Ramblings on Morality

Morality is fundamentally based upon how we define the words ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, or ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour. Of course, like any word we can, and often do define these terms subjectively – however this does not mean that morality itself is subjective. Morality for me is emphatically objective despite the criticisms that you cannot have objective morals without God. How is this so? Well it’s all about how you define those aforementioned terms. The following are how I would define ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ – and I am sure that most people would agree upon these definitions:

 

Right – an action that promotes happiness and well-being, or health, or that relieves suffering and does not cause unnecessary harm or loss.

Wrong – an action causes unhappiness, suffering, and causes unnecessary harm or loss.

 

In light of these definitions stealing something, for example is objectively wrong because it causes unhappiness, suffering and loss. These states of mind related to happiness and unhappiness can also be objectively measured. If you hook up someone to an EEG machine when they were experiencing happiness and pleasure different parts of their brain would be active to if you measured them when they were sad or anxious etc. These are real states that we can objectively measure and have some real basis in fact, rather than just being arbitrary and subjective.

 

Of course if someone wants to define right and wrong differently then they can derive a different morality from it, but this is about how I define those terms to arrive at an objective moral standard that does not require God – something which a theist would deny to the death.

 

Morality doesn’t have to have cosmological significance in order to be objective. Just because the actions I carry out in this life do not reverberate through eternity, does not mean that they have no worth and should be abandoned. There are plenty of reasons to be good. If you invite a guest to your home you would expect them not to be rude and obnoxious, and to respect your property – there is no reason then to act in such a way when you are a guest in someone else’s home. Treat others how you wish to be treated. This is perhaps the oldest principle in moral philosophy; the Golden Rule.

 

We all want to be liked, we all want to be the kind of person that we would want to hang around with. There are plenty of good reasons to be a moral person – God is not necessary for this.

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30 Comments

Filed under Philosophy, Religion

30 responses to “Ramblings on Morality

  1. I’ve addressed this argument here. When you take this argument out to reductio absurdum, even trivial things that cause suffering would be considered wrong. This is a poor standard of objective morality.

    The theist’s argument is what you claim simply for the fact that there is no reasonable objective moral standard apart from God. Suffering fails as a standard, as do other naturalistic explanations. An objective moral law requires an objective moral Law-Giver. Contrary to what Sam Harris might think, objective morality and atheism do not go together.

  2. Value conflicts occur almost every day in our lives. These are when one thing we value strongly collides with another. Mrs. X for example strongly values life and believes that we should not unnecessarily harm or kill living beings, Mrs. X also highly values the health and welfare of her children. When her house becomes infested with rats her two values are forced into conflict, she does not wish to cause harm to living beings, but her children’s health is at risk. What should she do in this situation? Certainly a good guess would be that she would measure up those values against each other and decide that under these circumstances the value that she places upon her children’s health takes precedence over the value she has for the welfare of her rodent invaders.

    Any rational moral philosophy must take into account these value conflicts. Submitting to moral absolutes creates absurdities when confronted with value conflicts. Take “thou shall not steal” for example, if this an absolute commandment that should remain unbroken under all circumstances then what would we do if a loved one was suicidal and we found a couple of packets of pain killers in their room? Taking them would be stealing which violates the law, but leaving them there could potentially lead to your loved one killing themselves. Clearly an absolute moral law laid down and set in stone cannot provide a strong basis for morality. Even if it was set down by a moral law giver.

    How does the objective moral standard of Christianity account for conflicts of moral values? If we have a law given by a law giver (God) and we arrive in a situation in which the value we (or God, if you like) place on that law is brought into conflict with that of another, how can we deal with this? If we reason that one of these values should take precedence over another then aren’t we becoming the arbitrators of moral law rather than God? If so then God isn’t necessary for our morality seeing as we override his decisions to fit our own whim anyway.

    Reason needs to be employed when considering ethics to any deep level, and value conflicts illustrate this nicely. Morality based upon laws given by a supreme being doesn’t work because we are constantly forced into situations in which one ‘divine moral law’ comes into conflict with another and therefore use our own standard to decide a course of action rather than God’s standard.

    My moral standards are derived from reason. I have arrived at reasonable agreeable definitions of right and wrong, and I also accept that in certain circumstances these value judgements will inevitably come into conflict with each other. When this happens we employ our reasoning to decide which course of action to take. Always with a guiding principle of never causing unnecessary harm – the word unnecessary is a key term here. If the outcome of a conflict of values is inevitable harm then we have to take the course of action that causes the least harm and undertake it gravely only ever when it is necessary to prevent further harm. If it is unnecessary (or avoidable) then it can never be justified.

    These moral standards are pretty much what rational minds would naturally agree upon as being the most harmonious way of living together. Having standard definitions of right and wrong behaviour as a means for guiding your actions, definitions that have objective meanings. Then applying a reasoned method of evaluating the least harmful course of action when faced with a conflict of values. This is a practical and useful moral standard, it doesn’t matter whether or not it has significance on a cosmological scale, it has objective grounding principles of right and wrong and a rational method of discerning a course of action in a value conflict situation.

    Having a moral law giver, is a far more problematic than the moral standards I outlined above. Firstly is something wrong because God decided it was wrong, or was it already wrong and God just decided to tell us? If it was the latter then God is not the law giver, just the messenger – and therefore unnecessary. If the former then how can words like right and wrong have any meaning? If something is wrong just because God says it is wrong then torturing and killing infants would be right if God commanded it – something which would be objectively wrong according to my definitions.

    So is “right” defined simply as ‘what God wants you to do?’ Would you torture and kill and infant if God told you to? Answer ‘no’ and concede that there exists moral standards that supersede those of God – namely yours, or answer ‘yes’ and never, ever come here and tell me that my moral standards are somehow unreasonable again when you would kill a child at the command of a deity, even though you know it to be a morally evil act.

