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If the following implies that morality is subjective:

Comment 22 by Quine : RH, I have read your post, and agree that objective statements can be made about moral conditions and decisions, but the morals themselves always link back to subjective decisions.

How is that not essentially the same as a creationist saying "I agree in evolutionary terms that statements can be made about some non-chance elements of animal survival, but it always links back to the chance nature of mutations." (Hence "evolution is a theory of chance.")


We can, likewise, make objective statements about the perceived outcomes of holding a particular moral position, and even objective statements about how desires arise in our brains. But it still does not get as far as objectively correct reasoning about what morals we should have.

The same could be said of science. Does that mean that science does not deal with questions that have objective answers?

Example of a prudential value statement: "You ought to use this knife" to make sense would assume a desire, e.g. to cut open a coconut, and therefore is making a truth claim about what would fulfill that desire.

Would I then be immoral if I chose to use a hammer instead of the knife?

No, that's why I called it a "prudential" example of value (rather than a moral example). The point is that if value arises from the relationship between desires and states of affairs that fulfill desires, then there is no particular reason this would change when talking of moral value as well.

As to the morality of the hammer vs the knife, one could also use an example like buying a pair of shoes. Why choose shoes A over B? The answer will be: Which one best fulfills the desire in question? (E.g. desires for using them for a particular activity, or for a certain look etc). Answering a question only in terms of your own desires will tend to be a prudential value. But it can also overlap or conflict with moral values. For instance, you may have a desire for a type of shoe for their value in how they look. But what if the shoes are made in an Asian sweat shop known for abusing the welfare of it's employees? Then moral considerations may conflict. It may be the morally "right" thing to refuse to buy the shoes (because a desire for mutual welfare is a desire-fulfilling desire, and an action is "good" if it is the action a person with a "good" desire would take). So there can be two answers to whether it would be "good" to buy the pair of shoes. If the desire in question is a prudential desire, then it may be "good" to buy the shoes. But if the question concerns moral action/desire, then it may be "bad" to buy the shoe. So if you asked me "ought I buy the shoe?" I would clarify: Yes in terms of satisfying your personal desire, but if you are asking about the moral question, the answer is "No" because moral oughts are that subset that deal with the wider range of desire fulfillment, and the desire to buy shoes in a way that will support inherently desire-thwarting scenarios - as occurs in sweat shop abuses - is a "bad" desire. (Or alternately, the action of buying the shoes is "bad" insofar as it is not the action someone with the "good" desire would take).

Try to answer this question: How can you come up with the correct objective moral position (what should and should not be) from what is,

Well, if the value theory under discussion is sound, then it's pretty safe to say the desire to Rape is objectively "bad." Since "good" has to do with the tendency of fulfilling desires, then "bad" equates to "has the tendency to thwart desires." So take two possible approaches to sex: Rape vs consensual sex. Rape is by definition someone fulfilling their desire by thwarting the desire of someone else (forcing sex upon them). The stronger and more prevalent the desire for rape is within a society, the more desire thwarting will be increased. You will have more people acting on the desire to rape, and hence thwarting desires of victims. And you will also have those who desire to rape, but for whatever reasons may not be able to fulfill those desires, and hence their desires are being thwarted as well.

Contrast that with: A desire that sex be consensual - that it would be about fulfilling the desires of both persons, not just one thwarting the other's desires. A desire that sex be consensual is a desire that has the tendency of fulfilling desires, vs rape that has a tendency to thwart desires.

Those are all objective claims that you may wish to dispute. It's either true that rape tends to thwart desires or it is not. It is either true that a desire for sex to be between consenting partners will have the tendency of fulfilling more desires or it's not. It's either true that filling a society with more desires to rape will increase desire thwarting or not. Etc. I suggest it would be quite hard to make a case that rape does not have the tendency to thwart desires, and that the evidence is heavily in favor of the fact it does. (Same with slavery for that matter - between two desires, the desire to enslave people to do work, or the desire for work to be a contract agreed upon by both parties, which will IN FACT result in more desire fulfilling than desire thwarting? Well, if I have a service I desire to sell, and you have the desire to to hire me for that service, then the desire on both sides are fulfilled. Whereas the desire for you to enslave me will tend to thwart my desire, hence one side's desires are being thwarted. You do the math on which desire we could reasonably conclude is "good" or "bad" on such grounds. (And this desire-fulfilling aspect gives both of us reasons to promote the desire in one another for contract and consensual agreements that respect our autonomy).

when we only have at any time a provisional knowledge of what is? Wouldn't we have to know all the scientific knowledge of all the future to show that we have the correct objective answer?

That is to fall into precisely the Special Pleading I spoke of earlier.

Since when does relying on provisional answers mean that we aren't dealing with, in principle, objective subjects? We never have full knowledge, scientifically, so scientific answers are provisional as well. Yet we accept that science is trying to find answers to questions that have factual answers (at least on scientific realism, which most people assume).

The fact that the answer to any particular question is hard or even out of our reach in practical terms doesn't mean there aren't true or false answers. (How many fish made a left turn precisely 500,000 years ago today, to the minute? We can't know the answer, but that doesn't mean there isn't an objectively true answer).

Moral claims, given they would be making statements about relationships and facts in the real world, would be the same: Some would be easier than others to ascertain. Some moral answers may be forever out of our reach. Frankly, if we were ever actually dealing with ANY theory about the real world, moral or otherwise, I'd be suspicious if this weren't the case. Since when did trying to find answers to complicated real-world questions become easy or a given that we would know them all?

Gotta go for now. Sorry if any of that was hard to follow as it was typed rilly, rilly fast on my way to bed (then to vacation).



Wed, 31 Aug 2011 04:09:06 UTC | #865773