Jan 11 2013

Objective vs Subjective Morality

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458 Responses to “Objective vs Subjective Morality”

  1. FXPon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:04 am

    Very interesting post.

    One question. You say the following: “are moral first principles, therefore, objective or subjective. This, I maintain, is a false dichotomy. They are complex, with some subjective aspects (the values) and some objective aspects (explorations of their universality and implications)”

    Surely if the values themselves are subjective then any implications arising from then are also subjective by nature?

  2. Steven Novellaon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:14 am

    FXP – No. You can, for example, examine a moral system for logical consistency vs self-contradiction. Consistency is an objective evaluation.

    Also – universality is something that can be measured. You can ask, why is universality important, but that is already taken as a premise of morality in that we only need morality because we have to live with each other, so the moral system has to cover everyone or it doesn’t really address that need.

  3. NotAnAtheiston 11 Jan 2013 at 9:18 am

    @Steve

    You said:

    “We can take as empirical facts, however, that humans have feelings and our actions affect others – these are therefore well-founded premises for a moral system. ”

    Nonsense, I have feelings that tell me to go steal everything I can get away with stealing and I don’t care what happens to others. I’m all good.

    You said:
    “I think, in part, they are taken as self-evident and given, but that does not mean they are entirely without justification, because they are rooted, as is the need for morality itself, in the human condition.”

    Self evident? Many would say that the existence of God is self evident with just as much proof as you have provided. What exactly do you mean by the human condition? How does it justify your “self-evident” first principle?

    You said:
    “Also, these principles can be evaluated empirically, in terms of their universality, their neurological basis, and the effects of their implementation in a society.”

    How would you evaluate these empirically in terms of there universality? Their neurological basis would be irrelevent.

    You said:
    “There is also an unsolvable practical issue – no one has a direct line to God. There are those who claim to, but no one can demonstrate that they actually have objective access to the true moral rules of the lawgiver.”

    How does your concept of morality without a lawgiver free of this same problem. Do not philosophers disagree on morality? Which philosophers are right?

    You said:
    “This is far preferable to a system based upon conflicts traditions about what an unprovable lawgiver allegedly told members of a primitive agrarian society about how he wants people to behave.”

    Preferrable to you, yes. 90+ % of everybody else would disagree. Why do you think your preferences are “better” than someone elses.

    What is the purpose of this moral philosophy of which you speak? Is it simply to make suggestions for how to live a better life. This would not be universal morality which is what most people commmonly understand it to be.

    If it is something that is used to judge others, there can be no justification for applying it universally unless there is some objective basis?

    Atheists could solve their logical dilemma with morality by simply admitting that no authority->no morality. There is no basis for judging even the most heinous acts as wrong without an objective morality. It is interesting that you rarely hear that point made.

  4. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 9:25 am

    “I think, in part, they are taken as self-evident and given, but that does not mean they are entirely without justification, because they are rooted, as is the need for morality itself, in the human condition.”

    First off, very well done post on a big topic. The only thing I would like to emphasize (since Zach seems to have a problem with this concept) is that these moral first principle are concepts that are discussed and debated first. Its not like they are assumed and that is the end of the discussion. He (Zach) seems to frame it in this fashion, and he thinks that when one another person comes along and disagrees with this principle, the whole thing falls apart. But of course that is not true.

  5. SARAon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:28 am

    I would argue that when you are measuring a subjective thing, the observer determines it’s consistency. And two different observers may have different views of the event.

    For example, murder. There have been many times in history where murder was deemed acceptable when a husband discovered his wife in bed with a lover.

    The fact of the exception creates inconsistency. Also, the fact that not every person would consider that an acceptable exception creates inconsistency.

    The fact that we have not yet found any completely agreed upon morality also points to a lack of universality.

  6. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 9:34 am

    “How does your concept of morality without a lawgiver free of this same problem. Do not philosophers disagree on morality? Which philosophers are right?”

    Because disagreements can be worked out in theory and in practice with philosophy. If you think your morality is the only possible one because it is directly from the lawgiver, in theory there is no way to change that other than for you to throw the whole thing out. Of course in practice, they do change, but that is due to people changing their interpretation of what the lawgiver really says. This goes to show that all of this is coming from us humans no matter what you think

  7. NotAnAtheiston 11 Jan 2013 at 9:40 am

    @ccbowers

    “Because disagreements can be worked out in theory and in practice with philosophy.”

    How do you work them out. In science, you work them out by examining new evidence. Philosophy can not be held to the scientific method. Philosophy may evolve, but only because of changing opinions. There will be no new evidence to be had.

  8. NotAnAtheiston 11 Jan 2013 at 9:41 am

    @SARA

    You are dead on.

  9. dogmaphobeon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:53 am

    @NotAnAtheist

    Nonsense, I have feelings that tell me to go steal everything I can get away with stealing and I don’t care what happens to others. I’m all good.

    If you don’t care what happens to others then that makes you a sociopath. If everyone felt the same it would still be possible to derive a system of morality based upon our collective human condition, it would just be a particularly bad one. Luckily this is not the case.

  10. JJ Borgmanon 11 Jan 2013 at 10:08 am

    I would like to hear commentary on the subject of absolutes. I think there is little room for suggesting anything we’re discussing here can be absolute. Consistency is not necessarily absolute, for example. I would say my neck functions properly and consistently in every range of motion expected from it. The fact that I occasionally get a “crick” in it doesn’t change that.

    It seems to me this is a sticking point for many statements made recently.

  11. Kawarthajonon 11 Jan 2013 at 10:13 am

    @ SARA: “The fact that we have not yet found any completely agreed upon morality also points to a lack of universality.”

    To take your idea one step farther, moral standards have changed dramatically over time and continue to change, which is a strong argument against some sort of Objective, Universal Moral Code from God or some other source. If Morality were truly objective and come from God, or some other universal source, they would be stable over time.

  12. Steven Novellaon 11 Jan 2013 at 10:25 am

    NAA wrote:”Nonsense, I have feelings that tell me to go steal everything I can get away with stealing and I don’t care what happens to others. I’m all good.”

    Non sequitur. The premise is that people have feelings. What those feelings are is a separate question. The fact that we have feelings means that some outcomes will be preferable to us. The purpose of a moral system is to prmote those outcomes.

    Further, your point about stealing ignores the second premise – that we need to live together. You may like stealing, but other people do not like being stolen from. So how do we device a moral system that accounts for both of these conflicting desires? We need rules to figure out how to resolve such conflicts. For example, we can apply principles of ownership, non maleficence, and the general rule that negative rights (the right not to have something done to you) supercedes positive rights (the right to do something).

    So you are not “all good.”

    NAA wrote: “Self evident? Many would say that the existence of God is self evident with just as much proof as you have provided. What exactly do you mean by the human condition? How does it justify your “self-evident” first principle?”

    Non sequitur. You missed the part about later justification. No one is saying that we take our gut feelings and run with them. They are a starting point, then we try to justify them. I can justify the notion that harm is bad. Can you justify your belief in God?

    The human condition is the collective feelings, nature, and essence of what is it to be a person living in the world. Again – the context of morality.

    NAA wrote:”How would you evaluate these empirically in terms of there universality? Their neurological basis would be irrelevent.”

    Psychologists do surveys and experiments all the time evaluating what percentage of people hold certain beliefs or engage in certain bahaviors with what invluences, including cultural influences. That is empirical data. The neurological basis does not determine moral values, but it is not irrelevant. It is useful to know, for example, what elements of brain function are being engaged in certain behaviors and situations. This does give us insight into why people make certain decisions.

    NAA wrote: “How does your concept of morality without a lawgiver free of this same problem. Do not philosophers disagree on morality? Which philosophers are right?”

    This is a main point of the post – Philosophers have a system by which they can evaluate moral thinking. It’s not perfect, it’s complex, philosophers of course can disagree, but there are rules, the application of logic, informed by science, etc. This is simply NOT equivalent to a faith-based system in which morals are whatever one subculture says their god dictates. Very different. Perhaps you would benefit from reading the post again.

    NAA wrote:”Preferrable to you, yes. 90+ % of everybody else would disagree. Why do you think your preferences are “better” than someone elses.”

    I laid out the very specific reasons why it is preferable. I disagree with the assertion that 90% of everybody would disagree (now that is an assertion needing evidence). Not everyon with a reilgious belief thinks their reilgious should be the basis of everyone’s morality. Further, there are almost 200 religions making up that 90% and they have no way to resolve their differences, and so using a secular philosophy-based system makes sense. People can be religious and respect religious freedom.

    In any case, this is a non sequitur- and appeal to popularity. I laid out the reasons why a philosophical system works and a faith-based system does not.

    NAA wrote: “Atheists could solve their logical dilemma with morality by simply admitting that no authority->no morality. There is no basis for judging even the most heinous acts as wrong without an objective morality. It is interesting that you rarely hear that point made.:

    No – that is your premise, but it is not reasonable, and certainly has not been demonstrated. I do not need a magic authority to tell me that if I expect to have my right respected I should respect the rights of others. I can work that out for myself, thanks.

    It is amazing that in order to maintain the position that divinely imposed morals are necessary the apologists for this position must maintain that humans are incapable of working out even the most basic and obvious moral principles for themselves.

  13. NotAnAtheiston 11 Jan 2013 at 10:25 am

    @Kawarthajon
    “If Morality were truly objective and come from God, or some other universal source, they would be stable over time.”

    This is true, but just because moral standards have changed doesn’t mean morality has changed. It means that humans are imperfect in understanding and in practice of morality.

  14. Steven Novellaon 11 Jan 2013 at 10:31 am

    JJ – regarding absolutes – there are no absolutes when it comes to humans, because we are flawed and have a limited perspective. There are no absolutes in science either, for that reason (there is always a frame of reference).

    Likewise, NAA says that science progresses through empirical evidence, and philosophy cannot. This is both simplistic and wrong. First, science is a system for evaluating empirical claims. Philosophy is not – so they do not hold to the same criteria. Philosophy is more a system of logic, although it is often based or informed by empirical claims. For example, if a philosophy follows to a certain conclusion that can be empirically tested, then that line of reasoning is subject to evidence.

    Further, science is dependant upon philosophy – the philosophy of science and epistemology.

    Philosophy, as a system of logic applicable to the real empirical world, is testable as a system of logic, which means it can be held to logical criteria.

    To put the comments of NAA and others into context – this is all best understood as a desperate attempt for false equivalency between their faith and anything that might challenge it. If it all comes down to faith, then they can say they prefer their faith and there is no reason to prefer any other beliefs (whether evolution or moral philosophy). The denialism and logical errors required to make this argument, however, should be obvious to most people following these comments.

  15. daedalus2uon 11 Jan 2013 at 10:32 am

    Zach and NAA, the problem you are having is that you are treating your conceptualization of morality as if it is something it is not.

    You maintain that MORALITY is objective and comes from a law giver. Fine. But the model of morality that you instantiate in your brain is not (and cannot be) the perfect MORALITY that the hypothetical Law Giver has tried to convey to lowly and imperfect humans.

    I appreciate that you want your internal sense of morality to match the MORALITY of the Law Giver, but as Dr Novella has pointed out many times, you don’t know how to do that. You don’t have access to the “source code” of the universal MORALITY that you think the Law Giver has produced, and you would admit that even if you had that “source code”, you could not understand it to the level of detail that the Law Giver does.

    If you don’t have access to the perfect and objective MORALITY of the Law Giver because your brain can’t hold it all, what choice do you have? Default to might makes right? Default to personal selfishness and greed? Default to moral relativism?

    The reasonable person would try to figure out what would constitute a universal MORALITY if there was one, and try to approximate it as best as their feeble brain would allow while making provision for not acting in questionable circumstances and updating it over time.

    This is the process that Dr Novella is trying to accomplish. Start with fundamental premises that seem to be pretty universal and figure out what those premises imply for actions under certain circumstances.

    What do you suggest? Start with what ever ideas feel right for you? We know that self-interest is going to generate a cognitive bias that over values benefits to the self, while under valuing benefits to others. One can try to avoid the cognitive bias of self-interest by abstractly removing the self from the thought experiments used to evaluate moral value. This is how human justice systems try to work, they have a disinterested party, a judge, sit in judgment. We know that “justice” often doesn’t happen when interested parties sit in judgment over issues that affect them.

    Once you have any morality system, albeit an imperfect moral system, how do you upgrade it? By sitting around and waiting for the Law Giver to put ideas into your head? How can you know if those ideas are from the Law Giver and not from somewhere else? Or are not cognitive bias generated by self-interest? Look in an old book? How do you know that the words in the book are from the Law Giver? How do you know that the human being who wrote the words in that old book was not experiencing cognitive bias from self-interest? What basis is there for accepting that ancient unknown self-proclaimed religious people actually heard directly from the Law Giver, accurately recorded what the Law Giver said, and that each person in the information chain of custody has accurately and precisely remembered, recorded, transmitted and translated that information without error?

    We know that the only way to ensure that a process is reliable is by ensuring that every step in the process is reliable. The only way to do that is to explicitly examine every step. That is exactly how Dr Novella upgrades his conceptualization of morality, by going back to the first premises and examining every step in the path from those premises to the final evaluation of the moral value of an action. You can’t do that with Laws from a Law Giver.

  16. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 10:33 am

    “How do you work them out. In science, you work them out by examining new evidence. Philosophy can not be held to the scientific method. Philosophy may evolve, but only because of changing opinions. There will be no new evidence to be had.”

    Who says that philosophy is not informed by evidence?, because that is not correct. Both science and philosphy, and as a result our understanding of ourselves and the universe progress over time. So your characterization of mere arbitrary changing opinions is inaccurate, from a big picture perspective and in general, there is progress in the changes

  17. Steven Novellaon 11 Jan 2013 at 10:33 am

    NAA wrote: “This is true, but just because moral standards have changed doesn’t mean morality has changed. It means that humans are imperfect in understanding and in practice of morality.”

    And that understanding and practice of morality is moral philosophy. Congratulations.

    The point also stands – the moral philosophy of those culture claiming god as their source is indistinguishable from culturally determined moral philosophizing, thoroughly embedded in the time and place of the so-called prophets who claim god as their source.

  18. Fourieron 11 Jan 2013 at 10:37 am

    Re: The Moral Landscape. It wasn’t great. Though I haven’t been impressed with Sam Harris’s writing since his first couple of works, which I rather enjoyed – though possibly only because they gave a different perspective from those of heavy-going philosophers and scientists that I’d been reading before. However, in his defence (or, rather, to give him a fair hearing) I think his main argument stems from his conviction that morality should be defined as avoiding the maximum amount of suffering possible, and that if you insist that this is just his arbitrary definition of morality then his response is that, whatever you think you are talking about, it isn’t morality in any sense that he recognises it. So to the philosopher this is anathema because you’re arbitrarily defining one of the terms under debate, but I think most people would accept that as a fairly reasonable step.