  3. Glad to see you’re still around. I thought you had given up on me. Hope all is well.

    Moral law can only be applied to oneself. In your “don’t steal” example, clearly there are other means by which you can stop the suicide without taking the pills. So moral value judgments don’t have to be in conflict with each other unless you want to take the easy way out. That’s not morality; that’s laziness.

    The objective morality of God, when understood by all and applied individually, shows no conflict. In the case of Mrs. X, she would need to look at the objective moral law to determine if either choice is actually morally wrong. In this case, it doesn’t seem to be, so she is justified in making whatever choice she deems is best. No conflict.

    How do you define “least harmful course of action” on your objective morality? And how would that jibe with someone else determining a different course of action is least harmful given the same choices? What you are speaking of here is subjective morality, cleverly disguised as objective. Moral objectivity is moral absolutism–don’t try to separate the two.

    In regards to the two dilemmas you pose, let me respond. In the first dilemma, know that God gave us morality innately (see this argument for why I believe that) so that we would know what right and wrong was, and then went the extra mile and spelled it out for us so there would be no doubts based on misleadings from Satan and demons. So He is both the Giver and the Messenger, and there is no dilemma.

    I’ve already answered your second dilemma in the comments here, but let me just briefly re-state that this is a false dilemma, because God’s nature is immutable, and as such if He has stated it to be wrong before, it will always be wrong. So again, this is a false dilemma.

    Ball’s in your court. Explain again how your moral standard is objective and not subjective based on my complaint.

    • Moral law can only be applied to oneself. In your “don’t steal” example, clearly there are other means by which you can stop the suicide without taking the pills. So moral value judgments don’t have to be in conflict with each other unless you want to take the easy way out. That’s not morality; that’s laziness.

      Ok I will be more specific about the situation – there is no other apparent way of preventing the suicide. You can’t just side step with issue here by saying that you wouldn’t need to violate the commandment not to steal because in the example you might not have to steal in order to prevent your friends death. Okay so let me rephrase it so you can understand: If you find yourself in a position where you have to steal the pills and you have no other course of action. Would you violate God’s law in that circumstance?

      Don’t dodge the issue, the issue is about value conflicts in which one of God’s commands comes into conflict with another. What do you do in that situation? A situation in which you had to break one, or risk the death of your friend, what would you do? Side stepping my point does not refute my argument. I’m talking specific situations in which one value comes into conflict with another, and whatever the outcome you have to sacrifice one of your values, your saying that there would be another way of dealing with it without having to sacrifice your values is completely missing the point – I’m talking about a situation in which you have to choose the greater good as it were. Are you denying that these circumstances happen? My whole argument still stands regardless of your hasty dismissal of it.

      “The objective morality of God, when understood by all and applied individually, shows no conflict. In the case of Mrs. X, she would need to look at the objective moral law to determine if either choice is actually morally wrong. In this case, it doesn’t seem to be, so she is justified in making whatever choice she deems is best. No conflict.”

      What is the objective morality of God? Can you tell me what exactly it is that makes a wrong action wrong, and a right action right in your interpretation of morality? What is it about the act of murder for example that makes it wrong?

      “How do you define “least harmful course of action” on your objective morality? “

      Well this would sometimes be easy and sometimes more difficult. I have defined wrong as something which is unnecessarily harmful. Sometimes certain degrees of harm are unavoidable, and sometimes it is hard to see which course of action would prove to be the least harmful. We are not perfect, and sometimes we inevitably get it wrong, but so long as we keep reduction of harm and suffering in the forefront in our minds we can be sure to arrive at a reasonable decision for the least harmful course of action. Any reasonable system of moral standards has to account for situations in which the right course of action is ambiguous. Your moral standards do not account for this.

      This doesn’t change the objective definitions of right and wrong I provided, again I included the clause unnecessary when talking about harm and suffering, sometimes we cannot avoid harm, in which case we try to reason as best we can to find the least harmful course to take.

      Okay so God instils morality in each of us innately, what happens if this contradicts the moral laws written in the Bible? For example I would never consider killing a child to be morally acceptable – and you could call this an innate moral sense – which I’m sure most people share, but I know that God commands children to be killed in the Bible – how is it that he can command things that go against what I know in my gut to be wrong? This is a problem because there is an obvious inconsistency between what we know to be right and wrong and some of the things commanded by God in the Bible.

      Do you think it is morally acceptable to kill a stranger, simply for collecting sticks on the Sabbath? What does your innate sense of morality say? You think that is just and moral? Or is it excessively cruel and unjust? I’d say it is excessively cruel and unjust, and I know this without having to think about it, yet God commands exactly that punishment in the Bible. What are we supposed to do with this contradiction?

      It’s not a false dilemma at all, in fact it is a very Biblical dilemma. Okay so you are Abraham, and God tells you to kill your son Issac. Do you do what God commands? This is very relevant to Christian morality, please do not sidestep it, I want an answer. Put yourself in Abraham’s shoes and tell me if you would be prepared to kill your own child at the command of your God.

  4. Point #1: It’s still a false dilemma. Clearly there is a relationship between yourself and the person, so you can use the basis of that relationship to reason with the person or deliver an ultimatum without the pills leaving your sight. There is always an option that does not violate God’s moral law, so a value conflict such as you speak of is a false dilemma. The only reason value conflicts happen are because a large number of people ground their moral values in themselves, instead of looking for an objective morality.

    Point #2: The Bible is pretty clear on what makes an action right or wrong. It has everything to do with what’s in your heart and the intent of why you choose to do what you do. In your question to murder, there actually IS an explanation for this. Matthew 5:21-22a–“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” The prevailing and punishable sin is the anger in the heart, not the actual murder, and Jesus shows that this morality is on a higher plain than just action to action. It is on an internal basis.

