This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.


← Do we need objective morals?

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Jump to comment 1 by Jos Gibbons

I'll make a few points.

  1. Gods don't change whether morality is objective or not; their decrees are analogous to mine or yours. And don't let "condoning murder would be contrary to His nature" suffice as an answer to the Euthyphro dilemma; that just shifts the question from "Does He call it bad because it is or vice versa?" to "Would condoning it be contrary to his nature because it's bad or vice versa?"

  2. Whenever "objective" morality is discussed, the meaning of that adjective is key, but it's often not defined. There are at least 3 definitions I've encountered, so it matters which we're discussing. Perhaps posters, especially VeniVidiVici123, could say which if any of these 3 they think is needed & why. (FWIW I think we mustn't have b, for reasons I'll make clear after I've defined b.)
    a. On one definition, anything that's correct or incorrect is objective.
    b, Another definition is more stringent, requiring that what answer is correct isn't contingent on minds' existence or properties. All statements about minds flunk this definition, so clearly it's not identical with a. I would contend ethics has to flunk the second statement, because any valuable ethical insight will be concerned with our decisions' effects on minds. When I say morals are contingent on minds' properties, I mean not that it's whatever we choose to declare it to be; I mean that the reason it would be wrong to punch you in the face is because it would hurt. If I punch a rock, the only one who will be hurt is me.
    c. An even sillier definition is that we have a straightforward algorithm by which to determine answers. As Tarski showed, even truth isn't "objective" in this sense (indeed, even truth about arithmetic isn't).

  3. I said in a previous discussion that there are no arguments for meta-ethical non-realism, only for meta-ethical non-cognitivism. Those were the words I used, but I intended them with a meaning which, I have since learned, isn't "correct" in the sense of being how philosophers define those terms. I had assumed "cognitivism" would derive from "cognitive" and therefore would pertain to knowledge, a concern of neither definition a nor definition b above. In fact, "cognitivism" is defined as a more inclusive theory than "realism", so non-cognitivism is a special case of non-realism. Therefore, I shall take this opportunity to translate my previous thoughts into terminology that won't sow such confusion.
    I contend there are no (with one exception due to Hume I'll discuss below) arguments for "things aren't really morally right or wrong", only for "we can't know right from wrong", and I hereby name these two propositions respectively moral actualism (MA) and moral knowledgism (MK). (MA is named for "actually the case".) Apart from Hume, every "argument for" not-MA I've ever heard was really an argument for non-MK.
    Hume argued that because of the is-ought gap, MA would imply not-MK, and yet apparently MK is true, so MA is false. Considering that the rest of Hume's philosophy consisted of arguing we don't know what we think we do, that he concluded MK holds just because we think we know right from wrong seems rather odd on his part.

  4. I think we need a, & I think a holds, but I'd have to take a long time defending those views, so I won't do so in this first post. As for c, I think that's rather unlikely to hold. (There are some things which pass c's test; as aforementioned, truth doesn't, although whether something is a priori true, a priori false or contingent does, at least in classical propositional logic.)

Mon, 23 Jul 2012 13:19:01 UTC | #949889