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Do we need objective morals? - Comments

Jos Gibbons's Avatar 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

Zeuglodon's Avatar Comment 2 by Zeuglodon

Comment 1 by Jos Gibbons

I agree with you, and would add that ethics works best when it is done on a case-by-case basis rather than trying to invent a grand unified theory of good and bad. It also has parallels with cost/benefit analyses, originates from evolutionary logic, and indeed, is based on it, and to an individual comes as our impulses for compassion, empathic concern, and feelings. I would also argue that, since these depend on real world facts and cause (and are caused by) our connections with the rest of the world, part of ethics is science and learning. Trying to build an ethics system without reference to real world facts is to lose sight of what ethics is about in the first place.

Mon, 23 Jul 2012 13:52:16 UTC | #949893

maria melo's Avatar Comment 3 by maria melo

Comment Removed by Author

Mon, 23 Jul 2012 15:26:18 UTC | #949898

korben's Avatar Comment 4 by korben

As intelligent beings we know that rape, murder, theft and violence are wrong without the need to have these ideas handed down to us from a supposedly omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent supernatural being. Blockquote

Yes, we know that now. Not so long ago, rape, murder, theft and violence were not only condoned but also ordered and encouraged by god along with some other atrocious things such as slavery or death by stoning. We as social animals, as an evolving species that developed empathy, love, trust and compassion, realized that those things were not good for our evolution as either a species or a society, so we've ordered them away (wherever possible) by putting laws into place that forbid doing them. And those places where such horrors are still commonplace, we consider barbaric. So I don't think there are objective, immutable morals, at least certainly not handed down by god. Morality is a human creation and as such it evolves alongside humans, and what works today may not work so well tomorrow and we'll need to revise it and change it to adapt it to our vision of society and the world at any given point in time. Not only that, since morals change often depending on the situation (is it moral to kill an assassin that would have taken the lives of 50 people or is killing immoral in every case?) I don't think we need objective moral; we need morals that work, period.

As a side note, I think that Sam Harris's The Moral Landscape is a good read on this topic.

Mon, 23 Jul 2012 16:18:26 UTC | #949900

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 5 by Jos Gibbons

korben, do any of my three definitions of objectivity fit what you mean by the term? I suspect b does because "immutability" suggests lack of contingency on detail.

Mon, 23 Jul 2012 17:04:50 UTC | #949903

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 6 by ZenDruid

My gut reaction is that "objective morality" is an artifact by which hypocrites give themselves license to judge other people.

Morality is intrinsically subjective and situational. That's how we're wired to interact as a social species.

Mon, 23 Jul 2012 20:57:18 UTC | #949922

korben's Avatar Comment 7 by korben

Comment 5 by Jos Gibbons :

korben, do any of my three definitions of objectivity fit what you mean by the term? I suspect b does because "immutability" suggests lack of contingency on detail.

I meant immutable in the sense of "not subject or susceptible to change". As in, if they came from god, they must be as good today as they were 2,000 years ago, right?

Mon, 23 Jul 2012 21:45:50 UTC | #949924

Jussie's Avatar Comment 8 by Jussie

I'm with ZenDruid on this one. And as far as I'm concerned the religious can have their 'objective' morality if it makes them feel superior.

Tue, 24 Jul 2012 00:11:32 UTC | #949941

Daisy Skipper's Avatar Comment 9 by Daisy Skipper

Thanks VENIVIDIVICI123 for posting this. And thanks to Jos and others for commenting.

This is one of topics with which I struggle when debating christians who have studied the humanities and those who have read too much Aquinas.

When I encounter someone pushing OM it usually seems to be used as some sort of proof for a creator. Instinctively it appears to me to be irrelevant to the whole debate (for reasons I don't need to describe here). But I lack the skills to properly refute the claim.

Even though these discussions are likely over the head of many people like myself, and I don't like the idea of needing specific knowledge of philosophy or ethics to debate sophisticated Christians, I still find this useful.