    Point #3: “Unnecessarily” harmful still doesn’t work. To my point in my own blog post, this would mean a slugger hitting a game-winning home run commits an immoral act, because it is harmful to others (emotional distress for the opposing players, perhaps even the loss of position on the team for giving up the homer, etc.), and was unnecessary. The player could have simply not swung and the harm would have been avoided. Under your morality by choosing to swing and hit the home run, this man is immoral. It still doesn’t work. Please explain to me how you would reconcile this, as it fits perfectly into your mold. And saying this is not a “moral choice” is not a proper rebuttal. Show me how this works on your objective morality.

    To your questions:

    Question #1: Why would you not consider killing a child to be morally acceptable? Do you have some logical framework for this? And can you give such an example in the Bible for comparison, so we can look at what God considers His justification for this to be?

    Question #2: Did the person collecting sticks on the Sabbath do so in direct disobedience to a command? If so, have they not committed wrong and deserve to be punished justly? Doesn’t the Bible say “the wages of sin is death”? Where is the contradiction?

    Question #3: This was actually done in the Bible (see Judges for the story of Jephthah), and he actually sacrificed his daughter. If God told me specifically and without any possibility of it being me mis-interpreting His request or intention, then I would have to accept what God says in Isaiah: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” That is the difference between us thinking we know what’s best and God knowing what’s best.

    Now my turn to ask you some questions. Are you perfect? And if not, why do you knowingly choose to do wrong? How can we have an objective moral law without someone to enforce it?

    Please answer my questions without any questions of your own. You have yet to explain how your view is superior.

  5. I feel I made a poor answer to your final question on Abraham. To get at the heart of the issue, I think we need to clarify a couple of additional things.

    First, why do you personally think God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? What was His motive and intent behind asking Abraham to do it? If I really believe the passage in Isaiah, this is question I must ask myself, but I also pose it to you, if you think a potential wrong exists in this situation.

    Second, do you think that the God of the Bible would ask something of someone without being willing to do it Himself? If so, can you give an example and elaborate more on why you think so?

    • Point #1: It’s still a false dilemma. Clearly there is a relationship between yourself and the person, so you can use the basis of that relationship to reason with the person or deliver an ultimatum without the pills leaving your sight. There is always an option that does not violate God’s moral law, so a value conflict such as you speak of is a false dilemma. The only reason value conflicts happen are because a large number of people ground their moral values in themselves, instead of looking for an objective morality.

      Okay, you don’t seem to get the point I am trying to make. Forget about the suicide example. I’ll try and provide a clearer example. In the Bible it says ‘Thou shall not bear false witness’, so I would presume this is part of God’s moral law, am I correct?

      Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is harbouring Jews in Nazi Germany, the SS come and knock at your door. Do you lie, and tell them that you do not have any Jews there – thus breaking God’s moral law, but potentially saving their lives, or do you tell the truth and let them take them away to concentration camps?

      I don’t want to see any wriggling out of this, just answer it straight up.

      Point #3: “Unnecessarily” harmful still doesn’t work. To my point in my own blog post, this would mean a slugger hitting a game-winning home run commits an immoral act, because it is harmful to others (emotional distress for the opposing players, perhaps even the loss of position on the team for giving up the homer, etc.), and was unnecessary. The player could have simply not swung and the harm would have been avoided. Under your morality by choosing to swing and hit the home run, this man is immoral. It still doesn’t work. Please explain to me how you would reconcile this, as it fits perfectly into your mold. And saying this is not a “moral choice” is not a proper rebuttal. Show me how this works on your objective morality.

      In the context of sport, people enter into it with the notion of what it entails, winning, losing, risk of injury and so on. The key factor is willingness. Someone is willing to participate in sport and therefore has to be prepared for any harm associated with it. The sports person has agreed to undergo any unnecessary harm that their sport may entail. Doing something unnecessarily harmful to someone against their will is clearly a different matter.

      Question #1: Why would you not consider killing a child to be morally acceptable? Do you have some logical framework for this? And can you give such an example in the Bible for comparison, so we can look at what God considers His justification for this to be?

      Because the killing of a child creates unnecessary harm, loss, suffering and distress to the child’s loved ones, there is absolutely no justification for it under the moral standards I outlined.

      Apparently ‘rebelling against God’ is enough to warrant not only infants to be dashed into pieces, but pregnant women torn open also, Hosea 13:16

      Question #2: Did the person collecting sticks on the Sabbath do so in direct disobedience to a command? If so, have they not committed wrong and deserve to be punished justly? Doesn’t the Bible say “the wages of sin is death”? Where is the contradiction?

      No, the person collecting the sticks was not made aware of such a command, the Israelites found him in the woods on the Sabbath collecting sticks, and because they were unsure what to do with him (as he was not one of their own) they took him back, and it was later decreed by God that he should be killed. Death for collecting STICKS on a certain day, have you no idea how absurd and unjust this is? Would you advocate killing someone for doing some trivial task on a Sunday?

      Question #3: This was actually done in the Bible (see Judges for the story of Jephthah), and he actually sacrificed his daughter. If God told me specifically and without any possibility of it being me mis-interpreting His request or intention, then I would have to accept what God says in Isaiah: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” That is the difference between us thinking we know what’s best and God knowing what’s best.

      You are arguing that you’re moral standards are superior yet you would kill your own child just because God told you to. I’m sorry, but how can you argue that your moral standards are superior when there is a special circumstance in which you have an excuse to behave any disgusting way you want, and that is God commanding you to do so. There is no circumstance whatsoever under my moral principles in which killing my own child would be acceptable. Can you really be serious and come here claiming moral superiority? I would never kill my own child under any circumstances, where as you would. I don’t need to say any more.

      Now my turn to ask you some questions. Are you perfect? And if not, why do you knowingly choose to do wrong? How can we have an objective moral law without someone to enforce it?

