when we eliminated slavery and not think it immoral, along with a number of other improvements. To argue what you argue here, you have to deny that, which is a long row to hoe.

    If mantids and some spiders were to achieve sentience tomorrow, I would not expect the females to stop eating the males after/during sex, and while such an act feels wrong to me, yes I would probably resist the temptation to argue it was evil or call it evil. Some spiders not only eat their mates, they may occasionally (i.e., if they’re hungry) eat some of their own young.

    So, you think that if a species became able to understand that the other beings were sentient and were suffering, and that they became sentient enough to be considered proper moral agents, that they then should still maintain a practice that they likely would not need and that kills other sentients against their wishes and would not be considered immoral for doing so? I think I can return your “Wow” here.

    Take the wasp example. If they didn’t need to do that to reproduce and wanted to do that to humans, do you really think that their differing biology would make a difference? Remember, at that point they’d be capable of understanding that humans were sentient, moral beings who did not consent to that practice and suffered and died during it, and capable of understanding that they didn’t need to use humans to do it or actual sentient beings to do it, and yet knowing all of this continued the practice anyway. That seems pretty much the definition of evil to most people.

  164. #164 eric
    April 22, 2015

    VS:

    What we have is a general principle of “Freeloading ought to be discouraged” that is applied differently in different situations. In this case, the objective, universal and general principle seems to be that we want to discourage people from being a drain on resources, essentially taking resources without giving anything or enough back to make it worthwhile

    So, are there also objective, universal and general agreement on “resources,” on “enough,” and on the things that count as part of “anything”? Is a priest living on charity but praying giving back enough? Is prayer a thing? Is a 13-year-old attending school giving back enough? Is getting educated a thing? If someone is a witch, are they draining the salvatory resources out of the community? Without general universal agreement on those things (which humans don’t have), your objective morality appears built on subjective sand. Sure, as long as “freeloading” is infinitely malleable, then “freeloading ought to be discouraged” could be considered a universal principle…a universal principle with no specific content.

    Secondly, unless you have a crystal ball, how do you know that some apparently worthless activity won’t reap benefits down the road? This is again one of the reasons why lib democracies don’t institutionally discourage freeloading: because some amount of risk-taking is actually profitable, and can pay for all the freeloading that isn’t. (Other reasons include: discouragement and heck even monitoring the population to determine who is a freeloader has a cost, and; humans don’t generally need to be discouraged from being poor and impoverished)

    So no, I don’t think you have found a general, universal principle. I think there are valid (albeit sophisticated and complex) reasons for rejecting the principle out of hand, and secondly, if your principle is to mean anything you’re going to have to defend universally agreed-upon terms such as what has value and what counts as work etc. and these things vary dramatically culture, by era, by religion, etc.

  165. #165 proximity1
    April 23, 2015

    RE: VS @ 161

    ” What we have is a general principle of “Freeloading ought to be discouraged” that is applied differently in different situations. In this case, the objective, universal and general principle seems to be that we want to discourage people from being a drain on resources, essentially taking resources without giving anything or enough back to make it worthwhile.”

    Nobility and the much of the wealthy (though of course there are individual exceptions) are typically a predatory class. Their predations are acts of commission, not acts of omission. Only in fairy tales do they actually produce more than they actually consume and monopolize–I use that term in the colloquial sense not the strict formal economic sense. In short, in the contexs of contemporary societies with which most of us are most familiar, they’re a net drain on society and the major factor in making and maintaining unfair social arrangements including but not limited to a basic maldistribution of deserved rewards and punishments.

  166. #166 eric
    April 23, 2015

    VS:

    autistics I argue that the judgement that they are immoral comes from people taking their own view of what is moral and applying it to them without having established that their view of morality is objectively correct. But none of this actually supports subjective morality.

    YOU have not established that your view of morality is objectively correct either, so you’re in the same boat as them. And I would say that several thousand years of human failure to establish that there is an objectively correct morality DOES support the notion that morality is subjective.

    there are a number of perfectly valid moral philosophies — Kantianism and Stoicism, to name the two most relevant to me — that would agree with that. Unless you can say that those views are wrong, you can’t use that answer as an example of a lack of morality.