    The problem I’ve always had with the philosophy of morality is that the question “How should we live?” is inherently only half a question – it doesn’t make sense, to me at least, without the addendum “In order to achieve X”, for some X. And the argument over morality seems to centre around defining that X. So once we can define that X, getting there is (as Harris argues) simply a matter of science. But I don’t see any way in which our choice of X is anything but completely arbitrary, or dissolves into circularity. And the fact that our innate evolved sense of pleasure/disgust/fear/anger etc. tends to push us fairly unanimously in certain directions, that still doesn’t mean that following those impulses is any less arbitrary than throwing a die. So, in that respect, what Harris does is essentially what we all do when not engaging in philosophy, which is to set X = “the greatest possible good for the greatest possible number of people”.

    Also, as Steve points out – even if we were certain that there were a god, that wouldn’t help one bit, because it would still be an arbitrary choice to align that X with the god’s desires. Even given Plato’s arguments in Euthyphro (btw typo), if that god is somehow following some underlying morality of the Universe (whatever that may mean – the concept is nonsense to me), then that means that the god is irrelevant to morality unless you’re arguing that it is the only route to learning that underlying truth. Which introduces the other issues Steve points out.

    So I genuinely conclude that the actual term “morality” is meaningless, in the strong sense that people like AJ Ayer would have probably argued. YMMV :)

  19. champenoiseon 11 Jan 2013 at 10:55 am

    You say ‘we need morality’ as if first there were humans, and then they invented morality. I think basic morality is part of the human condition but difficult to put in words. Beyond that, good luck convincing the rest of the world to adopt a new moral system, especially if it doesn’t have anything supernatural. It may be worthwhile to try to describe that basic part that we have in common, in say the next 1000 years or so.

  20. Steven Novellaon 11 Jan 2013 at 11:01 am

    Fourier – what you say is reasonable to a point, but couple of quibbles:

    Harris is following the ethical philosophy of consequentialism. But, there are other philosophies, deontological and virtue ethics. So you first have to argue for consequentialism, which is not generally accepted by philosophyers as a viable stand-alone ethical philosophy.

    It is part of ethical philosophy, however, which gets us back to – science informs but does not determine ethics.

    I would also disagree with the “throwing the dice” analogy. Again I thinkyou are falling into the trap of assuming that anything less than objective morality (which I agree, does not make any sense) is completely arbitrary. Having a subjective component to morality is not the same as arbitrary, which implies equivalency.

    I would argue that morality only makes sense in the context of the moral actors, and therefore we can say as human moral actors certain moral principles are defensible and others are not.

  21. NotAnAtheiston 11 Jan 2013 at 11:16 am

    @Steve

    You wrote:
    “Non sequitur. The premise is that people have feelings. What those feelings are is a separate question. The fact that we have feelings means that some outcomes will be preferable to us. The purpose of a moral system is to prmote those outcomes.”

    But why is that the basis of a moral system? That we have feelings does not justify a moral system. Those feelings could be irrelevant. In fact, they are irrelevant to me. Obviously you missed my point.

    “Further, your point about stealing ignores the second premise – that we need to live together. You may like stealing, but other people do not like being stolen from. So how do we device a moral system that accounts for both of these conflicting desires? We need rules to figure out how to resolve such conflicts. For example, we can apply principles of ownership, non maleficence, and the general rule that negative rights (the right not to have something done to you) supercedes positive rights (the right to do something).”

    Why do we need to live together? If I have the ability to evade the consequences of my actions I can take what I like. I don’t need the approval of any of you lousy folks. Now if you want your morality to be specific to you and those who agree with you, that is fine. There is nothing universal that you can derive from “people have feelings”.

    “This is a main point of the post – Philosophers have a system by which they can evaluate moral thinking. It’s not perfect, it’s complex, philosophers of course can disagree, but there are rules, the application of logic, informed by science, etc. This is simply NOT equivalent to a faith-based system in which morals are whatever one subculture says their god dictates. Very different. Perhaps you would benefit from reading the post again.”

    I didn’t say they were the same thing but both have the same problem of starting with unproven premises. Philosophers may use logic, science etc. as tools but must start with unproven premises
    (which this post is loaded with) just as the religious believer begins with the unproven premise of God.

    “It is amazing that in order to maintain the position that divinely imposed morals are necessary the apologists for this position must maintain that humans are incapable of working out even the most basic and obvious moral principles for themselves.”

    Obvious to whom? You and others like you of course. It is amazing that in order to maintain the position that a universal morality may be derived without a lawgiver they must resort to ad hominems.

    You keep saying philosophy is not perfect but it is the best we have. You would suffer no such imperfection in a religious argument for morality.

  22. nybgruson 11 Jan 2013 at 11:25 am

    I swear I will not be particularly active in posting on this thread. I have pushed off enough responsibilities so far, that I need to actually focus on my actual work. Plus I start my clinical duties again on Monday (though thankfully it is work at a very underserved high school clinic so my hours will be short and known a priori).

    I just want to say that I did learn a LOT from the last two threads. Mostly from Dr. Novella, but also from all the other commenters – including Zach. It is amazingly useful to delineate where one makes assumptions and to also learn about such a complex system. It pertains, of course, to medical ethics – something which is important in general to me as a soon-to-be physician, but also because my intended field of practice deals with death and dying regularly and I think many if not most physicians are ill equipped to deal with end-of-life and palliation issues.

    I’ll also add that at some point I will need to re-read Harris’ Moral Landscape in context of my knew knowledge from these conversations. I feel that I have grown significantly in these last few days of heated and rapid fire discussion. I was absolutely on board with Harris’ assertions about the ability for science to not only inform but determine morality. I did not realize at the time his stance was one of strict consequentialism (heck, I didn’t even know that existed at the time I read the book). I don’t reject Harris’ claims outright, but I see now they are at least incomplete. I still think there remains an ability to significantly further inform moral systems using neuroscientific techniques, but I realize now how they cannot form the foundational basis and explain the totality of a moral system.

    So I would just like to thank everyone who participated in the conversation – not only including, but especially Zach (and I mean that genuinely Zach!) – for giving me such an opportunity to learn. Though not an every day occurrence conversations on these topics do come up and now I can speak vastly more intelligently on the topic, and can make the conversation more efficient by honing in more easily on points of contention thanks to reading everything Zach laid down.

    I’ll close by saying that D2u’s comment above was very insightful and accurate. I would say that the best evidence we have that there is no absolute and objective morality is the fact that we are even having this discussion – or moreso that so many people the world over are having the discussion. Asking a question like “why is harm bad” is actually exactly what moral philosophers do and the starting point for all moral systems. The intractability of moral absolutists like William Lane Craig and Zach hinges on the fact that any answer other than “[insert moral lawgiver of choice] said so” is simply not accepted. The true answer is complex, nuanced, detailed, and requires rigor of thought and hard work. By deferring the answers to these questions to an outside entity it both relieves the burden of responsibility of those decisions and the need for hard work. This actually is not inherently such a bad thing, since theologians who think on morality are doing the exact same thing as secular moral philosophers to determine the answers to these questions, even though the theologian doesn’t realize or admit it. The problems arise when an “answer” is arrived at, because it then becomes impossible to argue against “God said so” and thus becomes incredibly ripe for abuse (as we have seen).

    I’ll continue following this thread to learn more, but if I post anything more than a short blurb only on occasaion after this one, I would ask one favor of my friendly co-commenters here (you know who you are) – remind me to do my other work! And rats to you all for being so incredibly interesting, informative, educational, and awesome.

  23. Steven Novellaon 11 Jan 2013 at 11:29 am

    NAA – We can think about which feelings matter, which are relevant, etc. I am taking as a given that the purpose of a moral system is to achieve some goal. Otherwise – what is morality in the first place? Morality only exists and makes any sense in some context. You are trying to remove morality from any context, but this is just assuming the conclusion you are trying to get to – that we need an outside authority to dicatate morals to us.

    Regarding livnig alone – go ahead and live in the desert all by yourself. As long as your actions don’t affect others, you can really do whatever you want. (Of cuorse we have to consider the ethics of animals and the environment, but that’s a can of worms we don’t need to get into here). If you could hypothetically be isolated from all other people, than I would agree morals seem unnecessary.

    I justified my premises. (justification is not the same as proof – another non sequitur). Please, feel free to justify your beilef in your god. I am listening.

    Finally – I never argued that morality is 100% universal. Just like science – no human knowledge is 100%. We should strive to make is as universal as possible, because that serve the purpose of morality better, but that’s it.

    A religious argument for morality serves nothing, because it is based solely on faith.

  24. Steven Novellaon 11 Jan 2013 at 11:33 am

    champenoise – but we have made tremendous progress doing just that. Most industrialized nations have laws that are fairly similar in broad brush strokes – the big moral questions. We are also developing international moral standards.

    Psychological studies show that most people want to be good, think they are good, and hold similar basic morality. The problem is that most people also do not have a well-developed moral philosophy and ratinonalize easily. This can be improved with education.

  25. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 11:38 am

    champenoise: I think basic morality is part of the human condition but difficult to put in words.

    One might also say that it’s built into our primate cousins, insofar as they exhibit prosocial behaviors and those observed in game theory, such as rewarding cooperation and punishing defection.

    But it’s hard for me to divorce these phenomena from the familiar abstract concepts (e.g. rules and principles) and language (“good”, “bad”, “right”, “wrong”, “virtue”, “vice”), which form the building blocks of human moral philosophy, and still call that “morality.”

    Steven: Again I thinkyou are falling into the trap of assuming that anything less than objective morality (which I agree, does not make any sense) is completely arbitrary. Having a subjective component to morality is not the same as arbitrary, which implies equivalency.

    Hear, hear!

    Yet, to concede that point is to basically concede the argument. I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. :-)

  26. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 12:23 pm

    “Beyond that, good luck convincing the rest of the world to adopt a new moral system, especially if it doesn’t have anything supernatural. It may be worthwhile to try to describe that basic part that we have in common, in say the next 1000 years or so.”

    Are you unaware how much change there has been in recent times regarding this very topic? Its not about “convincing the rest of the world” about a “new moral system,” but it is about change and progress in coming up with anwers on these moral questions for ourselves. Its pretty obvious that this occurs, and it is noticeable in real time…or at least the changes are obvious over one’s lifetime at this point in history. Its also pretty clear that these changes are not arbitrary, or there would be no such thing as progress. Arbitrary changes over time would appear to be lateral changes, and its pretty clear that they are not.

    I have to second what nybgrus said. I have a lot of work to do, but these conversations have been good for this blog and followers

  27. JJ Borgmanon 11 Jan 2013 at 12:35 pm

    It is also interesting, and telling, to see which moral systems are overwhelmingly adhered to voluntarily. They are magnets for the oppressed.

  28. DOYLEon 11 Jan 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Why cant morals/moral behavior be understood as fulfilling a selected for evolutionary niche..After we move from a more savage animal code to a social/communal one,woundn’t you expect a kind of behavioral change(moral conduct).Like the onset of language at the right time,there is a time when cooperation and stewardship become beneficial for humal evolution.

  29. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 12:56 pm

    BTW, having taken up a casual interest in Buddhism in recent years, I’m amused – although hardly surprised – by the Judeo-Christian framing that Zach & NAA use to present their arguments.

    In the Buddhist wisdom tradition – which is still upheld by hundreds of millions (if not over a billion, according to some estimates) of people today – the Buddha functions less as a “lawgiver” than as a guide to spiritual enlightenment or (better) awakening (which is bound up in the metaphysics of karma). Although the Buddha is supposed to have arrived at mystical insights into transcendent/ultimate reality – which I suppose is analogous to prophecy in the Abrahamic religions – Buddhist ethics are framed more as “as training rules that laypeople undertake voluntarily to facilitate practice” [source].

    As an aside, the voluntary nature of that undertaking jibes well with the empiricist (although pre-scientific) nature of Buddhist epistemology. As one scholar/monk put it:

    Buddhism is always a question of knowing and seeing, and not that of believing. The teaching of the Buddha is qualified as “Ehi-Passiko”, inviting you to come and see, but not to come and believe.

    [source]

    I intend none of this as a wholesale endorsement of Buddhism – which comes with plenty of baggage – but merely as an illustration that the “lawgiver” metaphor is not universally shared by all world religious ethical traditions. (For that matter, it seems inapt as a description of ancient Greek ethics, as well.)

  30. daedalus2uon 11 Jan 2013 at 1:17 pm

    NAA, every system requires premises. Arithmetic requires unproven and unprovable premises. They are called axioms.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peano_axioms

    All religions have their own axioms. Some Christians have the axiom that everything in the Bible is the true and infallible word of God. But when you adopt that premise and try to prove stuff, you run into inconsistencies.

    Logicians then deduce that the inconsistencies derive from a bad premise. Some Christians deduce that the inconsistencies derive from logic being not the appropriate tool to evaluate religion, that “faith” is a better tool. “Faith” only works to evaluate religion because faith is completely subjective and circular. If you have faith something is true, then by faith it is true.

    Hillel the Elder (pre Jesus of Nazareth) reduced Jewish Law to one premise:

    “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillel_the_Elder

  31. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 1:19 pm

    @nybgrus

    I think you should re-read the Moral Landscape because I think you’ll find it *isn’t* simple consequentialism (that is, that each action is judged on the basis of its own consequences). I was disappointed to hear Massimo Pigliucci characterize it this way because, well, he should know better.

    Harris explicitly rejects this position repeatedly. First of all, it’s clear we AT LEAST need to judge actions based on the consequences that could reasonably have been expected in advance, rather than just what consequences happen to happen. Actually winning the lottery doesn’t retroactively make the decision to purchase a ticket a rational one. He also acknowledges the importance of intentions, again, because of the consequential work they do in the world. It makes perfect sense that we should lock up sociopaths (in fact, he laments the fact we feel the need to let them out, despite near certainty they will re-offend).