Tue, 24 Jul 2012 02:38:29 UTC | #949960

DavidXanaos's Avatar Comment 10 by DavidXanaos

I think there is such thing as society independent morals, though it is of cause not human independent.

I think that some sub set of desirable behavioral patterns are evolutionary hard coded into our brains.

Thats why some aspects of morality seam to be very seminar in any society or why some things seam to 99% of people just plain wrong.

Like Killing, we don't have to learn as children not to kill others or animals etc... thats the hard coded default, this can be changed by society and/or authority but as we see on the cases of many ex soldiers they often get traumatized by their own actions. Well unless they manage to see the enemy as non human, a typical tactic imployed by despotic regimes, to picture the opponent as primitive savages or something so that the own soldiers don't feel empathy for them.

Now of cause there are psychopaths who burned cats as children and are eagerly awaiting to become adults buy a legal gun and start killing people. But they are a small minority those their "mutated" morality is insignificant to the morality of our species, which simply can be defined as an superposition of all build in moralities of all humans currently alive.

David X.

Tue, 24 Jul 2012 07:32:44 UTC | #949972

ThoughtfulTheist's Avatar Comment 11 by ThoughtfulTheist

Let me first say that I appreciate how this article has pointed out a flawed reasoning that I think many uneducated theists make. That is that humanity needs scriptures or revelations from gods in order to understand and know objective morals. This is simply not the case and is not something most well-reasoned (if you don't mind me using that word) theists would argue for. It is clear that what makes objective morals so "objective" is that they can be and are known universaly in humanity despite belief system. That's the great thing about them, that they can be known without reading Scriptures and can be discovered by all, which I believe we can rightly demonstrate has happened in human history.

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.

The real question then becomes how did these objective morals come to be? At least if we start with that question it leads in the right direction in understanding the moral argument. From there we can look at the evolutionary evidence for their existence, which I'm not opposed to at all, and strive through science to understand there existence. Though I'm fully a proponent of evolutionary biology, I personally think that its difficult to arrive at an explaination for pure objective values by mere appeal to evolution. 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

Though I'm throughly a theist I'd recommend a great called Moral Minds by Marc D. Hauser. In it Hauser explores this question of why humanity seems to share basic moral principles and attempts to explain it in a purely naturalistic way.

Wed, 25 Jul 2012 01:41:56 UTC | #950012

CleverUsername's Avatar Comment 12 by CleverUsername

The claim that most of humanity shares a common basic morality seems to point more toward group selection than to the existence of god. Those groups whose system of morality were more fit were more likely to survive and pass their morality on. This might suggest that there is some externally measurable (i.e. objective) basis upon which behavior might be judged "good" or "bad". To use this as evidence of god's existence is pure sophistry. Besides, having read the bible, the gita, the eddas, and the book of moron (misspelling is intentional) in my youth, I find nothing moral about the actions of the gods therein. If there is some absolute and objective morality, it certainly has nothing to do with any god I've ever read about!

Wed, 25 Jul 2012 03:41:20 UTC | #950016

Quine's Avatar Comment 13 by Quine

A very complex subject at the least. Yes, I also recommend Sam's book to all as a starting point if you are not already coming from a Philosophy of Ethics background.

I am sure we all have had these discussion with our theist friends and family. Sometimes it is stated as "absolute" v. "relative" morality. Most theists I have met associate relative morality with some kind of "relativism" which is then held out as inferior or even subversive.

As Jos mentioned above, you really can't have morals that are completely independent of any minds, not the least of which is the mind that controls the actions that result from some kind of understanding, or interpretation, of said morals. Then we still have the question of when "subjective" ends and "objective" begins. Are there things that are neither clearly objective nor subjective? Are there moral positions that people generally recognize as "not even wrong"?