      No I am not perfect. Because some times it is difficult for humans to override basic urges and impulses to act in certain ways.

      We can have objective moral law without someone to enforce it. Contractarianism provides a secular means for objective morality, Shelly Kagan outlines this in his debate with William Lane Craig. The enforcer of moral law can be the people who agree to live by the said laws, it certainly doesn’t require a supreme being.

      First, why do you personally think God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? What was His motive and intent behind asking Abraham to do it?

      God’s motive is obvious. Submit to me as your ultimate authority. Do as I say, no matter what it is I ask you to do. I find this morally repugnant and I, if such a request was made of me, by God, to quote Christopher Hitchens, would turn around and say “No, fuck you”.

      If I commanded you to steal something, and I was willing to steal something to, does it make it okay just because I was willing to do so as well?

  6. Do you lie, and tell them that you do not have any Jews there – thus breaking God’s moral law, but potentially saving their lives, or do you tell the truth and let them take them away to concentration camps?

    Again this is a false dilemma, because there are other options than lying or letting them be taken away. What about stalling to give them time to escape? Or even better, what about sacrificing yourself in their place? You keep presenting false dilemmas, so it’s not “wriggling,” it’s pointing out the flaws in your argument. There is always an option that doesn’t contradict the objective moral law of God, and there’s much less grey area here than in your morality.

    The key factor is willingness. Someone is willing to participate in sport and therefore has to be prepared for any harm associated with it.

    So if someone was willing to let their child be killed on primetime television, this would be acceptable under your morality, wouldn’t it? Even if the kid was willing to go through with it? You wouldn’t find anything morally wrong with this? If so, why, and how does that jibe with your “unnecessarily harmful to the unwilling” morality?

    Because the killing of a child creates unnecessary harm, loss, suffering and distress to the child’s loved ones, there is absolutely no justification for it under the moral standards I outlined.

    That is not a logical framework. I’m looking for a logical argument, not an emotional appeal. Your reference in Scripture says it all. Remember when I said God’s morality is based on the intent of your heart? These people were rebellious and deserved to be punished justly. How is justice morally wrong, particularly among the “willfully” disobedient (which fits into your own morality)?

    No, the person collecting the sticks was not made aware of such a command, the Israelites found him in the woods on the Sabbath collecting sticks, and because they were unsure what to do with him (as he was not one of their own) they took him back, and it was later decreed by God that he should be killed.

    Reference, please?

    Contractarianism provides a secular means for objective morality, The enforcer of moral law can be the people who agree to live by the said laws.

    But how can someone who breaks the moral law enforce it? You said yourself you are not perfect, and so break the moral law. How can you be trusted as an enforcer of this same law?

    God’s motive is obvious. Submit to me as your ultimate authority.
    Why is submission morally repugnant? Would an omniscient, omnipotent and holy God be worthy of submission or ultimate authority? If not, can you explain why not, using only the context of this story please?

    If I commanded you to steal something, and I was willing to steal something to, does it make it okay just because I was willing to do so as well?

    False dilemma.

  7. I’m sorry but, I do not feel the need to continue a debate on morality with someone who thinks that it is just to kill infants and rip open pregnant women for the fact that their parents rebelled against God. Punishing a child and unborn babies for something they did not do, nor understand is not giving what they deserve, nor is it just in any way. It is sick and immoral on every count.

    Do not ever come around acting like you are morally superior when you think such things are just. When you would kill your own child at the command of your God. I do not wish to give your disgusting moral views any credence by entertaining any kind of debate with you.

    How dare you come here and accuse me of moral inferiority, of having an unreasonable moral view when you believe God was just for ripping open pregnant women and dashing innocent children to pieces, and admitting that you would kill a child at the command of your deity.

    I do not wish to entertain your repugnant views any longer, I feel that discussing them would be giving them too much credibility.

  8. This is disappointing to say the least. You have yet to demonstrate how your objective morality is really objective and superior, which is the real issue at hand. How I view morality is of little consequence, though you have constantly shifted the issue to what I believe and think. I’m not accusing you of moral inferiority. I’m objecting to your claim that your morality is really objective, and am asking you to demonstrate how it is so.

    Perhaps if you stay on topic and give rebuttals on your own argument we might get somewhere. But when you keep moving the argument away from your own position, that’s when we see it for what it is–an opinion of morality that lacks a rational basis or framework.

    You are welcome to debate my morality on my blog, but if you really want to have a good discussion, let’s talk about what your blog post says, not a defense by attacking others.

    Disregard my own “repugnant” views, and defend yours.

  9. Objective: Not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts [1]

    I told you hold it can be objectively measured when someone is suffering using brain scanning techniques. Neurology shows us objectively when one is in a state of pain or distress, as distinct areas of the brain will become active. This is grounded in fact and therefore objective ergo my moral standards have a basis in objectivity.

    I explained that in the initial post.

    1. http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=objective+definition&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a#hl=en&safe=off&client=firefox-a&hs=0JW&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&q=objective&tbs=dfn:1&tbo=u&sa=X&ei=iJMUTpPvDYfPhAfJpNTwDQ&ved=0CBcQkQ4&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=29154332bb3966ae&biw=1366&bih=621

  10. But someone can be distressed about something that has nothing to do with moral choices, such as a poor showing on a test in school. So how does this ground morality as objective, when it can be applied to any circumstance?

    What makes it different about how we view morality than how we view a zebra suffering at the hands of a lion who is preying on it? Or is morality no different than the result of animal instincts?

