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← Do we need objective morals?

Zeuglodon's Avatar Jump to comment 16 by Zeuglodon

Comment 11 by ThoughtfulTheist

That being said, I think this article misses the point behined the moral argument for God. The argument is not so much that we cannot come to know objective morals without God, but rather that the existence of objective moral values points to the existence of a God. As far as I can tell this article didn't try to make a case that objective morals didn't exist, but rather rightly discredited the claim that we need holy books to know these morals.

This is actually a poor argument because it presupposes what it concludes - that morality or ethics implies a deity is involved, so if morality exists, a deity most likely exists. The truth is you have to justify that claim without presupposing it, because frankly a deity could exist without reference to morality at all.

I think our capacity to have morals and be moral is certainly a product of evolution, I just think its too reductionistic to explain objective morals in this way

Being "reductionistic" has never been a valid criticism of anything. It is literally the case that, if you take out kin selection and other evolutionary explanations, moral emotions that follow their logic will not exist. Moreover, the selfish gene theory is a reductionistic view of life, and it is the only one that makes the most sense of the most amount of data gathered.

In fact, its reductionistic nature has been the basis behind its success because of its comprehensiveness. Compare that with a holistic explanation like group selection, which is pretty much an invalidated fringe theory by now. This is why the evolutionary angle has so far been the strongest explanation for our good feelings found so far. All that's really left to do is examine how the body's physiology has achieved it.

Comment 12 by CleverUsername

What JosGibbons said, but with the addendum that group selection would actually be a terrible explanation for morality. If anything, it would vindicate fascism and throwing out the weakest members of the group (a group that got rid of useless surplus would thrive against those that wasted resources on members who couldn't fight), and those are stellar examples of immoral behaviour. It also doesn't agree with the observation that the most warlike tribes tend to be those who are well-to-do already.

Comment 13 by Quine

I'm not impressed by the ought/is distinction Hume raised, though his intentions for raising it were a lead-in to a more thorough analysis of the basis of morality. A brain is a decision-making organ, and something or some process in it must be the basis for telling which option is preferable to another, however complex or bland this commonality is. A tiger would not hunt deer if it could feel the prey's pain at the moment of killing, if at all. It's not just that there are better or worse ways to achieve certain goals - it's that there are better or worse ways to reconcile incompatible goals, within the one brain or across multiple brains. People's ability to ask why they "ought" to follow that process is tantamount to saying that the rule doesn't apply to them - except that it does. The question of "ought" in this case is a category error.

I agree that the subjective/objective division isn't helpful, but I identify the main counterargument to the distinction as coming from neuroscience. If a "thought as we call it" corresponds with a bit of brain so well that the two are interchangeable, then for all practical purposes it is that objective bit of brain. Our confusion is the result of our attempt to see the back of our own heads, to speak metaphorically, when we try to consider ourselves objectively. By definition, it can't be done. The best we could do would be to ask someone to video tape your head when the neurosurgeon puts you under and takes a look. Our confusion also comes from the fact that, for nearly all of our evolutionary history, we never got to evolve to see the insides of other people's heads directly and had to evolve proxy rules, which is probably why dualism is so attractive.

If anything, we might gain from dropping the dichotomy between objective/subjective. A subjective opinion is basically a fact I (however tentatively) think is true for whatever reason. A subjective view is a fact or set of facts about the person giving it, however implicitly it's conveyed.

Comment 14 by Jos Gibbons

The Euthyphro Dilemma does more than that, though I agree it's never been answered without invoking bad logic. It points out that we have to be aware of the reasoning behind any moral rule given, because following a rule without knowing why so strongly does not chime with how ethical behaviours play out. This is why the "just following orders" justification is actually lamented as a failure of ethics.

This is mostly why I don't find deontics very convincing as a standalone, because its specifications (of what makes a given behavioural rule good) seemingly come out of nowhere, without themselves being based on any non-assumptive reasoning. It suggests people follow arbitrary laws just because they're told what to do. Yet, morality is not a set of commandments. If anything, it has more in common with a decision-making system that has goals, weights for weighing up the value of a decision, and reference to the consequences of an action (costs as well as benefits). It must have a consequentialist component. It would probably be more harmonious to recognize consequentialism and deontics as two sides of the same coin, and the coin was forged by evolutionary systems.

I'm fully behind "objective" in the sense of a. I think the idea behind b has been rendered archaic by scientific progress, and c is simply something we're doomed to fall into on account of a in any case.

Comment 15 by Pete H

The economics parallel for why "perfection" clearly isn't realistic is a good one. Perfection is simply wishful thinking made apparent by its strong dissociation with how the world really works. It's the perfect-solution fallacy. Long-term improvement is far more realistic. If anything, I consider the concept of a cost/benefit analysis and something like ethical hedonism and utilitarianism (if not actual utilitarianism and ethical hedonism) to be a key component of explaining and refining a scientific ethics, just as the cost/benefit analysis of an organism's resources is helpful when considering evolutionary logic and actual economics. I also think ethics must be a complicated subject even if it is based on something simple about brains, just like biology is complicated even though the process that makes it possible - the replicator - is ludicrously simple.

Wed, 25 Jul 2012 10:37:47 UTC | #950031