Hume still stands in his observation that you can't work out how things ought to be from knowledge of how things are. And if you could, you only have the knowledge of the world that we have today; what if something we find out from, say, brain research changes the "objective" moral position we did work out from what we know today? Beyond, knowledge, there are issues of knowability. An adult can generally know things that are not possible for a very young child to know. What if to get to "objective" morals we would need to know things that not possible for our brains to process at this point in our evolution? Perhaps we need to wait to grow another layer over the existing cortex so as to see all the current neural workings and motivations in abstraction.

Can an objective analysis from subjective data yield objective results? Could there be a crowd sourced algorithm that got subjective input from everyone, but did not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone, be constructed to give us objective results? Andy Thomson has done quite a bit of work putting together problems in which to test potential moral positions. What if we could test algorithmic positions that way?

Bottom line, there is no way to know if we have, or can have, truly "objective" positions, and whatever we decide to use is what we are going to use, regardless.

Wed, 25 Jul 2012 05:19:07 UTC | #950020

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 14 by Jos Gibbons


While a "we need God to know ethics" argument (which comes in "and we do, so he's there" and "so we need to believe in Him whether or not He's evidenced" flavours) differs from the "we need God for there to be ("objective", whatever that means) ethics in the first place", the OP takes exception to the first argument not because it seeks to debunk on this one page every "ethics blah blah therefore blah blah God" argument, but because "you guys are inferior; put us in charge!" policy the first version "justifies" is pernicious and the "justification" is, as you yourself concede, terrible. And while the "there is objective ethics - oh yes there is! So there's a god!" argument is technically tangential to the OP question of whether or not we need objective ethics in the first place, I'll reply to it anyway, because I'm fed up with "well-reasoned", "thoughtful" theists proving they are no such thing (no theists are any such thing, since no argument for a god's existence works) pretending, "Well sure, the first version is bull, but the second one isn't!" (like I said, all arguments for a god fail; here I'll just prove this one does).

As I mentioned in my first post here, the Euthyphro dilemma is unanswerable. While me decreeing what is right or wrong doesn't make it so, nor does God decreeing it so; his subjective thoughts aren't somehow magically more objective than anyone else's just because he's omni-everything. (His omniscience is relevant in the "we need him to know stuff that's true anyway" argument you already reject, but not in the "we need him to make it true in the first place" argument I'm addressing here, because if something isn't real to begin with He won't "know" of it.) Either He makes ethics, in which case before He did so there was no ethics and so his choices were arbitrary, so shouldn't bind us later, or He doesn't, in which case we don't get objectivity at all.

Now tell me - what definition of "objective" do you use anyway? My above a, b or c, or some fourth definition?

CleverUsername, please don't bring group selection into this; selection for working well in groups, yes, but that's a matter of what is selected, not which selection mechanism is involved. If you still think group selection is worth defending, you've not read much discussion of it on this site.

Quine, your point about the objective-subjective line being fuzzy is an interesting one. It brings to mind an RE teacher I had 12 years ago. I asked him whether morality was objective or subjective, so he said some morals were one while the rest were the other. It felt like a cop-out, if only because he never said which were which. Maybe he was right. Maybe you're right. I can't see, however, how you could be right on any of the three definitions of objectivity I discussed above. Could you say what definition you do have in mind? It amazes me how few posters here have done so.

Wed, 25 Jul 2012 06:11:47 UTC | #950022

Pete H's Avatar Comment 15 by Pete H

I agree with Jos Gibbons.

All definitions of the objective concept are irrelevant and silly when human minds are involved. Same misleading issue arises in economics where there is often a presumption of an objective position, when the nature of economics (human actions) can only ever be inherently subjective.

I like to compare with economic theory. Because economics sprang out of morality, but more because economics is possibly the next most dysfunctional scientific discipline after nutrition and theology. So you can see the same silliness in a slightly different context. Just think of cholesterol lowering drug treatments or today’s interest rate ‘settings’ according to your local reserve bank officials who’re paid million dollar salaries to ‘run the economy’. Objective monetary policy ‘settings’ are always in the goldilox zone. And there is no conceivable economic outcome that is incompatible with monetary policy. The theory is ostensibly objective but is completely unfalsifiable. Just look at this present great depression: Reserve banks were instituted to prevent such events, so the modified claim is that this current depressing event would certainly have been very much the worse had whatever heroic money printing and spending processes not occurred.