    • The basis of my moral standards is objective. If I linked your brain to an EEG machine and pricked your hand with a pin there would be an observable reading indicating that rather than being a matter or opinion, pain is an observable fact that is common to all humans (supposing that their brain is not damaged). Pain is by it’s very nature unpleasant, it’s a means by which we can learn not to do something that is damaging to our bodies. Most healthy, rational human beings would desire not to be in a state of pain. Again this is an objective truth, you could survey the planet’s entire population with the question ‘Do you desire to be in a state of pain?’ and the statistical majority would say ‘no’. You could ask a second question ‘do you desire to be in a state of stress, unhappiness and suffering?’ again the statistical majority would say ‘no’. Likewise you could measure someone in an EGG machine and see that states of happiness, and unhappiness are marked by activity in different parts of the brain.

      So here we have a number of objective facts:
      1. Pain is a real observable phenomena, not only in ourselves but also in others.
      2. The majority of humans would desire not to be in pain
      3. Unhappiness is a real observable phenomena
      4. The majority of humans would desire not to be unhappy

      Now these objective truths form the basis of a moral contract between human beings. This moral contract we have is necessary for a functioning society, and is based upon the rational principle of The Golden Rule. “I don’t want to be killed, so if you agree not to kill me, I won’t kill you and that way everyone’s happy.” These contracts are what has enabled civilization, without it any community of humans would fall apart rapidly.

      Imagine a population of humans who did not have this moral contract with one another. They all felt free to murder, pillage, destroy, steal, rape etc. Would this population have what it takes to build a civilization? Of course not! They would most likely destroy themselves within a short time, or have to start agreeing to change their ways. Natural Selection favours a society that operates under a moral contract – this is another objective reality, any society without such cooperation would collapse.

      So we’ve established another objective truth:
      5. Society would not function without a moral contract between human beings.

      In order to have our needs met, and to meet the needs of society a moral standard has to exist. I’ve established several objective reasons to have a moral standard that meets everyone’s needs as best it can, in order that the needs of society are met.

      Now I do not deny that there are some moral grey areas. This is to be expected, sometimes we cannot immediately tell whether an action is right or wrong. This is, as I said earlier where reasoning comes in.

      I think morality is progressive, you can see that throughout history there has been a moral zeitgeist that changes through time – even very recently it has been considered okay to keep slaves, and oppress people of African descent. Now it most certainly is not okay. That is because as we advance in our understanding of ourselves and the world around us, we amend the moral contract so that it suits everyone’s needs better than it did before. It is akin to evolution – over time an organism becomes more suited to its environment, similarly over time human beings become more suited to living alongside each other. Civilization needs moral standards, therefore it is certain that they will progress and strengthen over time as civilization becomes more and more stable and complex. I would imagine that there is an ideal way for civilization to operate in which everyone’s needs are met – this ideal, can be seen as the goal of the moral contract – which we should use as the objective standard that we should work towards.

      There are objective consequences to right and wrong actions, and objective reasons for establishing a moral contract with other humans. This contract is based upon the ideal of the perfect society in which everyone’s needs are met. Though we may never progress as far as this ideal standard, we can use it as the objective standard upon which to guide our morality. I have outlined perfectly good, objective reasons and standards upon which to base my morality.

  11. In short:
    1. Pain, unhappiness, suffering etc are objective brain states measurable in all humans with normal brains.
    2. The majority of humans would desire not to be in these negative brain states
    3. These needs form the basis of a moral contract
    4. Society needs this moral contract in order to survive
    5. This moral contract is based upon the ideal society in which all people’s needs are met equally
    6. The individual and the society should work towards this ideal

  12. So truth is now determined by a majority vote? Because most people agree with it, that makes it a truth? Where do you find the logic to support that claim? And how does that fit your definition of “objective” above, which is “Not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts”? If the majority of people do not like to feel pain, and this is one of the bases for your objective truths, then by your definition of objective personal feelings are not allowed, and so this is not objective.

    Also, how are you to know to an objective certainty that a society without a moral contract wouldn’t flourish? What evidence is there of that other than a subjective opinion?

    But even if I were to grant you these conditions were objective (make no mistake, I’m not actually granting them, but for the sake of this argument, I will pose the hypothetical), you would only have the basis of a moral contract. You wouldn’t have any basis for determining something to be morally right or morally wrong without subjecting feelings (i.e. pain or unhappiness), which again by your definition is disallowed in objectivity.

    So in summation, can you please reconcile the following?:

    1) Why truth is determined by a majority vote
    2) How you can know that a society without a moral contract wouldn’t flourish
    3) How you determine something to be morally right or wrong without injecting feelings into your standards, and
    4) How there can be grey areas on an objective morality. Isn’t objectivity by nature clear cut? Black and white?

  13. I did not say that majority opinion makes a truth, what I said was that it is objectively true that the majority of people would not wish to experience pain and suffering. This is true, humans have an innate desire to evade pain and suffering. This is a fact and hence fits into the category of objective. It ceases to become personal when it is the overwhelming majority’s opinion. If it was based on the opinion of one person then that’s fine it would be personal, but it is based on the opinion of the majority of human beings – hence indicating that we have an innate desire to avoid suffering and pain.

    If we have a society in which people cannot agree to live by a code of conduct, there would be emotional distress, suffering, people killing each other, stealing, acts of revenge and malice etc. A society that began on these principles would never reach the stage of civilization. Why? Because they’re too busy fighting with each other, and they cannot form trusting bonds with each other, or cooperate effectively. They would need to change their ways and start being cooperative and peaceful or their population would fall apart.

    Pain is not subjective, neither is unhappiness – if I prick you with a pin your brain will register pain, and this will be the same for all healthy people. If I hurt one of your family members you will experience distress which would register on an EEG machine, and the same would apply to all healthy people. Certain things objectively cause suffering in people. It’s not a matter of opinion that being starved is suffering because we would all experience the physical sensations of it. The same applies to all physical pain. It’s also clear the kinds of actions that cause emotional distress, we can all get post traumatic stress disorder, and other such conditions due to stressful and emotionally painful experiences. It is fair to say that some actions objectively cause pain, unhappiness and suffering.