    Honestly I think consequentialism is badly straw-manned, even by many philosophers. It’s weird. They object with things like “would it be okay to harvest organs from 1 random person to save 5,” as we saw in the other thread, despite a moments consideration being sufficient to answer “no, nobody would want to live in a world where I might randomly be selected to have my organs harvested; it’s a far better principle to grant everyone rights to their own body and organs.” You adopt rules based on the sum total of the consequences of adopting those rules. In fact, deontological ethics are often propped up as being a refutation of consequentialism, but deontological ethics amount to Rule Consequentialism — or else fall into absurdity. Even Kant–the very symbol of deontological ethics, when describing how to know an action is wrong, basically said “can you imagine if everyone behaved that way?” Sorry, Kant: that’s consequentialism. Maybe Kantsequentialism.

    I also think it’s unfair to characterize Harris as saying that science can determine right and wrong without the aid of philosophy–especially when Pigliucci defines philosophy’s role as being, essentially, reasoning police. Does he really think that Harris–or anyone–thinks valid reasoning isn’t important to the process? Why say *philosophy* is important when all you mean is that valid reasoning is important? Philosophy is far too loaded a term–it has too much baggage, including a whole lot of groundless, metaphysical speculation. I say this, by the way, as a philosophy major, not as someone with a bone to pick against it.

    Anyway. End rant. Re-read Harris. He’s far more thoughtful on the subject that most of his critics give him credit for…which seems to be a trend with him.

  32. egmutzaon 11 Jan 2013 at 1:21 pm

    I realize that mentioning the name Ayn Rand in any comment thread is just begging for a flame war, but if you’re going to write a post about objective vs. subjective morality, her ideas are well worth considering.

    In short, Rand held that man’s nature as a volitional being necessitates a code of conduct (morality) to guide his actions, and that the objective standard of value is his life. Actions that further his long-range happiness (flourishing/eudaemonia) are objectively good, and actions which inhibit his ability to flourish are objectively bad.

    Of course, Rand had quite a bit more to say about it than that, but I trust those who are interested will pursue it on their own. Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness is a good starting point, but if you find Rand’s writing style off-putting, I highly recommend reading Tara Smith’s Viable Values: http://www.amazon.com/Viable-Values-Study-Reward-Morality/dp/0847697614/

    And yes, I know, no philosopher takes Ayn Rand seriously, you read Ayn Rand when you were 18 but then you grew up, etc. etc.

  33. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Philosofrenzy: Aside from the criticisms lodged against The Moral Landscape by other philosophers, which Massimo Pigliucci shares, I suspect that much of the cause of Massimo’s ire boils down to this one footnote [by Sam Harris]:

    Many of my critics fault me for not engaging more directly with the academic literature on moral philosophy … I am convinced that every appearance of terms like ‘metaethics,’ ‘deontology,’ … directly increases the amount of boredom in the universe.

    As a philosophy major, you don’t find that statement to be dismissive of your major, not to mention anti-intellectual?

  34. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Philosofrenzy-

    I can’t speak for what he says in the book, but the criticism of him is not strictly what he says in the book, but based upon the accumulation of what he has said elsewhere. I haven’t studied his position that much, but the title of his TED talk is “Science can answer moral questions.” If he is misunderstood, he is at least partially responsible for it

  35. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 1:33 pm

    “As a philosophy major, you don’t find that statement to be dismissive of your major, not to mention anti-intellectual?”

    It is both. And it’s a non sequitur even if true, but it isn’t

  36. ConspicuousCarlon 11 Jan 2013 at 1:39 pm

    SARA on 11 Jan 2013 at 9:28 am

    For example, murder. There have been many times in history where murder was deemed acceptable when a husband discovered his wife in bed with a lover.

    The fact of the exception creates inconsistency. Also, the fact that not every person would consider that an acceptable exception creates inconsistency.

    Murder is normally defined not just as killing, but killing without necessity or good reason. The very concept of murder, like other crimes, is not definable without “exceptions”.

    Is it immoral to pick up a dollar from a table and leave the building? Even by what seems to be the most basic moral standards, you can’t say without adding conditions. Whose dollar is it? Is it yours? Is it someone else’s dollar, with a sign next to it reading “free dollar”?

    The fact that we have not yet found any completely agreed upon morality also points to a lack of universality.

    I am not sure what you mean by the last few words… no aspect of morality is universal, or not all aspects are universal? The second interpretation is hard to disagree with, but the first would be a non-sequitur.

  37. Kawarthajonon 11 Jan 2013 at 1:40 pm

    @ Notanatheist:

    “This is true, but just because moral standards have changed doesn’t mean morality has changed. It means that humans are imperfect in understanding and in practice of morality.”

    How can you make this distinction when you acknowledge that humans are imperfect in our understanding & practice of the Universal Morality? If we can never truly understand and practice God’s version of morality (because of our imperfect natures), how can we know that God doesn’t change the rules for morality every so often.

    I would strongly suggest you learn more about the history of Christianity or any other major religion. You will find that morality, as it has been defined by the various Churches and sects has changed dramatically over the centuries and Christianity as it is practiced today is nothing like what was practiced in it’s infancy as a religion. With that in mind, it makes it very difficult to argue that religion and belief in God provides any kind of anchor on which to base your system of morality.

  38. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 1:44 pm

    @NotAnAtheist

    You’re consistently confusing three aspects of morality:

    What is true?
    How we know what is true?
    How/should we enforce morality?

    You repeatedly object to rational morality based on the fact that it’s possible to get away with not behaving morally. So what? How does that in any way change the fact that it would be BETTER if nobody did? That’s like saying that because it’s possible to cheat at poker by hiding an Ace up your sleeve, therefore the rules don’t actually forbid it. Yes, the rules of poker are arbitrary, but that’s irrelevant in this case. The point is that the ability or inability to cheat and break the rules has no bearing on whether they are the right rules. That’s a separate question.

    But more importantly, your suggested objection has some nasty consequences for your own position. Can’t people cheat and ignore the rules on theistic, “ultimate, objective ethics” too? Is the fact they ultimately go to hell for it what makes the rules “true?” Are you incapable of envisioning a universe in which God forgives everyone their trespasses, and takes away their tendency to misbehave when they die, letting them all into heaven? Whether you think this is the universe we live in, is this universe logically incoherent? Does your system NEED people to ultimately suffer for their wrong doing for it to actually be wrong-doing? This is just a bizarre form of consequentialism: acts are immoral if YOU SUFFER for doing them.

    a) you’re back in the as-of-yet-unanswered Euthyphro dilemma and b) you’re admitting that the ability or inability to get away with immorality is absolutely irrelevant to determining what is moral.

  39. ConspicuousCarlon 11 Jan 2013 at 1:49 pm

    NotAnAtheist,

    Why should we care about what God wants?

  40. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 1:53 pm

    ccbowers: It is both. And it’s a non sequitur even if true, but it isn’t

    To be fair, I probably respond in a similar way to Harris at times. For example, the idea that consequences matter in normative discussion is what I would usually call a “duh report.”

    But the idea that trained professionals are paid for defending the notion that only consequences matter – even though we seldom know what those consequences will be, and thereby are forced by our own epistemic limits to follow various guidelines/rules of thumb/heuristics, instead – strikes me not so much as boring, as borderline scandalous.

    Thankfully, other trained professionals (i.e. moral philosophers) have already addressed this problem, such that science is not the only self-correcting enterprise in town.

  41. Zachon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:06 pm

    “We can take as empirical facts, however, that humans have feelings and our actions affect others – these are therefore well-founded premises for a moral system.”

    This is fine so far, I would wonder if there was only 1 human would suicide be morally wrong?

    “Because humans are feeling social animals, we need morality, and certain principles are necessary for a moral system for a social feeling species (such as reciprocity).”

    How did you determine that reciprocity is a moral absolute?

    “This is partly a logical statement, for without reciprocity you don’t have a moral system that helps us live together (again – the very reason for the system in the first place).”

    This is a leap. You are assuming the existence of a moral system by assuming a moral principle.

    Could we not have a moral system that told us that reciprocity was false and then engage all moral decisions from that premise? We could come up with one, so why that principle?

    “are moral first principles, therefore, objective or subjective. This, I maintain, is a false dichotomy. They are complex, with some subjective aspects (the values) and some objective aspects (explorations of their universality and implications).”

    It’s not a false dichotomy because the first principles are actually morality itself.

    One of your first principles is, “Harm is bad.” Well what is this statement? It’s a moral principle. So you are essentially saying morality is derived from morality – a circular argument. Moral principles cannot be derived from moral principles, for that is the question itself, “how does one determine moral principles.”

    Now, I agree, once you know these moral principles you can then test it objectively and empirically, to say that the first principles themselves are objective is the position you are actually arguing against – that moral principles are objective – since first principles ARE moral principles.

    “In my personal experience, everyone that has made taken this position with me used their religious faith in God as their “objective” source of morality – a “lawgiver.”

    No, Sam Harris would agree with me that morality is derived from an objective standard – see my chart at the bottom. Within the camps of naturalism and supernaturalism you will find those in agreement on the notion that morality is derived from an objective standard.

    “There are also those who (probably unintentionally) argue that the laws of nature dictate a certain morality. This is the “it’s not natural” argument, which in my opinion is nothing but the naturalistic fallacy. This line of argument has mostly been rejected by philosophers as an is/ought confusion.”

    Agreed.

    “Is it even possible to have an objective morality? I would argue that it is not possible, and even if such existed it would be irrelevant because we could not know about it. Further, there is no compelling evidence that anyone, any group or society, has access to an objective morality.”

    If there is an objective moral standard within naturalism or supernaturalism, just because we don’t know it wouldn’t effect whether it was there, and rooted in that. We would just be blind to it. And just because I can’t see/know something, doesn’t negate its existence. I.E. modern scientific discoveries that were previously not known.

    “actually, I think they work backward from their desire to prove a lawgiver, but that is a separate point”

    Can the same charge also then be made that you work backward from your desire to prove no lawgiver?

    “How, then, does the lawgiver derive their morality? “

    This assumes they did and would have to. Maybe they didn’t and they like seeing us fail? Or maybe they did.

    “This leads to Euthyprho’s dilemma – are the morals of God right because God says so or does God say so because they are objectively right? Of course, it can be both, but that does not really solve anything.”

    I assert that this dilemma is a false dilemma (false dichotomy).

    See http://www.gotquestions.org/Euthyphro-Dilemma.html for a Christian’s explanation of why there is another option.

    “We are still left with the problem of what possible basis there can be for objective morality. If it’s not “God says so” then what is it?”

    This assumes we can even know it.
    I agree we can, but it’s still something to consider.

    “There is also an unsolvable practical issue – no one has a direct line to God. There are those who claim to, but no one can demonstrate that they actually have objective access to the true moral rules of the lawgiver. In fact, different societies have all had their prophets claiming such access, and dispensing moral codes that are suspiciously primitive and derivative of their time and culture, and also incompatible with the moral codes dispensed by other prophets.”

    This assumes that you have all knowledge on all claims of a direct line to God. You don’t, and you haven’t disproved them. I’m not saying you are wrong, but you haven’t proven anything, only asserted it to be true.

    “The only possible basis for preferring one set of “revealed” rules over another is faith. There is no way to resolve differences of such faith-based moral codes – it’s just faith vs faith. Any attempt to argue that one set of faith-based rules is superior to another again resorts to moral philosophy. Without some appeal to moral philosophy, what can people say except that their God and traditions are the True ones, and everyone else’s is false.”

    Disagreed. I believe all world views/religions are not created equally.

    Your premise is that it’s too hard weight these religions truth claims since they are 100% dependent on faith, so they are untrustworthy. I assert, at least my view, is not reliant on blind faith, but evidences that require not holding certain un-provable presuppositions.

    I assert that weighing truth claims is extremely difficult, but we have no other choice.

    “None of this, the objective moralist will argue, proves that there is no god or that there is no objective morality, but this is irrelevant (a non sequitur). The point is, even if there were, humans have no way to know about it in any verifiable way that can be universalized. This necessarily leads us to tribal warring over whose beliefs are correct?”

    I don’t believe this, but is it not as simple as might makes right? Why is that not a possible explanation?
    I assert that it is because something within you warns you that you know better. The same type of thing that tells a bird that flying is better than walking. A sort of instinct. Now I’m not saying these instincts can tell you right and wrong, but only that there is right and wrong.

    _

    But regardless, all of this doesn’t address the holes in your own view of subjective morality.

    _

    Ccbowers said,

    “The only thing I would like to emphasize (since Zach seems to have a problem with this concept) is that these moral first principle are concepts that are discussed and debated first. Its not like they are assumed and that is the end of the discussion.”

    I can provide you numerous quotes from the previous post’s comments of saying that these principles are assumed – they are self-evident – axioms if you will. If you would like to change your opinion on this and then demonstrate how you know these to be true, then by all means – but then you are arguing for an objective morality not a subjective one – unless you equate morality with mere values and then embrace moral relativism.

    Sarah said,

    “I would argue that when you are measuring a subjective thing, the observer determines it’s consistency. And two different observers may have different views of the event.
    For example, murder. There have been many times in history where murder was deemed acceptable when a husband discovered his wife in bed with a lover.
    The fact of the exception creates inconsistency. Also, the fact that not every person would consider that an acceptable exception creates inconsistency.
    The fact that we have not yet found any completely agreed upon morality also points to a lack of universality.”

    This appears to the view of moral relativism – which Steven won’t accept.

    JJ Borgman said,

    “I would like to hear commentary on the subject of absolutes. I think there is little room for suggesting anything we’re discussing here can be absolute. “

    There are no absolutes!

    Do you absolutely mean that?

    =)

    Kawarthajon said,

    “To take your idea one step farther, moral standards have changed dramatically over time and continue to change, which is a strong argument against some sort of Objective, Universal Moral Code from God or some other source. If Morality were truly objective and come from God, or some other universal source, they would be stable over time”

    Why? Only if we didn’t have the choice to do or not do what we were told to do.

    Seven said,

    “The premise is that people have feelings. What those feelings are is a separate question. The fact that we have feelings means that some outcomes will be preferable to us. The purpose of a moral system is to prmote those outcomes.”

    This is non sequitur. You are assuming without evidence that certain feelings are to be promoted over other feelings. Why?

    Why not base your entire moral system around promoting the feeling of fear since all humans feel fear? Or hatred? How are you deciding which one is the best? How are you determining which outcomes are preferable?

    Steven said,

    “Further, your point about stealing ignores the second premise – that we need to live together. You may like stealing, but other people do not like being stolen from. So how do we device a moral system that accounts for both of these conflicting desires?”

    Non sequitur. This assumes that ALL of humanity must live together without harming one another. Why? A lion might look after his tribe but not other tribes, and even harm those other tribes. There are still lions today, they didn’t die out. So why not assume that I should only try to live together with those near me who I am reliant upon to survive?

    Steven said,

    “I can justify the notion that harm is bad.”