    Unless you can say which views are wrong, you don’t have an objective morality. Unless you can give some rational and reasonably agreed upon methodology for determining which views are wrong, you don’t have an objective morality.

    Most people intuitively think that we’ve gotten better when we eliminated slavery and not think it immoral, along with a number of other improvements. To argue what you argue here, you have to deny that, which is a long row to hoe.

    I think that, over time, our notions of who counts as a ‘person’ deserving of rights has come more in line with empirical reality and is based on more rational and defensible criteria than in the past…and that can be termed progress. I think that 21st century western moral norms align better to the promotion of peace and prosperity of society than prior moral norms, again taking into account that we have expanded our view of who matters over time. We have figured out that some moral frameworks lead to social and economic ‘zero sum games,’ while others allow for the true production/increase in goods, freedoms, lifespans, etc..(positive sum game social and economics) and we have sought to adopt more and more of the practices that get us into a positive sum game society. But if peace and prosperity are not considered important social goals, if getting out of a zero sum game situation is not something the people in a society care about, if a society’s definition of ‘person’ is different, then no, our current moral framework would not be seen as progress. This is seen right now, in geopolitics, because we have theocracies that value alignment with godly commands higher than either peace or prosperity: they see our values as corrupting and evil, a regression from a more perfect past.

    Take the wasp example. If they didn’t need to do that to reproduce and wanted to do that to humans, do you really think that their differing biology would make a difference?

    Hell yes I think it would. They would not see it as wrong, and you would have a hard time convincing them that the rights of an alien sentient trumps their right to provide their baby with a safe and standard growth opportunity.

    Perhaps a less sci-fi example is in order. We humans are omnivores. We don’t need to eat meat. Yet a large majority of us do. We know that many of the animals we eat feel pain. That they dislike being penned. That they may feel emotions over separation from their offlspring. And yet we do all these things – we cause them pain, we pen them, we separate offspring from mothers, all for a pleasure we can frankly do without. From some brief googling, it appears that the number of Americans who are vegetarian is about 3% of the population. And just anecdotally, I would have to say that the vegetarians I’ve known have been reasonably fine with a pregnant woman eating meat if she personally thought it was necessary for the standard development of her child.

    Why do we act this way? Because we are omnivores, and our bodies are partially adapted to use, and enjoy, meat. Our middle-of-the-road, often complex and conflicting moral notions about how to treat potential food animals reflects our middle-of-the-road biology. Were we biological herbivores, I have no doubt we would all find the notion of unnecessarily killing animals just to eat them to be heinous; immoral. OTOH if we were carnivores, I doubt we would have any moral qualms at all about eating food animals. Taking it one step further, if we were sentient parasitic wasps, we would likely think using a pain-feeling creature as a gestation chamber was fine, just as the vast vast majority of humans even many vegetarians think its okay for pregnant women to eat meat, however technically unnecessary it may be.

    The naturalistic fallacy but in some ways we can’t help making it. We should strive not to derives our oughts from our is’s…but we do, even when we try not to. It is subconscious and almost impossible to avoid, but our biology and adaptations influence our sense of moral right and wrong. This is so subtle and so powerful that even philosophers like you – who are supposed to be able to set aside all these influences and think academically at the problem – arrive at the answer that the objective unchanging moral rules of the universe just so happen to align with behavior consistent with a lifestyle beneficial for a large, social, omnivorous, K-selection type species! Do you think that’s coincidental? Did we just get lucky, having bodies and biologies where what is beneficial to our wellbeing generally happens to align with what is objectively good? Or do you think, perhaps, that the explanation for this remarkable alignment is that our notions of what is objectively good and bad are colored by our biology? All of which says to me that there probably isn’t any objective morality.

  167. #167 zebra
    April 23, 2015

    #165 proximity,

    Here you are demonstrating my point about people wanting to say “what is moral” rather than “what moral is”. That’s political rhetoric, not philosophy or the science of human behavior.