  14. Paragraph 1: Not true. In order to be objective, there could be no possible situation in which this would be false. However, if I were to ask a group of sadists and masochists how they felt about pain and suffering, an overwhelming majority would likely welcome it. Therefore, your opinion on majority isn’t even objective, let alone true. The only way your statement even works is if you only consider the population as a whole, meaning that you’re limiting your stance to only one position, in which case there is no objectivity because there is no alternative case which can be offered to verify such an opinion.

    In addition, an overwhelming majority would still be made up of each individual, and so collectively takes into account each one’s personal feelings. So positing a majority doesn’t get around this objection, and it still stands.

    Also, your argument would render majority opinions as objective facts as long as most people agree to it and it can be measured. So for instance, were a society to arise where the torturing of infants was accepted by the majority of people, and EEG machines were not registering any pain or unhappiness among the majority of people, this would make the torturing of infants objectively good. Under your logic, that would be a perfectly reasonable assumption.

    Finally, you state that “humans have an innate desire to evade pain and suffering.” While I might agree with this, on atheism there is no ontological foundation for this to be necessary. Consider atheist Michael Ruse, who states that “morality is just an aid to survival and re-production, and any deeper meaning is illusory.” That results, however, in no good reason for pain and suffering to be innately avoided; rather, it would be motivated by society and cultural adaptation, because on evolution that is how we survive and re-produce. However, to base this avoidance on culture is to render it subjective, because each culture can interpret this differently if they choose to. Again, this theory doesn’t work.

    Paragraph 2: Where’s your supporting evidence for this? This sounds a lot like personal opinion or conjecture.

    Paragraph 3: Even if I were to grant that pain and unhappiness were objective states, that doesn’t make them linked. Going back to the S&M people, those who experience pain in that group would likely also experience happiness. Hurting a family member would also likely cause happiness for these people, because they take pleasure in pain. So in some societies these two “objective facts” would be completely contradictory to each other, and so cannot form the basis for an objective moral code.

  15. How then is your view any different, you claim objective morality, yet there is a situation in which breaking those morals is acceptable. You admitted that you would kill your own child if God told you, despite in most situations when God doesn’t tell you to kill it is wrong because of the commandment not to kill. Your morality is just the SUBJECTIVE whim of God. Your morality isn’t objective either if the definition of objective is ‘to be applicable in all situations’….

  16. Nope not going there. We already talked about how it’s not my views that are issue in this post. It is yours. Unless you cannot answer these objections, in which case I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have if you are searching for a better moral standard than the flimsy one presented here. But please demonstrate how in the circumstances I alluded to in my last comment how your morality would still be objective.

  17. Firstly this is my blog so we can discuss whichever issue I like 😉

    Secondly, it is an issue when there are double standards in your argument. You claim that you’re objective morality is more rational than mine. You admit that there are situations in which certain acts are considered permissible (if God orders them), then you go on to say that it’s not objective if it can’t be applicable to all situations – which by your own admission makes your moral standards subjective.

    Now there are certain aspects of my moral standards that require reason and discernment – as it is not always clear what to do in certain situations. However I still have an objective framework, based in observable facts to provide guidelines on how to act in society. My definitions of right and wrong are strong enough to form the foundation of a decent moral code, if there is a circumstance when those definitions become ridiculous then reason can step in and over ride them. A moral standard can’t be set in stone, reason has to be applied in any standard in order for it to function properly as a simple set of rules cannot be applicable in all situations.

    My moral standard has a subjective element – which is necessary, but it is grounded on a fundamental objective principle – some actions hurt other people – this cannot be denied. Neither can it be denied that a moral standard exists as a contract between human beings and that there is an ideal way of meeting everyone’s needs as best as possible – this ideal is what we should work towards.

    Your moral standards are based on the whims of an invisible man, who can get you to kill children if he so wishes. Who exactly is the one with a flimsy moral standard? My standards of morality would NEVER permit killing innocent children.

    If God told you that doing good things would send you to hell, and being as nasty, murderous and hurtful as possible gets you into heaven, what would you do? I know you believe God wouldn’t do this, but just run with the thought experiment, what would you do?

  18. You are welcome to discuss any issue you like as it pertains to your blog post, since it is your blog. If you wish to debate my views, feel free to come over to my blog and I’ll be more than happy to oblige. Let’s stick to the topic at hand.

    So now I’m really confused. Is your morality objective or subjective? A true objective morality, by your definition of objective above, would leave no room for subjectivity (since any subjective perspective would be based on the opinion of the one in the situation, and opinions are out according to the definition). So by stating that there is a subjective element to your morality, would you subscribe then to moral relativism, which is subjective?

    It confuses me because you say it is based on an objective principle–some actions hurt others–but then you don’t clarify which actions are wrong and which ones are OK given the right circumstances. And even if it’s based on an objective principle, does that make the morality itself objective? Or is it subjective morality responding to an objective principle?

    Now I can’t disagree with your ideal of meeting everyone’s needs. But this is not a new concept. Christian theism had this in place long before atheism and Doctor Bad Sign dreamed it up. It’s the second greatest commandment.

  19. Doctor Bad Sign

    Objectivity means based in fact rather than opinion. It’s a fact that people are capable of experiencing pain and suffering. When I say this it’s not my opinion, no one could come along and reasonably argue that pain and suffering do not exist because you could refute their argument by hitting them over the head with something…

    This means that when I say certain things hurt people they objectively hurt people, it’s not just my opinion that they do. Now these objective facts form the definition of right and wrong that I provided. You need a solid definition of these terms in order to have moral principles. This means that some actions are objectively wrong because it’s a fact that some things cause pain and suffering.