    How? Please tell me how you arrived that this conclusion.

    Evidence only please, not naked assertions on what you happen to value.

    The human condition is the collective feelings, nature, and essence of what is it to be a person living in the world. Again – the context of morality.

    Why do I need to apply the specific feeling that you arbitrary chose out of all of the other feelings to every person living in the world? Why not just my tribe, or those I depend on to exist?

    “Psychologists do surveys and experiments all the time evaluating what percentage of people hold certain beliefs or engage in certain bahaviors with what invluences, including cultural influences. That is empirical data. The neurological basis does not determine moral values, but it is not irrelevant. It is useful to know, for example, what elements of brain function are being engaged in certain behaviors and situations. This does give us insight into why people make certain decisions.”

    Ok, so what?

    “This is a main point of the post – Philosophers have a system by which they can evaluate moral thinking. It’s not perfect, it’s complex, philosophers of course can disagree, but there are rules, the application of logic, informed by science, etc. “

    I would contend this is no different (actually worse), than your complaint against religions.

    Religions also have a system by which they can evaluate moral thinking. It’s also complex. Religious people can disagree, but they are rules, the applications of logic informed by science, etc. etc.

    This is simply NOT equivalent to a faith-based system in which morals are whatever one subculture says their god dictates. Very different. Perhaps you would benefit from reading the post again. “

    So philosophy isn’t dictated by whatever their favorite emotions/first principles are?

    “Further, there are almost 200 religions making up that 90% and they have no way to resolve their differences, and so using a secular philosophy-based system makes sense. People can be religious and respect religious freedom.” “

    How many views of philosophy are there? By your notion we can’t use any philosophy either.

    “In any case, this is a non sequitur- and appeal to popularity. I laid out the reasons why a philosophical system works and a faith-based system does not.” “

    Your view is very reliant on popularity too.

    “ I do not need a magic authority to tell me that if I expect to have my right respected I should respect the rights of others. I can work that out for myself, thanks.”“

    Ok how, because I have just demonstrated how your view is invalid.

    “It is amazing that in order to maintain the position that divinely imposed morals are necessary the apologists for this position must maintain that humans are incapable of working out even the most basic and obvious moral principles for themselves.”

    Check out the news, hasn’t happened yet. Genocide happens all the time.

    “JJ – regarding absolutes – there are no absolutes when it comes to humans, because we are flawed and have a limited perspective. There are no absolutes in science either, for that reason (there is always a frame of reference).” .”

    Are you absolutely sure?

    “We can think about which feelings matter, which are relevant, etc. I am taking as a given that the purpose of a moral system is to achieve some goal.”

    Ok, so how do we determine the goal? Faith or objective evidence?

    “A religious argument for morality serves nothing, because it is based solely on faith.” .”

    Seems like you belief that harm is bad is rooted solely in faith too.
    So why is your faith any better than someone elses?

    “The problem is that most people also do not have a well-developed moral philosophy and ratinonalize easily. This can be improved with education.”

    Not to break Godwin’s law without reason, but the Nazi’s were pretty stinken educated.

    “nybgrus”

    “I just want to say that I did learn a LOT from the last two threads. Mostly from Dr. Novella, but also from all the other commenters – including Zach. It is amazingly useful to delineate where one makes assumptions and to also learn about such a complex system.”

    “So I would just like to thank everyone who participated in the conversation – not only including, but especially Zach (and I mean that genuinely Zach!) – for giving me such an opportunity to learn. Though not an every day occurrence conversations on these topics do come up and now I can speak vastly more intelligently on the topic, and can make the conversation more efficient by honing in more easily on points of contention thanks to reading everything Zach laid down.” .”

    Thanks Nybgrus,

    I may be crazy! But I’m educated crazy!

    =)

    Hope all goes well with your clinical duties.

    _

    Also, here is my morality chart I put together to help demonstrate my concerns visually.

    http://i49.tinypic.com/jgldvn.jpg

    Respectfully,

    Zach

  42. nybgruson 11 Jan 2013 at 2:08 pm

    @philosofrenzy:

    I am absolutely neophyte at this stuff. I admit my inability to be precise and accurate in my critiques of Harris and hence my admission that I should and will re-read his book. I do generally like most everything that Harris puts out – especially in regard to free will. The beauty of being a rational person and not needing an unchanging and absolute authority to tell me how to act and think is that I can pick the best parts of what each thinker and scientist has to say and go from there (with priority in a Socratic method as to what is most important and what is most interesting taking priority over all the other innumerable things I could be learning).

    I am also starting to truly appreciate the field of philosophy. I’ll admit it wasn’t terribly long ago (just a few years) that I thought the lot of it was nothing more than hifalutin mental masturbation. But I have a friend who is quite intelligent and conscientious and has completed his undergrad philosophy degree, almost done with his law degree, and will be starting his PhD in philosophy this year. He made me question my assumptions and the past few days’ conversations have given me just enough knowledge to know how much more there is to know and how valuable it is, despite my lack of ability to fully understand and apply it all.

    Such is the amazing power of learning even just a little. I’ll never be a consummate philosopher, but at least now I have a newfound respect for the field and can continue to improve my own understanding of it. Oh, and have even more erudite, exciting, and educational conversations with my friend :-D

  43. nybgruson 11 Jan 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Thanks Nybgrus,

    I may be crazy! But I’m educated crazy!

    I would say indocrinated crazy since you seem to have an absolute need to twist everything back to your pre-determined conclusions in order to render them false in your eyes.

    But yes, you are more educated than your average bear, but you still make fundamental errors in logic and attribution in just about every single post you make. That is not an ad hom or an insult, merely an observation. One I won’t get into since others can and will. Plus, I have a small speech on medical ethics to give in a few hours….

    Hope all goes well with your clinical duties.

    Thanks!

  44. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:24 pm

    @Mufi I do agree, but to be honest, I laughed at that footnote. It was rude, but funny–and it did hint at something that is, sadly, true.

    Philosophers have shot themselves in the foot by developing needlessly esoteric jargon, (and often spinning off into groundless theoretical speculation). It’s why Daniel Dennett, for instance, is so refreshing. His insistence on clear language, grounded in evidence and experience makes it clear that he’s talking ABOUT something, and what it is he’s saying about it. Too often, even when you carefully make your way through a dense philosophical work, once you actually figure out what the person is saying, and break it down to its elements, it’s a trivial observation couched in fancy language.

    It’s not an accident philosophers are parodied as being windbags. When people hear biologists or chemists talking, but do not understand them, we assume they are saying meaningful things because, after all, they have results we can point to as proof they are doing something. When philosophers argue, and others do not understand them, they have nothing to point to as evidence they’ve done anything productive, or even said anything meaningful.

    But worse, even when you do the work to delve into the dense, jargon-filled texts, you find no more clarity of thinking on the subjects than in those that refrain from using it and are happy to state their thinking more clearly. My impatience with philosophy arises when I see a trend of trying to keep philosophy to the philosophers, rather than admitting that philosophers are–or should be–better at thinking about things that everyone should be thinking about. In my opinion the jargon tends to mask bad thinking, and is counter-productive.

    Philosophy is done best when it’s stated simply, and in the clearest possible language. If philosophers want to weigh in in public debates, but can’t make their opinions understood without saying “trust us, we know what we’re talking about. You need to read Kant,” then there’s no evidence THEY know what they are talking about at all.

  45. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 2:33 pm

    Philosofrenzy: Point taken, but then (as a lay person with limited amounts of free time) I limit my consumption of academic philosophers to those whom I can readily understand – like Dennett and Pigliucci. If I can do that, then what’s Harris’ excuse?

  46. Steven Novellaon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Zach – at least you are dipping your toes into a defense of your position.

    You are still missing a point that has been repeated over and over – moral systems do not exist in a vacuum. They are for something, they require values – that we value some things more than others. If we had no values, desires, etc, morality would be irrelevant.

    It is not faith – it is axiomatic that moral systems are about values, and so they require the existence of values. That values exist therefore is a necessary premise, or first principle. You keep asking, in various ways, to prove that, but it misses the point. You then ask “but what values” to which I answer – well, we can start with those that achieve the ends of the moral system, like reciprocity, and then proceed from there. We can ask question, like do sentient beings have any rights? If not, then again a moral system makes no sense, so it again seems a necessary premise that people have rights. What right? How can we figure out what the most basic right might be. How about the right not to have things done to them that they don’t want. This is not blind faith, as you dismissively characterize. It is inherent to the very concept of a moral system.

    Zach wrote: ‘Religions also have a system by which they can evaluate moral thinking. It’s also complex. Religious people can disagree, but they are rules, the applications of logic informed by science, etc. etc.”

    Really – so how do religious-based moral systems evaluate moral thinking? What are the rules, and how do they apply logic and evidence?

  47. Zachon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

  48. RickKon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:37 pm

    I wanted to post this yesterday in the other thread, but too darned busy this week to spend time on fun stuff like this. I was a vocal proponent of what Zach would call “moral relativism” – that morals are not 100% cosmically objective. But that doesn’t mean that Steve’s “first principles” don’t have solid, real, tangible origins. Here is where I believe a few of them originate.

    Human rationality
    Source: evolution

    Human sense of fairness and reciprocity
    Source: pre-human social evolution, validated by game theory (google “tit for tat”)

    Human sense of revulsion
    Source: evolution

    Human sense of self esteem
    Source: pre-human social evolution

    Human sense of pleasure or happiness
    Source: evolution (though it’s staggeringly complex)

    Human sense of self-preservation
    Source: evolution

    That’s a few – I’m sure this is a woefully inadequate list, but it’s enough to make a point. Why is one moral system better than another? Because it does a better job of appealing to or balancing these (and other) sources of human value judgments. If all humans have these core values, why have we not settled on one clear set of moral principles? Because in the end all cultures and people are different and therefore prioritize these differently. Why have moral principles changed over time (and why will they continue to change)? Because cultures have evolved differently, environments have changed, knowledge and experience have progressed and new factors have entered our collective moral calculators.

    Why is this not simply “might makes right”? Because that simplistic view doesn’t satisfy enough of these principles or values for enough of the population to be sustainable.

    Is killing a baby immoral? Yes, because it offends many of these values. Can we think of circumstances where killing a baby IS morally right? Hop on your time machine and go ask the inhabitants of Tikopia Island 200 years ago.

    Finally, this is not exactly on this point, but it is one of my favorite scenes in a musical. Google to find the rest:

    From “My Fair Lady”:

    PICKERING. Have you no morals, man?

    DOOLITTLE [unabashed] Can’t afford them, Governor. Neither could you if you was as poor as me.

  49. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:45 pm

    @mufi Harris was responding to the criticism that he doesn’t engage with the ACADEMIC philosophy. Reading the popular, for-public-consumption works by academic philosophers is not the same thing as reading the actual, academic philosophy. Again, I think it’s an empty and lazy criticism to say “you aren’t up to speed on modern philosophy of ethics,” since, assuming the person making the criticism *is* up to speed, the fact they aren’t able to weigh in with something more substantive suggests that getting up to speed isn’t especially beneficial. Frankly, I think these criticisms tend to come from people who are impressed by academic philosophy, but aren’t especially good at it. People who are good at it–who get it–weigh in with carefully worded, specific criticisms.

    I’m reminded of the people who are impressed by Derrida, but who can’t tell the difference between genuine passages, and those that have been altered randomly (adding ‘not’ or taking it away, for instance)… :)

  50. Zachon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Steven,

    “They are for something, they require values – that we value some things more than others. If we had no values, desires, etc, morality would be irrelevant.”

    Of course they are for something, are for telling us what behavior is the right behavior when we have choices to be made.

    You still did not address the vast majority of my critique I provided.

    “It is not faith – it is axiomatic that moral systems are about values, and so they require the existence of values. That values exist therefore is a necessary premise, or first principle.”

    It is not axiomatic that moral systems are about values, prove it. And even if we grant that you are back to square one – what values are the right ones when people value different things – I like red, you like blue.

    “You then ask “but what values” to which I answer – well, we can start with those that achieve the ends of the moral system, like reciprocity, and then proceed from there.”

    Why should reciprocity be the ends of the moral system? Why not hostility? Human’s already do both, so why one over the other? Maybe it’s morally right to put yourself ahead of all others and slight all those who have helped you…

    “We can ask question, like do sentient beings have any rights? If not, then again a moral system makes no sense, so it again seems a necessary premise that people have rights. What right? How can we figure out what the most basic right might be. How about the right not to have things done to them that they don’t want.”

    Sure, but maybe they have the right to kill each other and be killed by other humans when it suites them. You are making assumptions grounded in nothing but faith.

    “Really – so how do religious-based moral systems evaluate moral thinking? What are the rules, and how do they apply logic and evidence?”

    For starts, on the same basis we judge historical and logical reliance.

    Steven, why such the strong to desire to divert away from your view to mine?

  51. Zachon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:51 pm

    RickK,

    Your list is incredibly one sided.

    How about our violent nature against one other?

    How bout Rape? fear, or selfish desire, why do you avoid all of these and simply focus on the ones you happen to like.

    Lion’s don’t care about lions outside of their tribe, and even kill them off, why should we be any different? Aren’t we both result of evolution?

    Why the double standard?

  52. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Philosofrenzy: Fair enough, although I still think that Pigliucci (and Blackburn, whom he quotes extensively in that post that I linked to above) raise some strong counter-arguments to the basic premise of The Moral Landscape, but I’ll leave that to you to assess for yourself.

  53. daedalus2uon 11 Jan 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Zach, Dr Novella takes as a premise for his generally accepted universally applicable morality that “harm is bad”. You say you do not accept that and instead accept the converse, that “harm is not bad” a a generally accepted universal premise. I can disprove your assertion with a counter-example. All I need is one instance of a person not accepting the idea that “harm is not bad” for it to be rejected as a quasi-universal premise.

    The notion of reciprocity is required by morality because humans are not static. Humans start out as strands of DNA in a bag of cytoplasm, grow into an infant, grow into an adult, grow old and eventually die. A universal morality has to inform behaviors of and to that human being over its entire lifespan.

    That morality can’t be only concerned with a single human actor because a single human actor does not exist in isolation. There is a time before the human actor became a conscious actor, a time when the human is a conscious actor and a time after the human is no longer a conscious actor. Presumably any generally applicable morality would also apply to those times when a human is not a conscious actor.

  54. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Zach: Lion’s don’t care about lions outside of their tribe, and even kill them off, why should we be any different? Aren’t we both result of evolution?