Objective supernatural-related morals could be a potentially useful tool of analysis, like perfect competition in economics. It’s an oversimplification but it might help illuminate important aspects. (I don’t know what those aspects might be, but it sounds plausible.)

Economists don’t usually invoke supernatural entities to explain the origin of perfect competition. They just say ‘imagine, for momentary purposes, that all other things are equal or that economic players have perfect information’. Etc. Perfect knowledge is, by definition, superior to actual real knowledge. Just as any imaginable number is never the largest - there is always 1 number greater. Meaningless really. For illustrative purposes Information doesn’t have to actually be perfect, just be significantly better quality than the alternative. Information, knowledge, and energy are more or less the same thing as matter/energy or space/time. So anytime there’s a magic ‘something for nothing’ phenomena based on a reference to perfect information then it really means that someone can’t be bothered to expend the necessary energy or time to obtain the real thing.

Despite appearing in every text book, no sane economist believes there really could be such a thing as perfect information and perfect competition. If it existed it would put them out of a job. Similarly I assume that no sane victim of religious misbelief seriously believes in their text book’s equivalent: a perfectly omniscient and omnipotent god determining morality. There’s only 1 possible candidate for an external, non-human observer objectively assessing human activity, and capable of providing the necessary feedback – salt pillars, wine from water etc. which oddly seems only to occur in the distant past or distant future. This immense time lag allows huge scope for runaway feedback effects or other morality system breakdowns and failures. Compelling the religious to heroically intervene to prevent complete collapse. (Much in common with the governor of the reserve bank.) So if an effective supernatural entity really existed then the clergy also would not have a job. On the other hand (as economists are supposedly prone to say) if they publically accept that there is no divine source of objective morality then they are also out of a job. Either way they lose.

All the religious are left with is the claim that there really is an objective morality, imposed by god, but that god acts (or fails to act) in precisely the way which creates the almost perfect illusion that he doesn’t exist and that there is no objective morality (and that religious leaders are wasting their time and deceitfully misleading people).

The alternative to objective morality is subjective morality. Which rests on an assumption of imperfect information and therefore depends on error correction processes. i.e. As incorporated in legal systems. The essential difference is that logic dictates that one form of morality is claimed to self-evidently not need error correction. This makes its practitioners inclined to continue to do the same thing over and over, each time faithfully hoping for different and less disappointing outcome, but never changing or improving anything in the foolishly optimistic knowledge that they’re doing the right thing despite the lack of worthwhile outcomes.

Much like reserve banking. It’s kind of like how government policies inevitably fail to work in economic matters. No one would ever vote for a political leader who claimed to not know what to do regarding economic policy, but were instead willing to try and find out by looking at the evidence for what really works and making policy corrections. Similarly no one is interested in worshipping a god who isn’t absolutely sure of their moral policy impositions about what should happen. As they say, if these entities don’t exist then it would be necessary to make them up and pretend that they do. Given they’re a fantasy then this also requires believers to pretend that the relevant outcomes really did happen, or would have been very much worse outcomes if whatever didn’t happen or barely happened hadn’t been pursued.

You could employ this as an argument to prove that excellent politicians exist – and they do (politicians arguing that they're excellent that is).

Wed, 25 Jul 2012 09:41:09 UTC | #950028

Zeuglodon's Avatar 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

VeniVidiVici123's Avatar Comment 17 by VeniVidiVici123

Some really interesting ideas here. I thought I was pretty explicit in my rejection of objective morality, however, Thoughtful Theist seems to have gathered a different impression from my first post. Objective morals don't need to come from anywhere; especially not a "God". As I said in my first post, we decide what we think is right or wrong, good or bad, lawful or unlawful.