    Now as I mentioned several posts earlier, there are rare situations in which you have to chose between two wrongs – this is where we have to inject our reasoning because if we didn’t we’d be paralysed in these situations and would not be able to act effectively. This goes back to the example of Mrs. X and her infestation, she considers both outcomes to be wrong, but has to act one way or another – most of us value our children’s welfare over that of rats – so the best course of action would be to call pest control rather than risk her children getting bitten by potentially diseased rodents.

    The is a distinct difference however between Mrs. X having to rid her house of a dangerous infestation and going out and stamping on rats just for the sake of it. The distinction being that Mrs X’s actions are necessary whereas stamping on rats for ‘fun’ is not.

    There has to be some room for reasoning in any moral code because otherwise Mrs. X would not be able to decide what to do.

    Unnecessary harm is how I’m defining something that is wrong. That would mean stealing your possessions, punching you for no reason, vandalizing your property, etc etc – these things have no excuse under my definition of right and wrong.

    Necessary harm is self defence, or the defence of others to use one example. And there is clearly a line that necessary becomes unnecessary. Getting a would be mugger and pinning them to the ground might be necessary, but tying them to a chair and torturing them would not be. If harm is to be done, it should be the minimum required to achieve the goal (i.e; subduing a mugger).

    I’m glad you can agree with me about trying to meet people’s needs – but the difference between you and I would be that I don’t see that God is necessary to achieve those ends, it can be achieved by us without the need for everyone to believe in God, or for God’s intervention.

  20. Objectivity means based in fact rather than opinion. It’s a fact that people are capable of experiencing pain and suffering…Now these objective facts form the definition of right and wrong that I provided.

    There are two issues with this I believe. The first is that not all people experience physical pain. There are documented cases of people being immune to pain even though a normal person would be in pain given the same scenario (i.e. resting a hand on a hot stove). So it’s not even an objective fact that all people experience pain. Second, even if I were to grant that all people experience pain and suffering, that doesn’t provide a basis for this to be objectively wrong. Again, people who enjoy S&M are a perfect example where enduring pain and suffering would be right and good, and to inflict pain would be esteemed and rewarded. So even though experiencing pain is a properly basic belief, it does not suffice as an objective standard for moral choices and duties.

    In the case of Mrs. X, again I think there is a fallacious dilemma at play, because even if Mrs. X calls pest control, there is no justification for this to be considered wrong. Pest control could simply remove the rats without killing them, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That is why I say there is always an option to do something that is objectively right. Logic also supports this, because if only wrong choices are available, there is no basis for calling them wrong, because there is nothing right to compare them to.

    Unnecessary harm is how I’m defining something that is wrong.

    I would agree with this. The commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself” is predicated on this notion, so your opinion on wrong is in complete harmony with Christian theism. I’m not objecting here. However, as I’ve mentioned above, I am objecting based on the fact that there is no objective foundation for this belief of yours on atheism. I am not disputing that you have the right idea. I’m disputing the notion that there is an objective basis for you to do so on your position. It’s the difference between moral ontology and moral semantics.

    And that’s why I feel God is the best explanation for an objective foundation. In every other scenario in which we have a law or contract, there is an enforcer of that law/contract. A law-giver or contract-giver. As I’ve said on my own blog, that enforcer must be transcendent of moral law, or he/she could conceivably break it. However, he/she must also be immanent, otherwise there is no ability to enforce it among us. He/she must be omnipotent, in order to have the power to carry it out. He/she must be omniscient, in order to have a perfect knowledge of what is right and what is wrong (or what causes unnecessary harm and what doesn’t, if you prefer those terms). He/she must be omnisapient, in order to understand the best means to achieve the good. He/she must be immutable, in order to be unable to change his/her mind on what is right and wrong.

    When you add up all of those characteristics, there is only one entity big enough to fulfill all of the requirements, and it is the God of theism. It makes sense then, I think, to posit this God as the best explanation for our moral sense of right and wrong, particularly on an objective level.

  21. P.S. Sorry for the novel. I think we are closer than either one of us realizes to moral agreement, we just differ on the foundation. It was important for me to get all of that in the same post to make that point.

  22. Doctor Bad Sign

    “There are two issues with this I believe. The first is that not all people experience physical pain. There are documented cases of people being immune to pain even though a normal person would be in pain given the same scenario (i.e. resting a hand on a hot stove). So it’s not even an objective fact that all people experience pain.”

    Okay I can grant this, but these people are the exception – all normal people however are capable of experiencing pain, and I don’t think there’s any reason to treat someone who is incapable of feeling pain any differently to someone who can.

    “Second, even if I were to grant that all people experience pain and suffering, that doesn’t provide a basis for this to be objectively wrong. Again, people who enjoy S&M are a perfect example where enduring pain and suffering would be right and good, and to inflict pain would be esteemed and rewarded. So even though experiencing pain is a properly basic belief, it does not suffice as an objective standard for moral choices and duties.”

    Those who might enjoy S&M do not necessarily wish to experience all forms of pain and suffering. If they wish for someone to hurt them a bit for the purposes of sexual gratification with consent of both people involved. Suffice to say that people who enjoy S&M still do not wish to be beaten and left to die in the gutter by a gang of thugs, they would not wish to have all their money stolen, or to be tortured beyond that which they’re comfortable with… So moral standards do still apply even to those people who might get up to bizarre things in the bedroom.

    I do not see what is subjective about unnecessary harm. All healthy minded people would agree that walking around and beating passers by with a baseball bat is wrong – regardless of what their metaphysical beliefs about the nature of reality are. The fact that most people regardless of their race, religion or gender can agree upon the kinds of things that are right and wrong is an indication that the moral contract that I outlined earlier is ingrained not only in our culture, but our psychology. You might wish to argue that this is because God created us with an innate sense of morality, however I could just as well provide an argument for this without invoking God. It would go something like this:

    Imagine two genes (I am probably being overly simplistic here, but that doesn’t matter) one gene makes the individual completely immoral, they have no qualms about killing, stealing, raping and generally being a nasty piece of work. The second gene instils a sense of morality in the individual, they are capable of altruism, cooperation and so on.