    Yes, and that’s how tribal human societies functioned for millenia – and still do, to some extent, although according to Steven Pinker, that trend has declined with the rise of modern civilization.

    Need I even say that the age of modern civilization is not exactly the most religiously pious one in history?

  55. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 3:00 pm

    @Zach

    “It is not axiomatic that moral systems are about values, prove it.”

    I don’t believe you understand the concept of axioms.

    “Why should reciprocity be the ends of the moral system? Why not hostility?”

    Because hostility would not achieve the thing morality is for. The fact you think this is a valid question suggests a lack of sincere effort to understand the opposing view. It’s an objective fact that one policy or the other will have better consequences for everyone involved. “Better?” I can hear you asking. Yes. Better. One will promote safety and happiness for everyone, the other will promote misery and suffering. “But why should we…” Etc. It’s meaningless to ask “why should we prefer safety and happiness to misery and suffering.” We do. We prefer it. And so we seek a system to achieve that end. That’s all the justification morality needs. Rules objectively do or do not achieve that end.

  56. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 3:17 pm

    piggybacking on Philosofrenzy to Zach: It’s meaningless to ask “why should we prefer safety and happiness to misery and suffering.” We do. We prefer it.

    Because God made us in His image, and He prefers our safety and happiness to our misery and suffering.

    Is that explanation acceptable to you, Zach?

    If so, then see if you can translate it into naturalistic terms – say, using biological evolutionary processes – and then perhaps you’ll grasp where many of us are coming from.

    Note: In either explanation, the “we” in question does not mean have to mean every person on the planet. Some individuals may, in fact, be deviant and actually prefer misery and suffering to safety and happiness.

  57. DOYLEon 11 Jan 2013 at 3:20 pm

    The reason god is not the executor of morality is because he has no residency in the cognition of the human animal.If god were real,his apparentness would be unequivocally felt in everyone.Much like the blood system,we may have different types,yet we all understand it’s part of our resident biological system.

  58. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 3:33 pm

    @mufi I read that review and I frankly found them superficial. I find it hard to believe Blackburn read The Moral Landscape, as he claims, three times, based on the criticisms he offers.

    Generally, Blackburn’s main, coherent criticism is “If we presuppose the well-being of conscious creatures as a fundamental value, much else may fall into place, but that initial presupposition does not come from science. It is not an empirical finding. ”

    But here he is, by his own admission, objecting to a premise that he agrees with, to suggest that, technically, Harris has failed to make his case. I think Harris is right: Morality being about the well-being of conscious creatures is true, almost by definition. It’s axiomatic. He in fact demonstrates this with though experiments early on (does it even make sense to envision the morality of a universe without conscious creatures?”)

    He makes his criticism clear: “Harris is highly critical of the claim, associated with Hume, that we cannot derive an “ought” solely from an “is” – without starting with people’s actual values and desires. He is, however, no more successful in deriving “ought” from “is” than anyone else has ever been. The whole intellectual system of The Moral Landscape depends on an “ought” being built into its foundations.”

    But that’s the whole point: that the “ought” is built into the system–just as the “ought” of logic is built into the system. Just as it isn’t meaningful to ask “Why should we prefer true conclusions over false ones?” as a criticism of logic, neither is it meaningful to ask “why should we prefer the well-being of conscious creatures?” as a criticism of ethics. It’s a matter of fact that we do prefer it, and that ethics are the social technology that aims at achieving it. At one point, Blackburn objects that defining morality in terms of Well-being renders the question “why should I behave morally?” all but meaningless. But in my opinion, that’s the strength of Harris’ position: it elucidates WHY that question is so nonsensical.

    Blackburn issues the same canard NotAnAtheist has been–considering the problem of ENFORCING morality somehow damaging to Harris’ case–as though it isn’t a problem for all ethics independently of how you understand them. In fact, on Harris’ understanding, it’s quite clear why we should enforce morality. Societies that enforce ethics promote well-being, while societies that have no form of enforcement benefit little from morality. It’s the difference between understanding medicine and having hospitals.

    Why is Harris’ ethic RATIONALLY BINDING he asks? It isn’t. NO system of morality is. Ethics aren’t rationally binding, they are emotionally binding, so long as you share the human value of the well-being of conscious creatures. If you don’t, you’re a sociopath; that’s no more an objection to morality than a suicidal person is a refutation of medicine.

    Anyway, I suppose that’s more than enough to explain why I don’t find these sophisticated refutations of Harris to be that impressive. They seem to miss the point in fundamental and surprisingly obvious ways.

  59. nybgruson 11 Jan 2013 at 3:34 pm

    I’d still like to see Zach prove to me that homosexuality is bad. This is a very common religious “moral” – that homosexuality is a sin, immoral, or just plainly – “bad.”

    If you believe homesexuality to be immoral (and I am not saying you do, but I think I have a pretty good prior probability for assuming you do) then just take us through the exercise you use to explain why.

    We have tried explaining our processes. It is only fair you at least give a stab at just one example of yours. This is a genuine request – not at all a gotcha. I won’t even weigh in on the response to your explanation – I’ll leave that to the rest here.

    The point would be to put out your thinking on a single moral topic in explicit terms so we can see where we may differe and disagree.

    Unless you don’t think it would stand up to scrutiny. But I can assure you those here will respond in civility and with intellectual honesty.

  60. daedalus2uon 11 Jan 2013 at 3:55 pm

    One of the ways that subjectivity is dealt with is by switching roles.

    One of the fairest ways to divide something desirable, a piece of cake for example, between two people is to have one person divide the item into two pieces and then the other person picks first, or one person divides and who gets which piece is chosen at random.

    The first person’s subjectivity doesn’t enter into who gets how much, only in how the cake is divided. The first person should have the goal of dividing it into pieces whereby the first person doesn’t care which piece he/she gets.

    This is the essence of reciprocity in moral actions. If everyone treats everyone else a certain way, people won’t care which person they are because they all get treated “the same”, i.e. fairly.

    This is the essence of the golden rule, and of Hillel the Elders premise of “that which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow”. I would modify it slightly, because some people do have different ideas of what they want done or not done to them. In the case of the hypothetical person who likes misery, the Golden rule and Hillel’s premise don’t work. But if you modify it to “that which is hateful to your fellow from their perspective, do not do to them”, then it works. If everyone practiced that, then no one would experience any actions that they found hateful.

  61. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 4:09 pm

    Philosofrenzy: I confess that the negative reviews of The Moral Landscape (like the ones that I mentioned) discouraged me from reading it myself (or, more accurately, inspired to make a low priority of it). Based on your defense of it, I’m reconsidering that decision.

    However, I’ll just add that, based on your defense, the book’s subtitle, “How Science Can Determine Human Values”, sounds very misleading.

  62. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 4:22 pm

    @mufi Agreed!

    He does describe how it’s possible to show, using the overarching value of human well-being that some values are counter-productive, while others are not. Valuing knowledge, for example, has good effects, while valuing virginity, maybe not so much. Still, I think the subtitle sets people up to misread his position from the get-go. As someone else pointed out, every writer has to take some responsibility for being misunderstood–though there’s no effective defense against the uncharitable reader, it’s the writer’s job to communicate as unambiguously as possible.

  63. nybgruson 11 Jan 2013 at 4:40 pm

    @d2u:

    That reminds me of the concepts of rational choice theory and Nash equilibrium. In the former we note signficant critiques in that people make irrational decisions even when the rational course of action is known and clear. In the latter, we find systems in equilibrium when all players of the system make the best possible choices knowing what the choices of others in the system would be. In the real world, not only do we not have this knowledge, but it is too complex for individual players to keep track even if we did. Hence the messy and necessarily dynamic nature of morality and ethics.

    @mufi: The book is actually a quick read. I actually read it nearly in its entirety on a train ride from San Diego to Los Angeles.

    In light of this conversation, I would have to agree that the subtitle is indeed misleading. We can use science to inform values and help determine an optimal system of morality, but it cannot determine the values and axioms from which they stem.

    Well, time to go chat with the new Year 3′s about ethics and morality! Then celebratory beers before they start their first round of clinical duties next week.

  64. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Philosofrenzy: For that matter, you said to Zach above that “It’s an objective fact that one policy or the other will have better consequences for everyone involved.” While that’s fine in theory, I find myself in enough seemingly irresolvable policy debates with friends (usually of a more conservative bent than I) as to raise doubts about this premise. At the very least, I think we need to lay an assumption or two on the table in order to make it work, such as that we all conceive of well-being in the same way and that we all agree on the terms of its availability.

    On this note, I recommend cognitive scientist George Lakoff’s work on politics (e.g. Moral Politics or The Political Mind). I think he’d agree hat there is a fact of the matter to be discovered re: well-being (i.e. it’s not for nothing that he defends a liberal/progressive policy agenda), but with certain caveats about the metaphorical ways in which we model concepts like well-being and morality. (For more on that, I also Philosophy in the Flesh, co-authored with philosopher Mark Johnson.)

  65. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 4:55 pm

    PS: Just to quickly sum up Lakoff’s thesis, political conservatives and progressives disagree because they work with different (neurally bound) mental models of morality, which are analogous to different models of parenting, which he calls Strict Father (conservative) and Nurturing Parent (progressives). (Many of us are “bi-conceptual”, however, and harbor concepts from both models.) The upshot is that we evaluate both moral means and ends differently.

  66. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 5:00 pm

    PPS: The Judeo-Christian Lawgiver metaphor that’s recurred in these threads about ethics is not unlike the Strict Father metaphor that Lakoff describes re: political conservatives, except of course that one needn’t be a devout Christian or Jew in order to work with the latter.

  67. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Sounds a lot like the work of Jonathan Haidt, who has shown a lot of very interesting differences between the way conservatives and liberals approach morality, in practice.

  68. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 5:13 pm

    @Zach

    Thanks Nybgrus,

    I may be crazy! But I’m educated crazy!

    Get something straight so perhaps you could lose some of that hubris and display a little humility for a change. You didn’t instruct us. You weren’t the one who taught anyone anything. And you are NOT educated, at least on certain subjects (science and logic immediately jump out).

    Rather, you’ve been instructional. That’s all. Your inane arguments and unjustified premises have only served to get people to examine them more closely and in order to more accurately determine why they are incorrect, and that ultimately forces them to examine their own knowledge on the subject.

    People have thanked you for being instructional, but rather you took it as you educating them on a subject from your knowledge. No! I, for one, cringed when I saw the heartfelt thanks because I knew that you would mistaken it and run with it. You completely misunderstood his intellectual honesty and humility. Another prime example of Dunning-Kruger.

    Zach reflects what I so often see in modern religious apologetics: a pseudo-intellectualism rife with unfalsifiable claims and baseless premises inherent in intellectual dishonesty. Nearly always it is accompanied by begging the question, arguments from ignorance, and strawmen of science, philosophy, and logic. They make their case by attacking opposing positions rather than justifying their own (and often getting the opposing position wrong). It’s frustrating to see science, philosophy, and logic mangled and corrupted so badly, and painful to observe the intellectual dishonesty. What I have seen here is every bit as pedantic and sophomoric as anything Craig and Strobel has put out.

    So, while I personally appreciate how instructional it can be to deconstruct theistic apologetics, I don’t credit the knowledge of the proponents, but rather the act of deconstructing them as what’s educational.

  69. mufion 11 Jan 2013 at 5:34 pm

    Philosofrenzy: Sounds a lot like the work of Jonathan Haidt, who has shown a lot of very interesting differences between the way conservatives and liberals approach morality, in practice.

    Yes, particularly with regard to the way the groups prioritize their shared values differently, and the way these forces work largely beneath the surface of conscious awareness (bubbling to the surface, as it were).

    But I think it’s fair to say that Lakoff is more partisan than Haidt in that Lakoff openly expresses his distaste for the conservative Strict Father approach to both family and politics, whereas Haidt is more apt to refrain from judging the conservatives’ prioritization of loyalty, respect for authority, and purity, and even has even portrayed it (despite a personally liberal background) as more balanced (for whatever that’s worth) than the the liberals’ almost exclusive emphasis on care and fairness.

    I confess that I’m at least as partisan as Lakoff on this matter – especially after we factor in other philosophical domains, besides ethics (such as epistemology, to which journalist Chris Mooney’s “Republicans and science” work is relevant).

  70. JJ Borgmanon 11 Jan 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Zach,

    I wrote,

    “I would like to hear commentary on the subject of absolutes. I think there is little room for suggesting anything we’re discussing here can be absolute. “

    You wrote,

    “There are no absolutes!
    Do you absolutely mean that?” (followed by a smiley)

    Apart from using one of the words in my post, your comment is not relevant to mine. Now, you may have been exercising a little levity there, but it is remarkably similar, in structure, to many of your responses to posts: not relevant and not in context.

    Like this, for example:

    Someone wrote:

    “Because humans are feeling social animals, we need morality, and certain principles are necessary for a moral system for a social feeling species (such as reciprocity).”

    You wrote:

    “How did you determine that reciprocity is a moral absolute?”

    You have used a couple of words common to the posters original post, but otherwise your comment does not follow. I have observed you doing that very same thing in abundance. Can you explain why you are convoluting the discussion in this manner? Both examples above are exactly as you pulled them out of a longer post and replied to them.

  71. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 5:41 pm

    I read Zach’s linked “Third option” proving that Euthyphro’s dilemma is false. It’s the typical, terrible Christian apologetic, that “morality comes from God’s nature, which is good,” which is utterly meaningless. It isn’t a third option: it’s BOTH of the first two, contradictory, options of the dilemma at the same time. It’s “God decides what is good properly because he is Good.” But what does “God is good” even mean without appeal to an outside standard? If the standard IS God, “God is good” means “God is God.”

    If God likes child sacrifice–that IS good because it’s God’s nature to like it. Oh, but God wouldn’t like child sacrifice, you say–it’s not in his nature, because he’s Good. Oh? How do you know?

    The writer appeals to God’s being the creator to explain that He, therefore “knows what things are made for,” and so is in a position to say how they should be used. Rape, it explains is wrong *because that’s not what sex is for.* Yikes.

    Besides being an appalling assessment of rape, this just pushes back the dilemma. How does the author *know* that God didn’t create human beings to create a population large enough to sustain human sacrifice? Or to provide rape porn? Any answer must appeal to an external standard to explain why God wouldn’t do such a thing.

    Finally, why should humans care what they were created for? If we created a race of sentient robots to clean our houses, would it be irrelevant if they didn’t wish to? Besides being insensitive and totalitarian, this makes God into an incompetent creator–creating things for a purpose they don’t want to do.