Thoughtful Theist is in my opinion correct to say that using objective morality as a reason to believe in the existence of a "God" is "flawed reasoning", however, he/she then goes on to do just that!

Our morals/ethics/laws have developed over thousands of years because we are social animals. Natural selection, sexual selection and kinship selection were all that were needed, combined of course with our incredibly complex and powerful brains, for human beings to come to develop what we label "morals", "ethics" and "laws".

The argument that objective morals (which don't exist) point towards the existence of "God" is similar to the "God of the gaps" argument which most theist and relgious zealots gave up on years ago because it doesn't answer anything. "Morals came from God"- Where did God come from? " The universe was created by God before the big bang"- Who created God? "Oh, God is beyond time and space and is undefinable"- These are not answers, they don't actually MEAN anything.

Wed, 25 Jul 2012 18:55:01 UTC | #950067

tadmjones's Avatar Comment 18 by tadmjones

In philosophic terms objective means independent of consciousness, meaning a thing is what it is regardless of subjective judgements. Wishing or wanting some'thing' to be a certain way has no bearing on what way the thing is. Rational thinking tells us humans are not infallible, therefore we must develope principles of action to guide our choices. Morality should be objective, it should based on reality and not guided by whim or wish. Man is a certain type of being that must act to survive. Morality is the guide to measure choices of action to help insure proper choices are being made. Good should be defined as those actions that further man's life and ultimately happiness. Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism describes such rational morality. y'all shoud give it a good look see, do not rely on the opinions of others read her and decide refute her if you can.

Wed, 25 Jul 2012 21:04:48 UTC | #950073

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 19 by Jos Gibbons

Comment by tadmjones

objective means independent of consciousness, meaning a thing is what it is regardless of subjective judgements

Are those two quite the same thing? If I shouldn't punch you in the face because it would hurt, while that may not depend on "judgements", it's clearly not independent of your consciousness, because your sensations are key to the case against me punching you.

Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism

Uses the term "objective" differently again.

Wed, 25 Jul 2012 21:11:29 UTC | #950074

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 20 by phil rimmer

All science fiction writers know instinctively that the morals of an intelligent species are rooted in the biology of their bodies and brains and the quirks of their environment. Oxytocin fueled niceness and the presumption of a specific parent child bond will yield irrelevant moral demands of a race of super parrot. Failing to eat your stillborn offspring or your father in a highly food marginal environment, freeing resources for others might be very bad form on Kepler 22b or in Liverpool.

Manufacturing tolerance of any animal, their brain chemistry and variability of context renders the idea of absolute morals...quaint.

Wed, 25 Jul 2012 21:19:33 UTC | #950075

Laurie Fraser's Avatar Comment 21 by Laurie Fraser

Comment 20 by phil rimmer

Super, Phil! Nailed the argument in a nutshell.

Wed, 25 Jul 2012 23:42:06 UTC | #950080

Jumped Up Chimpanzee's Avatar Comment 22 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee

The problem with the way many people analyse morality is that they look at "right" and "wrong" as stand alone principles without concern for the consequences. "Right" and "wrong" (or "good" and "bad"), if they have any meaning at all, have no different meaning in a moral context than in any other context.

There has to be an objective in mind to classify something as "right" or "wrong", "good" or "bad". The "right" tool for the job is the tool that does the desired job most effectively. A "good" technique at tennis is one that gives you a higher chance of winning a point than a "bad" technique. And so "good" moral behaviour is that which, as Sam Harris puts it, promotes the wellbeing of conscious beings.

Of course, as Harris acknowledges, how you measure the effectiveness of an action in terms of its moral consequences is not always easy or practically possible, but nevertheless there is no other meaningful definition for morality.

The religious idea that humans can't decide what is morally right or wrong, that there must be an "objective" morality from God, is a nonsense for several reasons. Firstly, of course, there's no voice booming down from the sky telling us what is right or wrong, God's message only comes from other humans and there's no evidence to suggest they didn't just make it up themselves. Secondly, there is no concern for the consequences; and if there's no concern for the consequences, God's moral code is just a toss of the coin and it could just as easily be "good" to be nasty as to be helpful to other people. And following from that, if we had no instinctive understanding of morality, if only God was capable of understanding morality and determining a moral code, then we wouldn't even understand the concept that he was trying to convey to us, let alone care about it!