    Whether liberal or conservative, secular or religious, use of terms like “deserve” and “fair” and so on are manifestations of the authoritarian (A1) parts of our personalities.

    What an ‘objective’ or scientifically-oriented , non-authoritarian person would ask is, as in #142, “what kind of society, with what kind of people, would I prefer”. And the answer, at least for me, is as I describe.

    Once you say that you would want a “moral” society, where people are treated ‘fairly’, or ‘justly’, you are asking for authoritarianism.

  168. #168 Michael Fugate
    April 23, 2015

    Cutting through 100s of posts, I get to this argument:
    Morality is objective.
    Materialism (naturalism, physicalism , etc.) cannot lead to an objective morality.
    Therefore materialism is not all there is.

    Several commenters have argued that both premises are wrong.
    I have seen nothing posted that would support either premise. If I am wrong, can someone give the basis for premise 1 being correct and how one were to uncover said “objective” morality? And if premise 1 is true, why science say cannot find out what it is?

  169. #169 Verbose Stoic
    April 23, 2015

    Michael,

    I’ll try to get back to the other posts, but let me start with yours:

    1) There are reasons to argue that morality is objective or subjective, as this is one of the main debates in moral philosophy — although if you can use “subjectivist” and “relativist” interchangeably is not uncontroversial. The problem is that the best argument that subjectivists have is a rather weak one of “Look how much people disagree on morality!”, which is as old as Socrates. However, the fact that we don’t have any proven objective morality and that the procedure for proving that is at best unclear adds support to that side. On the other hand, though, we have the consequences of making morality subjective/relative, which always seem to end up forcing people to define morality in such a way that this incredibly important concept becomes absolutely meaningless and useless, reducing saying “What you did was immoral!” to, at best, “What you did disgusts me!”, and usually ends up reducing morality to a matter of personal taste, the equivalent of saying that you don’t like a painting and then insisting that someone who does happen to like it just has terrible taste. Sure, you can do that, but since that is a matter of personal taste your rant there would have no impact on them or what they should like or dislike, so you look like a fool for doing so. And yet we don’t think that people reacting that way to moral judgements look like fools. Also, as already stated, you potentially end up having to say that slavery is right if the relevant group thinks it’s right — or insert anything you think morally heinous here — which is at best strange and at worst seen as being totally confused. And all attempts to bring in a partially objective criteria — this is where relativism usually comes in — like by shared biological features, instincts, or culture ends up not having any objective argument for getting to there … and even if they did get there, there’s no reason to say that we have to or should stop there, and we usually, intuitively, don’t.

    I personally think the evidence for morality being objective is clearly stronger because when we try to apply any subjective approach we end up with a meaningless morality, and so that can’t be the right way to think about morality. So for someone to say that you can have a meaningful subjective morality seems … challenging, to say the least. But the fact that we can’t settle the criteria for morality does open the door to maybe morality is indeed just a personal preference that we place too much importance on … which would be a stronger argument if most subjectivists TREATED it like a personal preference, and not as something stronger.

    2) Tying in with why it’s so hard to figure out morality, science, at least, can’t do it because science is descriptive and morality is normative. Science does not look at the world and tell us how it OUGHT to be; it looks at the world and tells us how it IS. But meaningful morality is about how things ought to be, not about how things are. You can gather up all of the examples of all moralities everywhere and potentially still not have anything that looks like the right morality, and that’s pretty much how science proceeds.

    Now, as to whether NATURALISM can do it or not depends a lot on what naturalism you’re talking about. But science is just not built to do the sort of examinations that we need to do morality, even to the point of figuring out if it is really subjective or objective.

  170. #170 Verbose Stoic
    April 24, 2015

    eric,

    YOU have not established that your view of morality is objectively correct either, so you’re in the same boat as them.

    I acknowledge that, except that in my case I’m not saying that the autistics are right and their critics are wrong, but merely that the autistics MIGHT be right, so you can’t say that they are immoral just because their views do not match yours. This is a far cry from the subjectivist who has to say that you can’t call autistics immoral because they merely have a different view of morality than you, and no view is more right than another as long as they are all internally consistent.