    Like so much theology and Christian apologetics, this “answer” to Euthyphro involves insisting something is true, even if that thing is literally nonsensical or meaningless. God is three persons in one being, right? Whatever that means. God is imminent AND transcendent, right? Whatever that means. Goodness flows from God’s unchanging nature, right? Whatever that means.

  72. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 5:43 pm

    @JJ Borgman

    Can you explain why you are convoluting the discussion in this manner?

    It seems to me that Zach’s entire argument centers around proving that absolute objective morality exists by trying to prove that it doesn’t not exist. In other words, he’s trying to prove a negative. So, instead of providing evidence and justification that objective morality exists and it necessarily requires a law bringer, he instead attacks the position of the denial of these claims. A VERY common theme among apologists and creationists. Nothing I’ve seen yet has indicated he’s wavered in this tactic one bit. He simply doesn’t understand, or chooses not to acknowledge, his burden of proof.

  73. JJ Borgmanon 11 Jan 2013 at 6:23 pm

    @rezistnzisfutl

    I have been under the impression that one cannot prove a negative and then I heard/read that it is actually possible to do so. Sorry, can’t recall the source or the argument.

    Zachs attempt to prove “if not A, then A” is interesting except for the fact that, in cases like this, that still requires the proof (to use a math term), or a model for construction, of A.

    Proofs are tricky things to argue about. There are tricks that can be used to deceive an opponent in an argument. One used in mathematics is division by zero. It can be hidden (so to speak) in an equation to appear to produce a certain result, but is a trick that yields a wrong result.

    I googled “absolutes” earlier today because I was curious about what actual absolutes are considered possible and got pages of apologetics sites for a result. Big friggin surprise.

  74. Giovonnion 11 Jan 2013 at 6:33 pm

    Rezinstnzisfutl,

    Having read the comments from both articles, I think one of the reasons people attack subjective morality is because on one hand people claim objective morality doesn’t exist, but then those same people try to justify why we should be compelled to act morally according to some vauge criteria.

    You cannot have it both ways. If objective morality does not exist, it seems the most logical conclusion is what Richard Dawkins states when he says “There is at the bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference…We are machines propagating DNA…It is every living object’s sole reason for being.”

    Even discussing morality becomes a circular exercise with no real clarification. Sam Harris says that it should be to maximize well-being. Who defines well-being? You? Me? Republicans? Democrats?

    IMO it seems perfectly reasonable for people like Zach to bring up questions when a strong claim is made.

  75. RickKon 11 Jan 2013 at 6:37 pm

    Zach said:

    Your list is incredibly one sided…. Why the double standard

    A cowardly semantic dodge. I said my list was woefully inadequate. What part of “woefully inadequate” did you not understand? I give you a set of human values that don’t source from some cosmic objective standard, and your way of addressing them is to tell me that I left a bunch out?

    That’s the best you can do?

  76. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 6:44 pm

    @JJ Borgman

    If you come across a source discussing the possibility of “proving a negative”, would you mind posting that? I’m curious to see what is said about that because it’s something I always figured was, at best, highly improbable. The way I see it in this context, it’s a dishonest and underhanded way of shifting the burden of proof and a red herring.

    We use the word “proof” here pretty loosely I think, because we’re using it as shorthand for “justification with evidence and logic”. It has the baggage of connoting certitude, which may suit apologists and creationists, but not anyone with the intellectual honesty to realize that nothing is for 100% certain, that it’s more realistic to deal with probabilities. That, of course, goes to the heart of the disagreement here, absolute v. subjective.

    I’m not at all surprised that you found so many apologist websites when googling “absolutes” (isn’t it funny how “google” has become a verb?). It is, afterall, one of the cornerstones of religious apologetics.

  77. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 6:58 pm

    @Rez

    In the loose sense in which people normally mean “prove”–”demonstrate as very probable,” Bayesian reasoning allows us to demonstrate a negative when that negative predicts different outcomes. This is related to the “absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence” thing, which isn’t quite right. If evidence is all but certain to be present given a hypothesis, its absence is very strong evidence the hypothesis is false.

    For instance, when you get home today, the presence of your house demonstrates to reasonable certainty that “no nuclear devices were detonated in my house today.” It doesn’t *prove* it–it’s possible an unprecedented clean-up and reconstruction took place while you were gone as well–but in the absence of evidence for such a clean up, the presence of the house is good evidence no nuclear warhead went off.

    In some cases, though, absence or presence predict no differences in outcome–at which point we are stuck. If you get home and find a window open, it would be impossible to PROVE that no bird flew in, then back out of the room while you were gone.

    So it depends!

  78. Zachon 11 Jan 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Nybgrus,
    <blockquote“I’d still like to see Zach prove to me that homosexuality is bad. This is a very common religious “moral” – that homosexuality is a sin, immoral, or just plainly – “bad.”
    From the perspective of the Bible and explained with that as the foundation of moral truth or from a secular premise of some other?

    I am leery of discussing an issue like this with you, because I sense it is more than just an intellectual conversation for you, it is a personal one that is emotional.

    If you mean my exact view of morality with a comment on homosexuality, well, I’ll be writing an article on in soon, so you’ll have to bear with me (morality this, not homosexuality – though I will probably write on that soon, just gotta think of a blog name).

    “I confess that the negative reviews of The Moral Landscape (like the ones that I mentioned) discouraged me from reading it myself (or, more accurately, inspired to make a low priority of it).”

    I didn’t read it because I think I already have pin pointed where Harris goes wrong from watching his Ted talk on morality – maybe his book doesn’t commit the same logical fallacies, but his Ted talk was pretty un-impressive. What bothered me the most is, from what I remember, Harris has a degree in philosophy…. How he doesn’t recognize such elementary mistakes in logic amazes me.

    “He does describe how it’s possible to show, using the overarching value of human well-being that some values are counter-productive, while others are not. Valuing knowledge, for example, has good effects, while valuing virginity, maybe not so much.”

    Again, all of that can be tested logically, objectively, and empirically once you have determined what “good” means. The crutch of all failed philosophies assert what is “good” without providing logical reasons why that “good” is the real “good”. Evidence is required.

    Apart from using one of the words in my post, your comment is not relevant to mine. Now, you may have been exercising a little levity there, but it is remarkably similar, in structure, to many of your responses to posts: not relevant and not in context.”

    My commend was very appropriate. It is illogical to claim that there are no absolutes in this conversation – you are using an absolute yourself, which makes your statement self-defeating.
    Now maybe you are are not using absolute in the same way I (or a dictionary) would. If so, please clarify what you mean.

    “Someone wrote:
    “Because humans are feeling social animals, we need morality, and certain principles are necessary for a moral system for a social feeling species (such as reciprocity).”
    You wrote:
    “How did you determine that reciprocity is a moral absolute?”
    You have used a couple of words common to the posters original post, but otherwise your comment does not follow. I have observed you doing that very same thing in abundance. Can you explain why you are convoluting the discussion in this manner? Both examples above are exactly as you pulled them out of a longer post and replied to them.”

    One must be careful to draw inferences and notice the un-proved assumptions in statements like the ones listed above.

    My points were very important questions for those statements. Otherwise, they are naked assertions.

    “If God likes child sacrifice–that IS good because it’s God’s nature to like it. Oh, but God wouldn’t like child sacrifice, you say–it’s not in his nature, because he’s Good. Oh? How do you know?”

    He would have to re-veal that to us, or put a sense of a consciousness in us.
    You might not like God’s standard, but what we like in that scenario wouldn’t matter too much.

    “The writer appeals to God’s being the creator to explain that He, therefore “knows what things are made for,” and so is in a position to say how they should be used. Rape, it explains is wrong *because that’s not what sex is for.* Yikes.”

    Do you have an objective standard that tells us that if there is a God and this is his view that its wrong?
    And you mis-understood anyways. Rape is wrong because it primarily is an attack against a Holy God since women are created in the image of God, so to attack that image is to make an attack against a Holy God – that’s what the link talks about. I’m not sure how you drew that conclusion…

    “Besides being an appalling assessment of rape, this just pushes back the dilemma. How does the author *know* that God didn’t create human beings to create a population large enough to sustain human sacrifice? Or to provide rape porn? Any answer must appeal to an external standard to explain why God wouldn’t do such a thing.”

    Why?

    Like so much theology and Christian apologetics, this “answer” to Euthyphro involves insisting something is true.

    No, it is demonstrating a 3rd option, it didn’t prove that 3rd option. But if there is the possibility of a 3rd option the dilemma is not a true dilemma – basic logic.

  79. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 7:10 pm

    @Zach

    “And you mis-understood anyways. Rape is wrong because it primarily is an attack against a Holy God since women are created in the image of God, so to attack that image is to make an attack against a Holy God – that’s what the link talks about. I’m not sure how you drew that conclusion…”

    I drew that conclusion because it said in the link, and I quote:

    “A dull knife is not a good knife because the purpose of a knife is to cut. Sharpness is bad for a shoe, however, for a good shoe is one that is comfortable and supportive to a foot. God, as creator, is the determiner of all purposes of His creation. What He makes is made purposefully, and anything that stands in the way of that purpose is bad. Rape is evil because that is not what sex is made to be.”

    So please, don’t accuse me of misunderstanding when the article says, almost word for word, what I claimed it said. It makes no reference to rape being an offense to God, since women are created in the image of God–though, to be honest, this is just as disgusting and offensive a way to denounce rape as the first one. Rape is wrong because women are sentient beings, and because it hurts them profoundly. Period. It’s not wrong *by proxy.*

    As for the “3rd option” I showed how it was not a nonsensical option–essentially the simultaneous affirmation of both of the first two options. You can’t rescue Christianity from the dilemma by providing an utterly unworkable “third option” that involves both and neither. So yes, it *is* basic logic–but not in your favour.

  80. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Sorry I missed your “Why?” question in that response–though honestly, Zach, you’re starting to sound like a child, who thinks that being able to ask “Why?” makes it a good question.

    Put some thought into it. Let me punt it back to you. Can you demonstrate that God’s purpose for humanity is all of the things we happen to call morality *without appeal to any external standard*? If you can’t, your question isn’t a good one.

  81. tmac57on 11 Jan 2013 at 7:18 pm

    I’ve been gone a few hours,so forgive me if this has been covered,but I would like to repost my list of questions to Zach,seeing as how his last response was non-responsive,and a rhetorical trick of just answering with his own question,so here goes nothing:

    Zach-
    1.Can you prove that there is a god?
    2.Can you prove that the bible is the word of god?
    3.Can you prove that all christians are moral?
    4.Can you prove that all christians believe the exact same things are wrong?
    5.Can you prove that all atheists are without morals?
    6.Can you prove that all things believed to be the word of god are moral?
    7.Are there any passages in the old or new testament that are, by your standards, immoral?
    8.Why do some christians do immoral things?
    9.Why would god not unambiguously reveal himself to ALL of the world,if he wants us all to believe in him and do good?
    10.Can you prove that all other religious beliefs are wrong?
    11.Can you prove that there is only one god.
    12.Can you prove that if there ever was a god,that there still is one?

    You have repeatedly asked of us to prove a number of absolutes (most of which we never asserted in the first place) ,now it is time for you to prove your absolutes. If you can’t,then I assert that yours morals are also derived from your subjective belief in the word of god.
    And that is fine with me.

    I am betting that Zach will once again dodge these questions,as they go right to the heart of his subjective belief system that he deems to be objective, but who knows,maybe a ‘miracle’ will happen. :)

  82. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 7:19 pm

    Philosofrenzy and mufi,

    Your exchanges have caused me to add Harris’s book to my list. Out of curiousity philosofrenzy, how does Harris navigate the topic of competing values (assuming that we agree that they are worthy values to consider) with what the science maycontribute to a given topic?

  83. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 7:19 pm

    Haha I just realized I said “I showed how it was not a nonsensical option” rather than “not an option” or “a nonsensical option.” You get the drift. :)

  84. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 7:29 pm

    @ccbowers

    Harris remains a bit vague on that in some ways, which can be frustrating, but he provides a kind of framework for it. He treats valuing things like any other rule of behaviour, with the possibility of establishing the consequences of valuing some things. To use the example I cited above, the over-valuing of virginity can do harm when women are scorned (read: killed) for not being virgins. Basically, values are defended by reference to the overarching value of the well-being of conscious creatures. All values have to be an extension of the One Value to Value them All. Ahem. Sorry.

    He also allows for the possibility of multiple, competing systems of value being able to reach different equilibria (wow, had to look that up), with different values, while being equally capable of promoting well-being (in his metaphor of the moral landscape, he refers to these as ‘multiple peaks’). He doesn’t pretend that there has to be one, right answer, but rather that systems are right in proportion to the well-being brought about by their implementation.

    I hope that helps some.

  85. JJ Borgmanon 11 Jan 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Zach wrote:

    “What bothered me the most is, from what I remember, Harris has a degree in philosophy…. How he doesn’t recognize such elementary mistakes in logic amazes me.”

    You are similarly amazed by the logical errors of many others here who have established their credentials. By the way, Zach, and please excuse me if I’ve missed something, but what, exactly, are your credentials?

    For the record, I have no credentials in the areas under discussion apart from an enthusiastic desire to learn. And I can spot your logical errors easily. Are you in a correspondence course by mail or online? Maybe through Liberty University or some such thing?

    You have more in common with Houdini than Kant, I think.

  86. chrisjon 11 Jan 2013 at 7:34 pm

    Steven, I would just like to say that I appreciate your showing respect for philosophy as a discipline and your recognition of its importance. Many writers in the skeptic/science community, e.g. Laurence Krauss, Stephen Hawking, Jerry Coyne (to a lesser extent), Sam Harris (to some extent), have treated the discipline with disdain. Philosophy is not just important for coming up with ethical theories, to my mind it is or should be at the heart of the skeptical movement. Understanding the nature of argument and logic is crucial to anyone who wants to call themselves a skeptic. I encourage all of your readers to study informal logic either at school or online. Furthermore, philosophers of science tend to spend a lot more time investigating how science actually works than do many working scientists (they just get on with the job). In any discipline there are those who do it badly and there are those who do it well. I think the bad philosophers of science have gotten too much publicity compared to the good philosophers of science (Pigliucci being a good example of the latter). Anyway, three cheers for philosophy.

  87. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:00 pm

    @Philosofrenzy

    Thank you for that explanation. While I find it interesting that “proving a negative” is possible, it seems to me that what you are suggesting is that, given a certain assertion that something exists, and there is no evidence forthcoming about its existence, and evidence is all but certain to be present if that thing existed, then what we’re doing is disproving a positive (is that equal to “proving a negative”?).