Thu, 26 Jul 2012 10:03:47 UTC | #950098

tadmjones's Avatar Comment 23 by tadmjones

In reply to comment 19 j gibbons You seem to be comparing apples and oranges, the physical act of punching some does illustrate though what I meant. My wishes or desires about experiencing pain will have no effect on the outcome.The experience of pain is an aspect of 'objective' reality, things hurt even if we dont want them to. But the premises of your statement seems to be that there is no difference between one concrete act and the complex abstraction of a morality qua morality.

Thu, 26 Jul 2012 14:36:43 UTC | #950103

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 24 by Jos Gibbons

The experience of pain is an aspect of 'objective' reality, things hurt even if we dont want them to. But the premises of your statement seems to be that there is no difference between one concrete act and the complex abstraction of a morality qua morality.

I was discussing the two definitions of objectivity you presented, and critiquing the equivocation of them; they were that the answers isn't contingent on consciousness and that it isn't contingent on subjective experiences. And now you're saying it's that it isn't contingent on hopes, which is another "isn't contingent on" criterion again!

Thu, 26 Jul 2012 15:36:50 UTC | #950105

tadmjones's Avatar Comment 25 by tadmjones

I didnt give two definitions of objective, i stated objectivity means reality is independent of consciousness and then restated it

Thu, 26 Jul 2012 16:29:06 UTC | #950110

canadian_right's Avatar Comment 26 by canadian_right

This depends on the type of "objective" you mean. If you mean the same kind of objective that the rules of mathematics are then no, we can't have "objective morals". If by "objective" you mean based on observations of the real world and how various actions effect the real world then yes, we can have moral objective. Even with this starting point you would still have to agree on some basic rules, for example it is wrong to harm people, before you could start exploring what objective morals would look like.

Of course, Sam Harris has covered this ground fairly well in the book "The Moral Landscape". Personally, I think that "maximizing total human happiness" is a much too difficult thing to figure out to deal with most day to day ethical and moral decisions. A very short book covering some of this ground is "A Simple Guide to Secular Morals".

Fri, 27 Jul 2012 00:20:47 UTC | #950134

Roedy's Avatar Comment 27 by Roedy

I religious morality is still composed by people. It has been preserved like an insect in amber completely unchanged over the centuries. That is what makes it so strange. A secular morality tries to keep up with the latest changes.

Fri, 27 Jul 2012 10:32:23 UTC | #950151

tadmjones's Avatar Comment 28 by tadmjones

Morality is something all humans need , because of the fact that humans are capable of error. To what degree this is understood or practised obviously varies. True or objective morality means a set of rationally derived principles to help guide one's actions.

Fri, 27 Jul 2012 17:32:48 UTC | #950167

tadmjones's Avatar Comment 29 by tadmjones

in reply to canadian right the starting point of morality should be the idea that the set of principles are based on the facts of man's existence. Man is certain type of being or entity and has certain characteristics. One of the most fundamental is that we exist as seperate entities with ultimately our own individual hapiness as the goal of a life lived morally.

Fri, 27 Jul 2012 17:37:35 UTC | #950168

nick keighley's Avatar Comment 30 by nick keighley

Comment 7 by korben :

Comment 5 by Jos Gibbons :

korben, do any of my three definitions of objectivity fit what you mean by the term? I suspect b does because "immutability" suggests lack of contingency on detail.

I meant immutable in the sense of "not subject or susceptible to change". As in, if they came from god, they must be as good today as they were 2,000 years ago, right?

read Leviticus there's a lot of stuff in there that we wouldn't think was part of modern moral behaviour.

Sat, 28 Jul 2012 14:10:23 UTC | #950219