    If we had a population where the immoral gene was prevalent, a lot of people would be murdered before they have children, no one would cooperate in hunting and gathering – even if they did someone would just steal all the food and keep it for themselves. This gene is resolutely unfavourable as far as natural selection is concerned.

    The second gene would be much more likely to become prevalent, people would be happy to cooperate in gathering food, and sharing it, helping each other to build shelters and so on, everyone would look out for each other, and the majority of people would reach the age of raising children. Natural selection would favour cooperativeness and morality over immorality.

    This would explain why most normal people have an innate sense of right and wrong, because the genes for that kind of behaviour are much more likely to become prevalent than those of destruction and immorality. If this is true then its a fact that we are genetically incline to behave morally.

  23. Those who might enjoy S&M do not necessarily wish to experience all forms of pain and suffering.

    I agree, but this then makes it a subjective standard, because pain and suffering do not apply in all cases as an objective standard, just most. And in order to be objective, it needs to be all possible scenarios. And a “mostly objective” morality is still a subjective morality.

    I do not see what is subjective about unnecessary harm.

    I’m not arguing its subjectivity. I’m arguing that your basis for it is subjective. This what I mean by moral ontology. The basis for unnecessary harm being actually wrong, on your view, is that it causes pain and suffering. But right above this I think the case is pretty clear that pain and suffering are not a completely objective basis for anything, because it doesn’t hold true in every single case (i.e. S&M). So while you might believe something that causes unnecessary harm is objectively wrong (and I agree), you have no objective foundation to believe this.

    If this is true then its a fact that we are genetically incline to behave morally.

    While I understand the point you are making here, genetics in this case still has no objective foundation. For even if the “raping, killing, etc.” gene was actually in existence, there is still no foundation for showing that it is actually wrong to do these things. You can show that they aren’t beneficial, but that doesn’t speak to something being actually wrong. In this case you are setting up a standard of whatever benefits society is morally good, in which case you are still in a subjective morality because cultures evolve differently and apply different rules in regards to what benefits them.

    But ultimately, there is no evidence that such a gene exists, so it serves no purpose to deal in hypotheticals that don’t invoke God when those hypotheticals don’t actually exist. So it does nothing to either bolster your view or to disprove the existence of God. It is just sort of a red herring that serves my point a little bit further upon consideration.

    I get what you’re trying to accomplish here. Do you understand what I mean though by moral ontology? I’m not arguing what’s morally right and morally wrong at this point. I’m arguing foundation, and I think it’s safe to say that atheism and objective morality really don’t go together when you look at moral ontology. I applaud the effort, but really the only reasonable objective foundation for moral values and duties is a supernatural God possessing the characteristics I outlined above.

  24. Doctor Bad Sign

    The thing is we can all define terms like right and wrong differently if you define wrong as something that isn’t beneficial (and that’s part of how I’d define the term) then it is wrong. If you define wrong as something else then different conclusions can be drawn. What we need to answer is what it is about a certain action that makes it wrong – I would say that if it is unnecessarily harmful, promoting of pain and suffering and generally unbeneficial to society/others then it’s wrong, but if you define wrong as being ‘going against the nature of God’ then you might come to different conclusions about the nature of morality. I stand by my claim that certain actions are objectively harmful, cause suffering and pain and are unbeneficial to society/others.

    I don’t believe that a single gene for morality exists, it is more likely to be a number of genes working together. Which is why I stated that my point was an over simplification, however I do believe that a long time before humans arrived on the scene natural selection had begun to favour cooperation rather than a go it alone attitude. Many kinds of animals hunt in packs, many kinds of animal establish look-outs and give warnings of danger and so on – all of this is cooperative behaviour that overall benefits the individual more than absence of cooperation. Natural selection had forged the beginnings of morality a long time before there were any ethicists and moral philosophers on the scene.

    In this sense it is objectively true that in our kind of life on our kind of world, cooperation is, in many instances objectively advantageous. It doesn’t have to apply all over the entire universe, or have cosmological significance to be objectively true on this planet. I would however strongly doubt that a civilization could exist in a world where there was no morality – civilization is built upon cooperation between individuals, it could not occur if every individual was intent upon killing and harming each other.

  25. What we need to answer is what it is about a certain action that makes it wrong – I would say that if it is unnecessarily harmful, promoting of pain and suffering and generally unbeneficial to society/others then it’s wrong…

    So are all of these the objective standard for morality on your worldview? Because in certain situations, these things can contradict each other. So which ones take precedence over the other in those cases? And how can a “generally” anything be considered objective?

  26. Doctor Bad Sign

    “So are all of these the objective standard for morality on your worldview? Because in certain situations, these things can contradict each other. So which ones take precedence over the other in those cases?”

    I already explained this to you. I don’t want to go around in circles

    “And how can a “generally” anything be considered objective?”

    Well objective is rooted in fact rather than opinion – and there are many aspects of the moral standard that I outlined which are rooted in fact. I don’t feel the need to explain this again.

  27. I already explained this to you. I don’t want to go around in circles

    The only explanation I recall to this was that there are grey areas, which doesn’t really seem like objective morality. Can you re-clarify please?

    Well objective is rooted in fact rather than opinion – and there are many aspects of the moral standard that I outlined which are rooted in fact. I don’t feel the need to explain this again.

    That doesn’t even remotely answer the question. Yes objective is rooted in fact, so how do generalities fit into that. Generalities aren’t facts; they’re stereotypes and opinions. Please answer the question.

    I sense you’re getting stuck. I’m trying to track with you here, but it’s all adding up to subjective morality, which is contrary to what you tout as your moral view.

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