    This is something I run across consistently with religious apologists and creationists, especially when they are challenging atheists on the existence of a deity, that we can’t “prove god doesn’t exist”, which of course to them means that god does exist if we can’t.

    That is what is happening here, is that Zach, et al, are proposing proof for objective morality by attempting to prove the non-existence of non-objective morality. They are asking us to give proof that subjective morality exists and objective morality does not, instead of providing evidence and support for their positive claim. This seems an awful lot like affirming the consequent, and its shifting the burden of proof.

    If evidence is all but certain to be present given a hypothesis, its absence is very strong evidence the hypothesis is false. The only way it would work is for highly unlikely events to occur, such as the unprecedented cleanup and rebuilding of my house before I got home after giant explosion, in such a way that I wouldn’t notice.

    Reflecting on what nybgrus said, I too am an amateur when it comes to philosophy, so I appreciate having an actual philosopher on here to help explain things and correct my misunderstandings. Glad you’re here!

  88. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:14 pm

    @chrisj

    Furthermore, philosophers of science tend to spend a lot more time investigating how science actually works than do many working scientists (they just get on with the job).

    This is an astute observation which, unfortunately, does their profession some harm. One trend I’ve noticed in the past few years with my schooling is that many professors have started incorporating a chunk of time at the beginning of semesters to discussing the scientific method and critical thinking, what it means, why we use it, and why it’s the best way of gathering knowledge. While it’s a far cry from a full-on philosophy course, I’m amazed at how many scientists out there seem to have trouble applying what they do in their work to other parts of their lives and other subjects, likely because they’ve never really thought about what it is they use and why.

    Unfortunately, I have not seen this trend in other science-based disciplines like engineering and health professions when it comes to their training. I’m not sure why that is, honestly. This is often reflected in nursing where we see a large percentages of professional nurses (and others) who are anti-vaccination, anti-GMO, and pro-woo of various sorts, in spite of all the science courses they took in school.

  89. Zachon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:14 pm

    “So please, don’t accuse me of misunderstanding when the article says, almost word for word, what I claimed it said. It makes no reference to rape being an offense to God, since women are created in the image of God–though, to be honest, this is just as disgusting and offensive a way to denounce rape as the first one. Rape is wrong because women are sentient beings, and because it hurts them profoundly. Period. It’s not wrong *by proxy.”

    Can you please provide your objective standard for why I should care that a woman is a sentient being and for why pain to them is of my concern?

    “As for the “3rd option” I showed how it was not a nonsensical option–essentially the simultaneous affirmation of both of the first two options. You can’t rescue Christianity from the dilemma by providing an utterly unworkable “third option” that involves both and neither. So yes, it *is* basic logic–but not in your favour.”

    You don’t understand it. There is a difference.

    And the article is correct that is it wrong because it is a mis-use of what God created sex to be. That is aspects of why it’s wrong – just one.

    You don’t like it? Ok, why should we care about what “you” happen to like or dislike? I dislike stuffing and yams, so what?

    “Zach, you’re starting to sound like a child, who thinks that being able to ask “Why?” makes it a good question.”

    Sorry I won’t accept your dogma over the next guys.

    Tmac57
    Red Herring – that is your answer.

    “You are similarly amazed by the logical errors of many others here who have established their credentials. By the way, Zach, and please excuse me if I’ve missed something, but what, exactly, are your credentials?”

    One undergraduate degree and two Master degrees.
    Bachelor of Arts
    Masters of Divinity
    Master of Arts

    But regardless of how much education I have done, it doesn’t matter. My claims and Stevens and Sam Harris all stand on their own, not on the educational levels of those who assert them.

    “And I can spot your logical errors easily.”

    Care to list them without appealing to an objective standard or un-provable first principles/axioms/assumptions/Presuppositions. I have no time for humanist dogma.

  90. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:15 pm

    Whoa! Quick correction. I have a(n undergraduate) degree in philosophy, but I am not an “actual philosopher” by a long stretch! I’m glad to help where I can, but I think I’ve given the wrong impression of my (meagre!) credentials.

    Proving a Negative vs. Proving a Positive vs. Disproving a Positive.

    The old analogy is the courtroom. You can prove someone guilty, you can disprove them guilty (rule ‘not-guilty,’ or, sometimes, you can prove them innocent.

    If Joe Smith is on trial, a video of Mike Johnson killing the victim would prove “Joe Smith did not kill the victim.” It would prove a negative. So yes, it’s important to make the distinction between the three; and while proving a negative is often the most difficult–and while ‘disproving a positive’ is often all that is needed, it is *possible* to prove a negative in the right circumstances.

  91. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:27 pm

    @Zach

    Your repetition of the same, already answered objections is getting tiresome. I’m afraid if nothing anyone has said has sunk in, there’s might be no point in continuing to try. If you think it’s a sincere objection to ask “why should I care if rape hurts a woman,” then you’re just not interested in talking about morality: indeed you *aren’t* talking about morality. You’re talking about theological law, and objecting that morality isn’t theological law. You’re all but excusing yourself from the table of discussion with that sort of “objection.”

    “You don’t understand it. There is a difference.”

    I explained it in detail. Merely saying this doesn’t demonstrate either that I misunderstand it or that you understand it either. A rational person, attempting to argue, would, at this point, attempt to show how I’d misunderstood. Instead, you provide a glib dismissal.

    “Sorry I won’t accept your dogma over the next guys.”

    What “dogma?” I explained how “Why?” wasn’t an adequate response, and provided you with how I’d given you the burden of proof. Rather than meeting this, you answered with another glib dismissal. You continue to assume you are right, and that merely side-stepping others points is adequate to maintain the rationality of your position. It isn’t.

    I’ve made this reply in the hope that this will reach you, and you’ll understand what the burden of effort, at least, rational discourse requires of you. If you continue to reply in kind, assuming the truth of everything you believe, and assuming the rationality of your beliefs is demonstrated by your being able to ask “why?” ad infinitum in response to criticism, this will be the last reply you get from me, at least. Not that this should necessarily bother you any. You seem prepared to declare victory over much less.

  92. BobbyGon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Interesting stuff.

    Seems to me a fundamental (and grease-the-skids necessary) assumption here is that “objective truth” (inclusive of both the “is” and “ought” flavors) is something that can be fully, permanently “known” via our human senses (and brain).

    Color me, well — uh –, skeptical. Insofar as the current stage of human evolution stands. Which is all I have to go on at the moment.

  93. BobbyGon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:37 pm

    Uh, oh, things are starting to degrade into the Undergrad PhilDept Epistemological Food Fight.

    There IS a therapy for that. It involves margaritas.

    Carry on.

  94. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 8:38 pm

    Philosofrenzy “This is related to the “absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence” thing, which isn’t quite right. If evidence is all but certain to be present given a hypothesis, its absence is very strong evidence the hypothesis is false.”

    The statement isn’t always correct, but it has applicability when the evidence at a given point in time is insufficient to answer an empirical question one way or another. It is a way to point out to another person that the lack of evidence may be due to other factors beside the hypothesis being false. The statement does not work if we should expect evidence to be there, given that the hypothesis is true, which I think is what you are saying.

    I have used this phrase myself (maybe only once) when someone concluded that there is no life outside of the earth, since he has seen no good evidence that there is. The problem is that I don’t think the lack of evidence much to say about that question at this time, since we have no way to detect life even from the nearest star, let alone in another galaxy

  95. RickKon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:38 pm

    Zach,

    What standard do you use for defining “good”?

    Is it universal and metaphysically objective – does is apply to all life and all species, those we know of now and those we’ve not yet discovered?

  96. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Your repetition of the same, already answered objections is getting tiresome. I’m afraid if nothing anyone has said has sunk in, there’s might be no point in continuing to try.

    You are expressing what many of us here have been frustrated about all along. There are over 400 comments on the previous blog entry, and many more on its antecedent, illustrating that very thing. Many others more patient and experienced than I have tried, to no avail. The most we’ve gotten is him aping things we have said to make him seem more intellectual. Not only that, he’s continued to repeat outright factual errors that people have corrected, many times.

    The problem with his “philosophy” is that there are no scenarios where his god isn’t present, or that suggests god isn’t involved in some way. It’s simply out of the question. In order to maintain that level of cognitive dissonance in the face of many of the questions posed to him, there is no way to proceed without denying fundamentals of science and logic. What’s really interesting is that he accuses everyone else of doing the same thing!

    Anyway, I really don’t think there’s much we can do with him except hope that it’s planted some seeds. I’m just worried we’ve turned him into a Craig clone, a pseudo-intellectual who claims superior logic while at the same time committing the biggest logical fallacies. What’s worse, they think they are using science and we’re misapplying it. That takes some gall to say that in front of real scientists.

  97. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 8:53 pm

    “Anyway, I really don’t think there’s much we can do with him except hope that it’s planted some seeds.”

    I’m concerned about the soil conditions, and if the seeds will get enough water and nutrients

  98. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 8:54 pm

    @ccbowers

    I have used this phrase myself (maybe only once) when someone concluded that there is no life outside of the earth, since he has seen no good evidence that there is. The problem is that I don’t think the lack of evidence much to say about that question at this time, since we have no way to detect life even from the nearest star, let alone in another galaxy

    I think this goes toward the intellectual honesty of the skeptical position – no one is saying for certain the non-existence of something claimed to exist, but that they don’t believe the likelihood of that thing existing given the evidence. This leaves the door open for the possibility that new evidence may come to light at some future point. So, the intellectually honest position of your friend who claimed that there is no life outside of earth is false considering that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” in that case, so you’re correct.

    Just like nearly all atheists are also agnostic when it comes to theistic claims, so it is in regards to the claim of objective morality – until there’s evidence for it, we remain skeptical, or outright don’t believe it exists. We don’t say we know for CERTAIN it doesn’t exist, but given we’ve seen no evidence for it as well as evidence to the contrary, we conclude that the likelihood of its existence is very small.

  99. ccbowerson 11 Jan 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Sorry about the last comment, just trying to lighten things up a bit

  100. tmac57on 11 Jan 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Zach -Why is asking for proof of your objective source for morality a red herring (i.e. irrelevant)?
    That’s exactly what this blog post IS about.
    You claim God is your objective source.
    That is the thrust of all of those 12 questions,to establish that proof.
    You are dodging a question that you cannot answer.
    Your morals are subjective,just like everyone else’s.

  101. JJ Borgmanon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:11 pm

    Zach,

    I wrote,

    “You are similarly amazed by the logical errors of many others here who have established their credentials. By the way, Zach, and please excuse me if I’ve missed something, but what, exactly, are your credentials?”

    You wrote.

    “One undergraduate degree and two Master degrees.
    Bachelor of Arts
    Masters of Divinity
    Master of Arts”

    From which accredited institutions of education? It matters.

    You wrote,

    “But regardless of how much education I have done, it doesn’t matter. My claims and Stevens and Sam Harris all stand on their own, not on the educational levels of those who assert them.”

    BullSquat. It does matter. Which institutions?

    I wrote,

    “And I can spot your logical errors easily.”

    You wrote,

    “Care to list them without appealing to an objective standard or un-provable first principles/axioms/assumptions/Presuppositions. I have no time for humanist dogma.”

    Are you nervous because I’m too close to the bone? I thought you liked objective standards. You have no time? You have plainly poured hours into your responses over the past week or so. Go take a ride in the car!

    Now you sound like the one who is angry or frustrated. And, no, I won’t bother to list them. They are already completely on record, in detail, in your posts. And they pretty much all fail for the reasons YOU DON’T LIKE OR HAVE TIME FOR.

    Sorry, Zach, but you and those who argue like you are all scratching at a precipice you are on the downside of. Your arguments are nothing more than the howling of a canine who cannot gain traction on the slope of reason.

  102. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:12 pm

    @tmac57

    Zach -Why is asking for proof of your objective source for morality a red herring (i.e. irrelevant)?

    While I agree with you totally in asking those questions, what he’ll throw back at you is that he never actually made the claim that the christian god of the bible is the source of his morals, or that that is what he’s trying to prove.

    Instead, what he says he’s trying to prove is that a) objective morals exist, and b) they necessarily require a law bringer (whoever that may be). He admits that what he regards as the law bringer is the christian god of the bible when asked, but he’s not trying to make that a claim (yet).

    Of course, when asked to demonstrate that objective morals exist, he goes into the “disproving a negative”, which is that subjective morality does not exist.

    I think we can all agree that his ultimate goal is to prove that his christian god of the bible is who the law bringer is, and in effect convert some folks here to his religion, or at least get some of us big bad atheists to admit the possibility (which we do, in fact, just that the possibility is so infinitesimally small as to be as close to certitude as one could get), and thereby earn heaven points and/or bragging rights.

  103. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:16 pm

    which is that subjective morality does not exist.

    Correction, this should read ,”which is that non-objective morality doesn’t not exist”

  104. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:17 pm

    *objective morality doesn’t not exist* GAH!

  105. bgoudieon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:17 pm

    Zach, you said “I have no time for humanist dogma.”

    And yet somehow you expect that human beings have time for the utter drek that is dogmatic assertion that there is a “lawgiver” or an absolute beyond human creation set of morals.

    Zach is a troll, and particularly deceitful one at that. Feeding him is mistake.

  106. Philosofrenzyon 11 Jan 2013 at 9:30 pm

    @BobbyG

    “Uh, oh, things are starting to degrade into the Undergrad PhilDept Epistemological Food Fight.
    There IS a therapy for that. It involves margaritas.
    Carry on.”

    To paraphrase Homer the Greater, “Alcohol, the cause of, and solution to, all of philosophy’s problems.” :)

    Seriously though. Thanks for the appropriate chiding.

  107. tmac57on 11 Jan 2013 at 9:46 pm

    RisF-

    While I agree with you totally in asking those questions, what he’ll throw back at you is that he never actually made the claim that the christian god of the bible is the source of his morals, or that that is what he’s trying to prove.

    Well if he makes THAT claim,then what is the ‘source code’ where we can all examine these ‘objective’ morals,if not the christian bible? If we cannot have access to them then they are up to the individual to sort out…i.e. subjective.

    I will wait for Zach’s response.

  108. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 10:07 pm

    @tmac57

    We’ve appealed to him numerous times to support his absolute objective morals necessarily brought by a law giver claim, to no avail. His only intention seems to be to prove objective morality by disproving the non-existence of objective morality with the assumption that the only possibilities are the binary 100% objective or 100% non-objective.

    Most of us find this approach to be absurd to the extreme, but no amount of explaining or discussing seems to sway him from this course. I think we all know what’s going on here, so at this point I really do think we’re just feeding a troll who wants to have the bragging rights of “sticking it to those atheists”.