    Unless you can say which views are wrong, you don’t have an objective morality. Unless you can give some rational and reasonably agreed upon methodology for determining which views are wrong, you don’t have an objective morality.

    To which I reply that we don’t know what it is yet, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t say that if morality is to have meaning, it must be objective. My response to Michael covers more of this.

    But if peace and prosperity are not considered important social goals, if getting out of a zero sum game situation is not something the people in a society care about, if a society’s definition of ‘person’ is different, then no, our current moral framework would not be seen as progress. This is seen right now, in geopolitics, because we have theocracies that value alignment with godly commands higher than either peace or prosperity: they see our values as corrupting and evil, a regression from a more perfect past.

    Here’s the issue: you say that it wouldn’t be seen as progress, and that’s uncontroversial. The real question, though, is if we actually HAVE progressed or not, or if there is a way to tell. Your comments here don’t actually say whether you think there is a way to truly say that you’ve progressed in terms of morality or not … even if, right now, you aren’t sure how to tell. I say that if we are disagreeing at all, you have to accept that there is no such thing as moral progress, and saying that we have “progressed” in the way you say it here is pretty much a meaningless statement that sounds good but has no evidential or argumentative power. You can’t say that those theological views are in any way unenlightened or backwards, and if people holding those views, say, argue that same-sex marriage is a violation of natural law and so should not be allowed, and when it is pointed out that we don’t follow natural law anymore reply “And that’s the problem”, you can’t criticize them for it in any meaningful way. And if in a democracy they get enough votes together to ban same-sex marriage, you can’t criticize them MORALLY for that; they are not immoral people because there is no objective criteria for morality.

    If you want to judge the actions of others to a degree beyond “That’s not my cup of tea”, you need something objective, which is PRECISELY what you deny exists. And in our interactions, it does seem to me that you DO like to criticize the morality of those who have a different view than you.

    Hell yes I think it would. They would not see it as wrong, and you would have a hard time convincing them that the rights of an alien sentient trumps their right to provide their baby with a safe and standard growth opportunity.

    So, let’s presume that we can consider anything intelligent enough to be considered a moral agent a person. What this means, then, is that both of them, at this point, should be considered persons. So, you then think that it isn’t immoral for them to impregnate another person against their will in a manner that will, in fact, leave that person dead (I presume, but it’s not any better if they live through it), against that person’s will, when they are aware that they are doing that to another person, against that person’s will and have an option that doesn’t involve using or killing a person. Essentially, you are willing to say that what is morally them willingly and consciously MURDERING another person cannot be considered immoral because of their biology. So, you are unwilling to consider murder immoral in this case (using the moral, not legal sense of the term). At that point, we can’t even have the compromise morality that you talked about, because you’re willing to use biology to trump the most basic of moral considerations necessary for two people to interact. Not K-groups or whatever, but even just two individual PEOPLE.

    I’m perfectly willing to say that someone willing to knowingly and unnecessarily kill another person is, in fact, absolutely evil. Most people are indeed willing to do the same. It is reasonable to say that if there are cases where someone is effectively murdering another person is actually considered moral then you have a moral view or stance that has no meaning. You don’t seem willing to say that, and that, to me, leaves you with a morality not worth wanting, or of any use at all.

    Note that this is different from the vegetarian case in a crucial way: that doesn’t involve persons. The vegetarian might be right that killing animals for food is just as bad, but they’d need to objectively prove that … and they haven’t. But it’s pretty clear that killing other persons for food IS immoral. And for the pregnancy case, it’s clear that they are saying that there is no other reasonable option there, and even THEN they can be charged with inconsistency for allowing it. Certainly at that point they’d still be considered the person to have more value than the animal, which ties right back into the above difference, and note that I did say that it would be immoral if they had another choice, and so weren’t doing it just out of convenience.

    The naturalistic fallacy but in some ways we can’t help making it. We should strive not to derives our oughts from our is’s…but we do, even when we try not to. It is subconscious and almost impossible to avoid, but our biology and adaptations influence our sense of moral right and wrong. This is so subtle and so powerful that even philosophers like you – who are supposed to be able to set aside all these influences and think academically at the problem – arrive at the answer that the objective unchanging moral rules of the universe just so happen to align with behavior consistent with a lifestyle beneficial for a large, social, omnivorous, K-selection type species! Do you think that’s coincidental?

    That we are influenced by our biological and cultural views is undeniable. What we are striving for is to ensure that we base our views on something else and CORRECT for that bias. So, returning to the example, it seems that most humans would find the whole implantation thing horribly cruel, even if only done to animals, and so we’d be tempted to say that just DOING that is immoral (think of the Aliens in the Aliens series). But if we said that to the wasps or Aliens, they could easily report that it isn’t really any different from us eating animals, and that the purported cruelty is, in fact, just how their biology works, and so our judgement is, in fact, based only on our own cultural and biological biases. This is an objective judgement and points out that objectively we’re either both wrong or there is some difference in the cases that makes the difference here. That means that we can resolve it assuming that there is an objective answer, even if we aren’t sure what it is, which means that it doesn’t support a subjectivist view at all. To support a subjectivist view in this case, you have to let them use people … and that’s something that seems so outlandish that if you allow it, you have to deny any meaningful moral conversation whatsoever.

  171. #171 proximity1
    April 24, 2015

    I thought that, after losing 45 minutes’ worth of typing a comment yesterday, I’d regroup and offer this, my summary of where science-minded people should start when considering morality and moral issues.

    As humans, we have a moral sense–all of us, save the most profoundly brain-damaged of us and even there, it is difficult to quite rule out that even they may have some portion of moral sense. This is part of us, not a choice, whether we know it or not and whether or not we “like it” or it’s “good” or “bad” for us, we have it just as we have other traits and characteristics–our stature, our hair color, our talents or our defects. All these, including our moral sense are the combined products of our evolutionary heritage, our environmental and our living experiences. Our moral sense includes much emotional content–feelings of sympathy and empathy, but also joy, anger, hatred, envy, sadness and confusion. Much of this comes to us via instinct and intuition. Our feelings about right and wrong, good and evil, progress and decline, are in part formed by our sentiments, our felt emotions. Those are of course products of the brain and its store of experiences–constantly in flux and recombinations without rest. In their totality, the sum constitutes who we are individually and is therefore ultimately unique, no matter how similar much of these experiences and feelings may be.

    As such an emergent and ever reconstituted set of qualities and features, our moral sense is necessarily a contrived, derived set. A social construct composed of some average of many people’s shared experiences may develop into a commonly shared set of accepted beliefs and practices but since these are the products of each contributing individual’s share, the average is also necessarily a contrived and derived sum set which changes with experience and fashions of thought and belief.

    It should be clear that there is simply no room in evolutionary biology for an absolute or “objective” morality any more than there is or could be an “objective” human. There are billions of human individuals who constitute so many current living “end-points” in a seamless expanse of variation in characteristics–all of which, together, make up an abstraction known as “human” creatures. No two are exactly alike, no two living emotional experiences are exactly alike. Morals–where they enter into social functions and cultural artefacts are the summed statistical averages of a variable set of contributing actors. In another place or time, those actors, their contributions and the averaged sum of them will always be more or less different from all previous or later concatinations.

    So, there is no question of having or not having morals, or of living with or without them. We have them–they’re part of our inherent make up and they inevitably influence us for better and for worse. Our morals may be sound or unsound, helathy or diseased. We can be or become brutalized by experiences which leave us morally devastated and lacking in what we could formerly feel and make use of in moral understanding. Similarly, those who’ve suffered immense moral damage can, with time and effort, recover some or all of what they’d lost through debased, demoralizing experience. There’s probably little or no irretrievable, irreparable moral damage or loss nor, for that matter, any definitively vouchsafed moral security from potential harm and loss through hard experience. So, all of us are capable of either decline or recovery of our moral sense through lived experiences which are always partially beyond our abilities to control completely.

    This knowledge should imbue us with a certain humility in what we are and what we might become under the right or the wrong circumstances. It should lead us to be wary of firm conclusive statements about universals of moral right and wrong and, most of all, of an objectivity about any of it. All that we are is a product of chance and circumstance and so too are our beliefs and convictions, our certainties and our doubts. We and our moral sense abide in a given context which is only partially susceptible to our influence and control. So we should take care in using morals–even as we accept that we have no choice but to use them.

  172. #172 Michael Fugate
    April 24, 2015

    VS, I am still curious from where an objective morality comes – if not from personal taste. What is this other and how is it studied? Until that is uncovered then I think morality has to be subjective.

  173. […] Jason Rosenhouse has written an extraordinary post in which he pronounces the Intelligent Design movement officially dead: “Truly, ID is […]

  174. […] Jason Rosenhouse has written an extraordinary post in which he pronounces the Intelligent Design movement officially dead: “Truly, ID is dead,” he […]

  175. #175 Phil
    April 26, 2015

    “There have been other models for the origin of life, including the ground-breaking Lipid-world model advanced by Segre, Lancet and colleagues (reviewed in EMBO Reports (2000), 1(3), 217?222), but despite much ingenuity and effort, it is fair to say that all origin of life models suffer from astoundingly low probabilities of actually occurring…”

    And of course, this will be dismissed in less time than it took to type those words. People believe what they like, and they do not like ‘astoundingly low probabilities’ being applied to their beliefs.

  176. […] a recent post at his blog, Jason Rosenhouse wrote “Truly, ID is dead.”  In response, Vincent Torley […]

  177. #177 The whole truth
    April 26, 2015

    god pushers, e.g. arrington and his two-faced ilk, OUGHT to stop PREACHING about morality and instead behave as though they actually have good morality.

  178. #178 Piotr Gąsiorowski
    April 27, 2015

    ID is expired and gone to meet its designer.

  179. #179 eric
    April 27, 2015

    VS @170:

    To which I reply that we don’t know what it is yet, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t say that if morality is to have meaning, it must be objective.

    Maybe you require an objective morality before it has personal meaning to you, but that sounds like a personal issue not a philosophical one. If its the case that subjective phenomena are meaningless to you, does that mean you also find art, music, etc.. .meaningless? If you don’t (find them meaningless), then what prevents you from finding meaning in a subjective morality?

    The real question, though, is if we actually HAVE progressed or not, or if there is a way to tell. Your comments here don’t actually say whether you think there is a way to truly say that you’ve progressed in terms of morality or not

    The concept of “progress” is related to what goal you set or are trying to reach. Tell me what your goal is, and I can tell you whether historical trends in moral thinking are progressing towards that or not. Different people can have different goals; so we may be progressing towards some goals or preferred end-states, but we may be regressing (or going nowhere) in relation to other goals. I tend to think our morals have progressed towards goals such as peace and prosperity. Our morals have progressed towards the goal of categorizing moral agents based on relevant objective criteria (such as sentience and ability to make informed decisions) rather than our former arbitrary ones (skin color, tribal affiliation). But these goals are not shared by all humans.

    You can’t say that those theological views are in any way unenlightened or backwards, and if people holding those views, say, argue that same-sex marriage is a violation of natural law and so should not be allowed, and when it is pointed out that we don’t follow natural law anymore reply “And that’s the problem”, you can’t criticize them for it in any meaningful way.

    Sure I can; I can criticize them by saying their position creates a ‘natural law’ that has no basis in fact. That their position is unenlightened because the enlightenment refers to an historical time period and point of view where people strive to make judgments based on reason and analysis rather than authority, yet their argument against gay marriage is primarily an authority-based one and so very unenlightened. I can refer to goals such as equality and peace/prosperity and say that allowing gays to marry is a progression towards those goals, while their position is a regression or hindrance in reaching those goals. And when some anti-SSM person claims that the institution of marriage or their straight marriage is harmed by allowing other people to SSM, I can ask “what harm?” and point out the flaws in their response, because AFAIK in literally years of litigation and tens of cases, not one anti-SSM submission, lawyer, or plaintiff has been able to give a cogent and legally relevant answer to that question, ever.

    Can I point a goodometer at a SSM ceremony and say “nope, you’re wrong, I’m not measuring any evil here”? No. There’s no such thing as a goodometer because good is not an objective property of acts or things (at least IMO). But that is certainly not needed before I’m allowed to criticize someone else’s opinion.

    Essentially, you are willing to say that what is morally them willingly and consciously MURDERING another person cannot be considered immoral because of their biology.

    No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying you’re going to have a hard or impossible time getting alien species to agree with you about what’s objectively good and evil because their biology is going to influence their reasoning the same way ours influences us. I said right at the beginning of this conversation that we would have to find some mutually agreeable rules for dealing with each other. I expect that for humans, “don’t murder us for gestation when you don’t need to to survive” would be a red line we would go to war to preserve. But then again, if we meet some intelligent herbivore, “don’t murder cows for food when you don’t need to eat them to survive” might be one of theirs.

    So, returning to the example, it seems that most humans would find the whole implantation thing horribly cruel, even if only done to animals, and so we’d be tempted to say that just DOING that is immoral (think of the Aliens in the Aliens series). But if we said that to the wasps or Aliens, they could easily report that it isn’t really any different from us eating animals, and that the purported cruelty is, in fact, just how their biology works, and so our judgement is, in fact, based only on our own cultural and biological biases. This is an objective judgement and points out that objectively we’re either both wrong or there is some difference in the cases that makes the difference here.

    I agree with that whole beginning, but begin to part ways with you when you say “this is an objective judgment.” Certainly looking at biological facts is a reference to objective reality, but this does not mean that the morality that comes out of it is objectively true. Again, there’s no goodometer; no measurable property of the acts or judgments that exists independently of the value given those acts by the actors and watchers.

    To support a subjectivist view in this case, you have to let them use people

    I can fight for what I subjectively think is right and oppose what I subjectively think is wrong just fine. I don’t need an objective morality in order to want to make the world a better place. I’m not going to suffer any sort of philosophical paralysis over the thought that my morality is subjective any more than I’m going to suffer philosophical paralysis over the thought that my inductions are uncertain (the problem of induction).

  180. #180 H.H.
    April 28, 2015

    Virtually everyone understands basic empathy, and understands that it is just wrong to inflict pointless suffering on sentient creatures. Why is that not a reason for feeling confident that there are objective moral truths, just as surely as a scientific consensus makes us confident that there are objective physical truths?

    It is possible to achieve broad consensus on subjective issues, but that’s not at all the same thing as an objective truth. Most music critics agree that the Beetles were one of the greatest bands of all time, but that’s still an opinion. It’s not an objective fact that the Beetles are one of the greatest. It’s still a matter of taste. Vanilla is the most popular flavor of ice cream. Does that mean vanilla is objectively the best flavor? Of course not. Consensus of opinion is not a substitute for objectivity.

    How humans should behave toward one another will always be an issue of concern only to other humans. There is no objective set of rules to follow. Justice is a dynamic target that changes with each situation. There are no such thing as moral facts, only moral intuitions.

  181. #181 Phil
    April 28, 2015

    “ID is expired and gone to meet its designer.”

    That is a escape policy . The facts, and the profound and serious questions as noted in the link @173, are just getting started. The emperor has no clothes.

  182. #182 eric
    April 29, 2015

    ID is just getting started? How can that be? Didn’t Behe claim 19 years ago to have examples of it and a method for determining what was designed and what wasn’t? Didn’t cdesign proponentists roll out a HS textbook on it 16 years ago? If it’s just getting started now, were all those people lying back then?

  183. #183 Michael Fugate
    April 29, 2015

    The emperor has no clothes.

    You are referring to ID here, no?

  184. #184 Phil
    April 29, 2015

    “ID is just getting started?”

    The momentum appears to be shifting. The Uncommon Descent article reference above shows that it is not just ID enthusiasts who are willing to ask unwelcome questions.

  185. […] Jason Rosenhouse has written a series of posts on the topic of morality. In two posts (here and here), he defended the view that morality is objective, but in two other posts in reply to Barry […]

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