  109. tmac57on 11 Jan 2013 at 11:08 pm

    RisF- I think you are dead on, I just wanted to put a fine point on it,because the TLDR responses become so involved that it tends to dilute the argument. I like to boil things down to the essence so there is less wiggle room for rhetorical evasion.

  110. rezistnzisfutlon 11 Jan 2013 at 11:15 pm

    tmac – I totally agree, and cutting through it was what I was trying to do yesterday in the previous thread, but that got everyone nowhere, so here we are. And it’s true that the argument is being diluted, but at this point it’s really all academic rhetoric for our own edification because I think everyone realizes that Zach, et al, has no intention of demonstrating his claim.

  111. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 12:59 am

    Well, it was a productive rest of my day at least. Gave a good talk, had some beers and a delicious dinner, and now unwinding catching up with the comments. And wooo-boy howdy!

    First off:

    @rez: (in regards to)

    Get something straight so perhaps you could lose some of that hubris and display a little humility for a change. You didn’t instruct us. You weren’t the one who taught anyone anything. And you are NOT educated, at least on certain subjects (science and logic immediately jump out).
    Rather, you’ve been instructional. That’s all. Y

    Yes, you are correct. I suppose I’ll have to be a bit more careful with those who show a lack of intellectual honesty. At least you and those who really matter could clearly understand what I had meant.

    Can you please provide your objective standard for why I should care that a woman is a sentient being and for why pain to them is of my concern?

    Probably one of the more repugnant things to spew from his fingers.

    The funniest part is that when asked “Can you please provideyour objective standard for why I should care what God says or thinks” we hear nothing but crickets.

    Chirp. Chirp.

    And the article is correct that is it wrong because it is a mis-use of what God created sex to be. That is aspects of why it’s wrong – just one

    Philosofrenzy: I read your link and it says [xxx]

    Zach: No it doesn’t. You don’t understand. Oh but it still says exactly what you said.

    I genuinely have trouble wrapping my mind around such obstinate inability to see and understand what is beyond plainly there.

    One undergraduate degree and two Master degrees.
    Bachelor of Arts
    Masters of Divinity
    Master of Arts

    That explains it. Well, my masters in unicornology and sub-specialty in leprauchanology taught me you are a dishonest sack of…

    And still…

    I am leery of discussing an issue like this with you, because I sense it is more than just an intellectual conversation for you, it is a personal one that is emotional.
    If you mean my exact view of morality with a comment on homosexuality, well, I’ll be writing an article on in soon, so you’ll have to bear with me (morality this, not homosexuality – though I will probably write on that soon, just gotta think of a blog name).

    Nope. You just can’t possibly do it. Somewhere on the order of 1000 comments later and you still can’t actually defend a single one of your points. Not one.

    And don’t dodge you slimy bastard. If you want to call “harm is bad” a moral claim, you can’t say “homosexuality is bad” is not a moral claim. You couldn’t even actually say if you think that homosexuality is bad. You won’t touch it, because you know you can’t defend it, and that any one of us here would absolutely rip it to shreds if you tried.

    And yeah right. “Just got to think of a name.” Why don’t you call it “Zach’s blog” and then link us your response. Do you honestly think any of us give two hoots about the name of the blog?

    It is just downright scary that there are actuallly more people who think the way that you do. My only comfort is that y’all will be weeded out via that natural selection and evolution you don’t believe in. Delicious irony.

  112. BillyJoe7on 12 Jan 2013 at 1:05 am

    Zach,

    All of your posts consist of quoting something someone has said and then making a quick response. Quote -> response -> quote -> response -> quote -> response. It makes it look like you read comments others have made until you see a response to which you can give one of your standard responses. The trouble with that is that you never get the whole meaning of what people are saying, and it also means that you never change any of your standard responses. Your responses haven’t changed despite your adversaries having put flesh on the bones of their original arguments.

    I don’t know what the solution is, but it hasn’t been worth reading your posts for some considerable time now. In fact I’m not going to read any more of them unless and until you change your tactic. It’s like ground hog day with every single post. I mean aren’t you sick of repeating yourself over and over again? You have seen “Ground Hog Day” haven’t you? If you haven’t take a look. It might be instructive.

  113. nybgruson 12 Jan 2013 at 1:21 am

    @BJ:

    I just skim his posts and let the most egregious transgressions of logic, science, and civility jump out. It’s not that difficult.

    But I do actually read everyone else’s. I actually learn from those (rather than because of them, like Zach’s).

    Still waiting for that blog post of his. Or any support of his own claims. Heaven knows his argument won’t stand up without a good title though. And titles are, like, hard man.

  114. Zachon 12 Jan 2013 at 2:02 am

    “Zach -Why is asking for proof of your objective source for morality a red herring (i.e. irrelevant)?
    That’s exactly what this blog post IS about.
    You claim God is your objective source.”

    This blog post isn’t about me defending my specific view of morality – Steven claims his system is correct, I am here to demonstrate that his wrong, not that mine is right. I’ll post my view on my own blog soon enough. If a scientist asserts that all dinosaurs evolved into toaster ovens, and other scientist disagree, him getting mad and asking for proof for what exactly happened to them is irrelevant – his view is on trial.

    Steven’s view is on trial here, not mine. And trying to focus the conversation onto that is just a way to distract from the holes in Steven’s view.

    “Are you nervous because I’m too close to the bone? I thought you liked objective standards.”

    You are confused, I like objective standards, but Steven and others are appealing to objective standards without realizing it when they say that suffering is bad is universal truism.

    Suffering is bad cannot derive a moral system that is based on logic for it assumes the answer to the question in the first place – how does one determine morality – that’s illogical and nonsensical – the question is how do we determine morality, and simply answering that question with, “well by analyzing all choices through the morality I came up with,” is pretty weak.

    You don’t get to make up your foundation for morality and then build everything else on it when your foundation (the very question we are trying to figure out in the first place) is based on assuming your answer to the question.

    “Now you sound like the one who is angry or frustrated. And, no, I won’t bother to list them. They are already completely on record, in detail, in your posts. And they pretty much all fail for the reasons YOU DON’T LIKE OR HAVE TIME FOR.”

    Again, I’m not mad, you misunderstood my posts. And again, this is the typical response from anyone not named Steven here,
    The masses: “Zach we pointed out that you are wrong, you have sooooo many problems.”
    Me: “Like what?”
    The masses: “SOOOOO MANY!!!”
    “Me: k.”
    The masses: “See, HE BELIEVES IN SKY FAIRIES AND WON”T TRY TO PROVE IT! GET HIM!”
    Me: “sigh”

    Bgoudie said,

    “And yet somehow you expect that human beings have time for the utter drek that is dogmatic assertion that there is a “lawgiver” or an absolute beyond human creation set of morals.”
    You don’t accept dogma from the religious folk, but they are to accept your faith based claims? Double standard.

    “Zach is a troll, and particularly deceitful one at that. Feeding him is mistake.”

    Keep childish posts like this up and you will be in the ignore category with rezistnzisfutl. I am not a troll, I am pointing out errors I perceive in Steven’s view.
    If I were a troll do you think Steven would be so stupid as to create an entirely new moral explanation and blog posts from my critiques?

    “Well if he makes THAT claim,then what is the ‘source code’ where we can all examine these ‘objective’ morals,if not the christian bible? If we cannot have access to them then they are up to the individual to sort out…i.e. subjective. I will wait for Zach’s response.“

    I have said several times, posted a chart to provide a visual demonstration, etc. asserting the claim I am attempting to make here, that morality must be at least objective, or doesn’t exist.</b< I think we can prove that much by pointing out the flaws in Steven’s subjective position. For if subjective is proven to not work, we are left only with objective or doesn’t exist.

    I never said I could prove to you that morality is by default objective and based on the Bible – I never tried to. So asking me to is a Red Herring to this conversation. I am only trying to convince you that morality is not subjective and must be objective or not exist. Remember, Sam Harris believes morality is objective – I agree with him, but where he goes after that I disagree. So asserting that I am saying Steven is wrong cuz there’s a sky daddy who did it all is a straw man.

    “Well, it was a productive rest of my day at least. Gave a good talk, had some beers and a delicious dinner, and now unwinding catching up with the comments. And wooo-boy howdy!”

    Awesome, glad it went well!

    “Probably one of the more repugnant things to spew from his fingers.
    The funniest part is that when asked “Can you please provideyour objective standard for why I should care what God says or thinks” we hear nothing but crickets.”

    It is repugnant, I agree, but the question is still valid – just because it’s shocking to your senses doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask it, we MUST ask it. Not everyone believes it wrong, so why do you? How do we justify our view as opposed to theirs? Power and authority, is that all we can appeal to?
    Evidence only please. Not mere assertions that harm is bad – humanistic dogma is not proof.
    I can’t figure out why you guys can’t figure out that my view doesn’t matter. Steven’s view stands and falls on its own. Is it really that broken that you can’t do anything but throw back with a “no you”?

    Read what I just wrote in response to another commentator. I agree with Sam Harris that morality must be objective (or doesn’t exist). What it absolutely cannot be is subjective since it is nonsensical. That is all I am trying to assert. Anything beyond that is not what I am trying to assert or convince you of with evidence.

    “That explains it. Well, my masters in unicornology and sub-specialty in leprauchanology taught me you are a dishonest sack of…”

    This is childish and rude. If you don’t agree with someone that’s one thing, but this is angry atheist e-thug nonsense. I will no longer be reading your posts since you chose to act this way.

    “I don’t know what the solution is, but it hasn’t been worth reading your posts for some considerable time now. In fact I’m not going to read any more of them unless and until you change your tactic.”

    That’s fine, if you can’t understand my points then this isn’t going to be a fruitful endeavor – thankfully Steven understand me, hence the new blog post on this – we just disagree and I can respectfully agree to disagree with him while still having discussion.
    I have pointed out clearly that you can’t assume any first principles since first principles are the answer to the question itself – it’s circular. No one wants to engage that point directly and responds like I’m the devil because I won’t grant that rape is bad just because they said it is so that makes it bad. You say morality tells us that harm is bad… what? How does it do that? Because morality assumes we need to get along? No it doesn’t, prove this.
    Morality is which actions are bad and which are good, so harm is bad you assert? Ok, well not everyone agrees with your subjective morality and they hold other subjective views, so why should I accept your views over theirs?
    Subjective morality is nonsensical. At least go with Sam Harris.
    Dogma, only answered by dogma doesn’t fly when a religious person does, at least be consistent in your skepticism.

  115. Philosofrenzyon 12 Jan 2013 at 2:35 am

    “The masses: “Zach we pointed out that you are wrong, you have sooooo many problems.”
    Me: “Like what?”
    The masses: “SOOOOO MANY!!!”
    “Me: k.”
    The masses: “See, HE BELIEVES IN SKY FAIRIES AND WON”T TRY TO PROVE IT! GET HIM!”
    Me: “sigh””

    This caricaturing confirms everything we’ve said.

    That this is the way he portrays our specific and detailed questions and claims, and his evasive answers–that he portrays himself as the lone, sensible, rational hero–makes it obvious there’s no further room for dialogue.

    That he pretends we haven’t made specific objections, and asked specific questions, or given you specific arguments, despite our *repeatedly pointing them out when he misses them*, confirms what BilllyJoe7 aptly described: his tendency to skim others’ posts for something he could object to, while utterly missing the point of everything anyone says.

    It’s been fun, everyone. :)

  116. bgoudieon 12 Jan 2013 at 3:23 am

    Zach, The fact that Dr. Novella took the time to respond to you has nothing to do with your own troll like behaviors. It doesn’t mark his as stupid to try and explain his position on the topics to you, oh to be sure it was perhaps overly optimistic once it became clear that you do not understand even the basic concepts of logical discourse and reason.

    You have spent a considerable amount of time declaring that you done something (proving objective morality exists and disproving a subjective but still viable system of moral codes) despite having provided nothing more than a misunderstanding of what constitutes the basic language of logical discourse and a great deal of “no it isn’t”.

    You’ve clung to a false dichotomy despite many posts showing clearly the fault in basic premise. You’ve dismissed the points of others with wrongly applied definitions and false claims of logical fallacies. You’ve used that classic piece of rhetorical reversal so loved by those of religious bent by claiming that everyone opposed to your position is just acting on faith and dogma. You’ve been smug and insulting at many points to many posters. And as the final cherry on top, you’ve shown the temerity to claim you caused Steven to change his position.

    These are all the actions of a troll rather than someone who actually wished to discuss a philosophical point with others.

    Again I find it telling the way you use the phrases “humanist dogma” “post-modern” and “moral relativism”, treating them as they magically win your side of a debate. It’s like a Fox pundit tossing out the terms socialism, Marxist, or collectivist, knowing that their sheep like followers will agree to hate whatever the lables are placed on, even when they are wildly inaccurate.

    Here’s the thing about you part of these discussions that has left many of us with a bad taste in our mouths. You claim to prize the use of logic and reason and yet you cling to the premise that the human intellect is incapable of using such to construct a moral code to live by. You postulate that there must be a supernatural entity beyond our true ken who must guide us. It’ insulting to both human dignity and the entire pursuit of knowledge and improvement.

  117. rezistnzisfutlon 12 Jan 2013 at 3:23 am

    Well, it was only a matter of time when he’d claim to be the sheep amongst the wolves and hang himself up on his cross. Double heaven points there for staying true to his faith before being castigated by us heathens.

    I always get a good chuckle out of religious apologists who claim persecution because they can’t convince others of their beliefs or when they’re mocked for their thick and willful ignorance. Because we don’t accept his baseless claims and call him on his total and utter BS, he’s the victim.

    Zach, get a grip, an education, and some humility. A little introspection never hurt anyone.

  118. mufion 12 Jan 2013 at 6:53 am

    Zach: Can you please provide your objective standard for why I should care that a woman is a sentient being and for why pain to them is of my concern?

    nybgrus: Probably one of the more repugnant things to spew from his fingers.

    Zach: It is repugnant, I agree, but the question is still valid – just because it’s shocking to your senses doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask it, we MUST ask it. Not everyone believes it wrong, so why do you?

    Would it help if nybgrus were to admit that it’s not “wrong” in any absolute sense of the word? that it’s only “wrong” in the sense that he deems it repugnant in most, if not all, situations?*

    Besides, it’s not clear that rape (or homicide) is deemed absolutely wrong in the Judeo-Christian (or Abrahamic) tradition, either. Take, for example, Numbers 31:15-18:

    And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath