“Blessed are destroyers of false hope, they are true Messiahs – Cursed are the God-adorers, they shall be as shorn sheep.— Might Is Right — Ragnar RedBeard
Blessed are the Valiant, for they shall obtain great treasure – Cursed are the believers in Good and Evil, for they are frightened by shadows.”
“Common sense provides no precise solution of Right or Wrong. “All moral philosophy is false and vain”, for man is unlimited. In the realm of Ethics, most modern wiselings are fanatical and unreasonable bigots. They really believe that Ethical Principles are as a house built on a rock, whereas “the House” is an unfounded hypothesis, and “the Rock” nonexistent.— Might Is Right — Ragnar RedBeard
Good and Evil liveth only in men’s minds. They are not Realties, but shadows, credos, ghosts, and only the maddest of the mad worship their own Shade. Right and Wrong, like Up and Down, East and West, are relative terms, without any fixed or finite meaning. What is good for the goose is not always good for the gander.”
The following, is a Facebook discussion I had with two moral realists who seemed to be arguing from moral intuitionism for the existence of moral truths and a moral law giver. Moral Intuitionism isn’t a popular view among modern philosophers of meta ethics, but it has been making a bit of a come back among some Christians on the net, thanks to the Christian idealist and Youtube apologist known as “Inspiring Philosophy”.
I have taken the liberty of posting the entire debate below, because I believe it exposes some fatal flaws within moral intuitionism, and moral realism in general. Read all the way to the end if you wish to comprehend the title of this article.
Clinton Wilcox: There must be a universal moral law.
A universal moral law requires a universal Moral Law Giver.
This universal Moral Law Giver must be perfectly good.
There must be an absolutely good Moral Law Giver.
Me quoting Clinton Wilcox: “There must be a universal moral law.”
Me: No. No ought without an If clause. Even if there were a “law” created by some supernatural entity. Ought would still be contingent upon a given agent’s subjective desires.
Me quoting Clinton Wilcox: “A universal moral law requires a universal Moral Law Giver.”
Me: Even if a God existed, that doesn’t mean a universal moral law (moral imperatives) suddenly pop into being.
Me quoting Clinton Wilcox: “This universal Moral Law Giver must be perfectly good.”
Me: What does good mean on your view? God? Circle meaningless drivel.
Me quoting Clinton Wilcox: “Therefore, There must be an absolutely good Moral Law Giver.”
Clinton Wilcox: You’re making an awful lot of unwarranted assertions there.
Clinton Wilcox: quoting himself: “There must be a universal moral law.”
Clinton Wilcox: Yes, because if there was not, then moral disagreements would make no sense, but we all assume that they do. Furthermore, all moral criticisms would be meaningless. You could not say Hitler was an evil man; at best, you could say he had a different opinion than you did about the value of Jews, but his opinion was no more or less right than yours. Additionally, it would be unnecessary to keep promises or treaties, but we all assume that it is. Finally, we would not make excuses for breaking the moral law, as all of us do.
Clinton Wilcox quoting himself: “A universal moral law requires a universal Moral Law Giver.”
Clinton Wilcox: A law implies those who are subject to it (human beings) and those who can hold those subject to it responsible (divine beings). The source of the universal moral law would give moral commands, as law givers do, and would be interested in our behavior, as moral persons are.
Clinton Wilcox quoting himself: “This universal Moral Law Giver must be perfectly good.”
Clinton Wilcox: Otherwise he would not be qualified to hold us accountable to it. Only those who do not break the law have the authority to punish those who do. Additionally, as the source of all good, the universal Moral Law Giver would be the standard of goodness.
Me quoting Clinton Wilcox “You’re making an awful lot of unwarranted assertions there.”
Me: No. Give me one example of something I ought or ought not do, independent of my desires to achieve a desired end or my desire to avoid an undesired consequence. One.
Me quoting Clinton Wilcox: “Yes, because if there was not, then moral disagreements would make no sense, but we all assume that they do.”
Me: No, that’s false. Moral disagreements are disagreements in mistaken beliefs and the subjective attitudes of agents (or both), depending upon how moral language is being employed in a particular context.
Me quoting Clinton Wilcox: “Furthermore, all moral criticisms would be meaningless.”
Me: False, and that is an appeal to consequence, not an argument. I could concede your point here, and it wouldn’t make my view false.
Me quoting Clinton Wilcox: “You could not say Hitler was an evil man; at best, you could say he had a different opinion than you did about the value of Jews, but his opinion was no more or less right than yours.”
Me: That’s correct, but that’s not meaningless, it has an emotive meaning or it is an expression of a mistaken belief (or both). Or one is merely parroting the accepted sentiments of their age and culture. Virtue signaling to gain social status within the herd.
Me quoting Clinton Wilcox: “Additionally, it would be unnecessary to keep promises or treaties, but we all assume that it is.”
Me: False again. People keep agreements because if they don’t they may face un desired consequence, like becoming a social pariah, getting sued, imprisonment, violent conflicts etc. Or because keeping an agreement would achieve some desired end.
Me quoting Clinton Wilcox: “Finally, we would not make excuses for breaking the moral law, as all of us do.”
Me: No, I and others like me do not. Only primitive superstitious minded people like you do that.
Me quoting Clinton Wilcox: “A law implies those who are subject to it (human beings) and those who can hold those subject to it responsible (divine beings). The source of the universal moral law would give moral commands, as law givers do, and would be interested in our behavior, as moral persons are.”
Me: Commands are neither true or false, commands are not truth apt, they are expressing a desire for agents to either abstain from or to perform certain actions. Tell me, is “Shut the door!” true or false? And even if said “divine being” existed, I have no motivating reason to obey said commands unless I wish to avoid punishment or obtain a desired end. This means that even if your “Moral Law Giver” existed, imperatives would still be hypothetical. Something like “If I want to avoid divine punishment, I ought obey The divine dictator’s commands.” Such is not a moral ought, not a moral imperative. Therefore if your divine law giver said “Thou shalt not murder” that utterance wouldn’t be true. It wouldn’t be a moral truth. The utterance wouldn’t produce a true moral ought or obligation. It wouldn’t be true that I ought not murder.
Me quoting Clinton Wilcox: “This universal Moral Law Giver must be perfectly good.”
Me quoting Clinton Wilcox: “Otherwise he would not be qualified to hold us accountable to it.”
Me: “Good” according to whom and by whose definition? Good is a subjective term.
Me quoting Clinton Wilcox: “Only those who do not break the law have the authority to punish those who do.”
Me: That’s a non sequitur. It doesn’t follow that from the fact that someone hasn’t broken any law, that that someone ought to be able to punish law breakers or that that person ought to be obeyed. No, not even if you call that someone “Gawd”. God doesn’t escape the is/ought gap.
Also, the term “authority” in the manner you are employing it, is normative (it means “a moral right”) which means you are begging the question. You are arguing for normative truths while assuming normative truth (authority) in your premise. Assuming the very thing you seek to prove in your premise is just circular reasoning. Authority (the moral right to rule) doesn’t exist, it’s just a man made concept invented by some human primates to control other human primates.
Me quoting Clinton Wilcox: “Additionally, as the source of all good, the universal Moral Law Giver would be the standard of goodness.”
Me: No, he would be a standard. “Standards” are subjective and a dime o dozen. Making your standard God doesn’t make it an objective standard anymore than making me your standard. Standards are just subjective expectations and valuations. There are no standards that people are objectively bound to conform to.
Ive already dealt with such arguments in my published work, the fact that I do so here is purely a curtesy. I’m feeling a little altruistic this morning ; )
Clinton Wilcox: It’s certainly true that moral duties are usually, if not always, accompanied by good results that we would probably desire, but I guess I don’t see how that does anything to abate their unique, moral force.
Me: “Moral force”? What meaningless drivel. What is good? Now you are just appealing to “the force” lol. What is moral on your view? Define your terms or they’re just word salad. Where is your evidence that morality has “force”? That it is anything more than subjective sentimentality, guilt, fear etc?
Clinton Wilcox: We might say that if a person wants to win a game of chess, for example, he ought to make certain moves. But even given the pragmatic reasons, he is not morally obligated to make those moves. Similarly, we could say that if you don’t want to go to prison, you ought not kill someone. But I would wager that most people, myself included, have a pretty strong intuition that there is a different, deeper sense of “oughtness” attached with murder.”
Me: What you call “moral intuition” is really just the subjective feeling of guilt. A herd instinct in the individual. Nothing objective about it, and it still doesn’t produce a non hypothetical imperative.
Clinton Wilcox: I ought not murder anyone, not only for pragmatic reasons, but also because it is wrong.
Me: What does “wrong” even mean on your view? Are you saying “wrong” is a natural property in the universe or a non natural property? Also, if wrong were a descriptive fact, you cannot logically deduce an ought from it. That’s an is ought fallacy. If you claim wrongness is some kind of uber natural property that magically creates oughts, then you are just making a brute assertion and committing the fallacy of special pleading. Again, give me one example of a non hypothetical imperative.
Clinton Wilcox: And simply pointing out the correlation between moral duties and the good results that we desire doesn’t seem to really do anything to diminish their unique moral force, or reduce them to mere pragmatic considerations.
Me: Again, I’m still waiting for that thing that I ought or ought not do, independent of “muh feelz.”
Where is your evidence for “moral duties”?
Clinton Wilcox: I could completely concede your point here, but it remains brilliantly clear to me that I should do certain things not just because they are good for me, but because they are good. Why should I doubt that clarity? You might not share that clarity, but so what?
Me: It remains to be proven that it is “clarity” instead of just a herd instinctual emotion in an individual (you). And why ought you do things that are good? If I want to do do something you call “evil” and, can perform said action with impunity, why ought I not commit such an action?
Clinton Wilcox: This is a bare assertion of your position without any support. Why would I believe such a thing? I’m sure you go much more in-depth in your book though, so I’m not necessarily accusing you of having no reasons at all. But you would have to do a lot of work to establish this point.
Me: No, it is a plausible well established accounting of how moral language is employed that has explanatory scope and power. It is consistent with empirical experience and our knowledge of the universe. And it doesn’t require deducing Uber Natural entities to explain motivation as a human phenomenon.
Clinton Wilcox: This “appeal to consequence” is actually kind of an implicit argument, based on our strong intuitions that moral criticisms are not, in fact, meaningless.”
Me: No, you clearly appealed to consequence. I have yet to see any evidence for “moral intuition” and there is no evidence for prescriptive moral truth or moral knowledge. Your “intuitions” are not “knowledge”, just emotion and claiming they are, isn’t an argument.
Again, I’m not claiming moral criticisms are meaningless depending on what you mean by “meaningless”.
Clinton Wilcox: If those intuitions are strong enough, we may have a reason to reject a premise which would lead us to opposing conclusions.
Me: False. Emotion isn’t truth tracking. “I feel a negative attitude about killing” doesn’t tell us anything about the act of killing, it only tells us about how you feel about killing. Where is your evidence that “evil” or “goodness” is an in-the-world property? That it is anything other than degrees of human attitudes and emotion?
Clinton Wilcox: For example, if I felt water falling on me outside, I may conclude that it’s raining.
But then I might realize that if it were raining, there would be clouds. And I notice that there are no clouds anywhere at all. So I figure that whatever was falling on me isn’t rain. Similarly, I could say my moral intuitions are really just based in results that I desire. But then I might realize that if that were the case, talk of objective moral obligations would be meaningless, and I further realize that I perceive clearly that moral criticisms are not meaningless. So I may reject the hypothesis on that basis. I think that’s the point being made here.
Me: False analogy. Emotions are clearly very different from your senses. Emotions don’t detect external stimuli. This is cheap sophistry on your part. You also, have no evidence that “moral intuitions” exist. There is no reason to believe that what you call “moral intuition” is anything more than emotive mental states or mistaken belief about the external world.
Clinton Wilcox: Again, that’s just an assertion of what you think, without argument. And again, I’m sure you give some reasons for thinking that in your book. I have yet to hear any good reasons for it from other people, but maybe you have some better ones.
Me: No, again, it is a theory with explanatory scope that is consistent with what we know about human behavior and psychology as shaped by evolutionary forces.
Clinton Wilcox: Again, what does this have to do with whether or not we are morally obligated to keep promises? I would agree, most people probably do keep promises for purely pragmatic reasons, but I don’t see how that does anything to abate the moral obligation to keep promises.
Just pointing out the correspondence between moral duties and good reasons for keeping them doesn’t seem to really have any force as an argument, since most people who believe in objective moral truths fully agree that there are probably lots of other reasons for doing good things. Governments are good at providing some of those since mere moral obligation isn’t usually strong enough to regulate behavior among human beings, unfortunately…
Me: Again, there is no evidence for a non hypothetical imperative, and I’m still waiting for you to provide me with an example of a single one. Where is your evidence for moral imperatives? Oughts are explainable by human desire which (as you have admitted) is clearly a motivation to act. But there is no logical reason to posit this extra drive you call “moral duties”. And again, due to Hume’s is-ought gap, you cannot logically deduce an ought from anything other than an If clause (a goal), which means your “moral imperatives” (Moral duties) cannot exist. If you claim otherwise, then show me how an ought can be produced by a descriptive fact about the way things are.
Clinton Wilcox: The statement you are responding to here doesn’t say that commands are either true or false, so I’m not sure how that matters. Commands might be neither true nor false, and still could imply both a law giver and law recipients…
Also, your comments about the motivation to obey divine beings again do nothing to show whether or not you are actually morally obligated to obey them.”
Me: Ok, so then if a divine being says that I ought not commit murder then you admit it isn’t a true utterance. Glad you admit that. And again, I’m still waiting for you to illustrate the existence of a “moral duty to obey”.
Clinton Wilcox: That’s the whole point of the debate. Merely saying, “Good is subjective” is just stating your position. I could come back with “No, good is objective” and accomplish just as much. Why would I think that moral goodness is subjective?
Me: I said good is a subjective term. It is clearly used in a subjective way. “That ice cream was good” for example. Are you going to argue for the objective goodness of a particular flavor of ice cream? Now the burden of evidence is on you to show that the term “good” refers to an objective normative “good”. Otherwise it remains subjective. The burden of evidence rests on the moral realist, not the moral skeptic.
Clinton Wilcox: I guess it does seem clear to me that if all moral values were sourced in the essence of one thing, that thing would just be the Good by definition. What other standard would there be? God certainly is “a standard” of good, but in most religious thinking, He is also “the” Standard. And if that’s true, then not all standards are equal or subjective.
Me: You haven’t shown that God exists. That if he did exist, that that existence would produce non hypothetical imperatives. You haven’t shown how that would even be possible. Anyone can define “good” as themselves. They can say “I am the standard” but this doesn’t produce an objective moral obligation to conform to said standard. It doesn’t produce “moral oughtness”.
Your thesis fails!
Clinton Wilcox: Anyway, like I said, I’m sure you give some actual arguments for your positions in your book. Again, I have yet to come across any good ones, but maybe you’ve got some!”
Me: Then clearly you don’t know what a good argument is, and you cannot recognize when your thesis has been utterly demolished. Which explains why you have such asinine positions. Moral intuitionism and non naturalism has long fallen out of favor among philosophers for very good reasons. Some of which I’ve already pointed out.
Clinton Wilcox: In the meantime, as relativist Louise Antony put it, any argument for moral relativism or skepticism is bound to be based on premises that are less obvious than the simple intuition that there are objective moral values and duties.
That’s a telling statement and one that I’m inclined to agree with. It just seems very obviously the case to me that things can be right or wrong in a sense that is purely moral, as well as in a pragmatic sense.
Me: “Seems obvious to me” is clearly not an argument. Nor is “Louise says x is more obvious”. “I’m inclined to agree with” yes, I’m sure you are inclined to agree with arguments which help to prop up your faith position. For a very long time human intuition had people believing in a flat earth. Human Intuition has been shown time and again, to not be truth-tracking. And how could you ever hope to falsify your so called “moral intuition”? If your moral intuition says that “X is wrong” how do we falsify this claim? And what does “wrong” mean?
Clinton Wilcox: To say otherwise would be, to me at least, like saying that mathematical truths are actually implicitly relative or mere constructs derived from how we happened to evolve.”
Me: Another false analogy. Complete rubbish.
Clinton Wilcox: Any argument to that effect would have to overcome the depth of our intuition that mathematical truths are, in fact, true regardless of who, when, or where you are.”
Me: Again, you have offered 0 evidence for moral knowledge. We can show that Math is truth tracking, you have yet to show that moral intuition exists, or that it is truth tracking. We can make and have made accurate predictions about the world via mathematics. But how do you demonstrate the accuracy of your so called “intuitions”?
Clinton Wilcox: You may not have such an intuition regarding moral truths, but I would wager that the vast majority of people do, and even Louise Antony recognizes its strength.
Me: Appealing to populace gets you no where. If one thinks their “moral intuition” says that abortion is “good”, and another says it is “evil”, you have no way of knowing who is “correct” and whose “intuition” is broken.
On my view, I can account for this disagreement because morality is subjective, and relative to a given culture. At one point in Greece, random acts of violence were seen as virtuous, and to the Vikings death in battle was the gateway to Valhalla. In Ancient Rome, pride was a virtue, but in Christianity it is a “deadly sin”. Throughout Human history in various cultures infanticide was quite common. There have been reports of deformed new born babies being left in the snow, or flung from cliffs. But among most Christians of today, infanticide is un-thinkable. My view accounts for this, because on my view morality is akin to style, to aesthetic subjectivity, rather than objectivity. My view doesn’t have to posit any non natural or super natural drives. My meta ethical thesis (Power-Nihilism) recognizes human evolution and that it is in the nature of living organisms to value and disvalue, and that these values have been selected because of their ability to aid in survival and the proliferation of genes in certain environments. To aid in the acquisition of power! In primitive cultures, in certain circumstances it may have be advantageous to kill a baby than to keep feeding it scarce resources.
Clinton Wilcox: I’m just going to be frank to start off with — I’m not impressed that you have published work on the issue. I’ve read a number of books by people who had no idea what they were talking about and had no business writing a book on the subject. I am also a published writer. I have published in a peer-reviewed bioethics journal (with more forthcoming), as well as journals of other natures. You were the one who interacted with me, not I with you. So your supporting your own arguments is a necessity, not a courtesy. If you won’t bother justifying your arguments, then you shouldn’t try interacting with other people and I’m not going to be interested in continuing a dialogue.
Me: No one cares about impressing you. And if you wish to convince me of the truth of your proposition, then the burden of evidence is on you. The burden of evidence is not upon the moral skeptic.
Clinton Wilcox quotes me: “No. Give me one example of something I ought or ought not do, independent of my desires to achieve a desired end or my desire to avoid an un desired consequence. One.”
Clinton Wilcox: Why? Objective morality and doing good because you desire an end or to avoid an undesired consequence are not mutually exclusive. It is an objective moral truth that you ought not murder. It is also the case that you probably shouldn’t murder so that you don’t spend the rest of your life in jail. That doesn’t show that the moral truth is not a moral truth. Whether you do good because it’s the right thing to do, or you do good for some other reason, such as to avoid consequences, or to avoid bringing shame on your family name, all of these are motivations to do good — but a motivation and a fact are two different things.
Me:”You ought not murder” isn’t an argument. You haven’t shown that I ought not murder independent of my goals, desires etc. It’s just an assertion. Why ought I not murder? “You ought not murder because you ought not murder” nope, that’s just begging the question.
Clinton Wilcox quotes me: “No, that’s false. Moral disagreements are disagreements in mistaken beliefs and the subjective attitudes of an agents (or both), depending upon how moral language is being employed in a particular context.”
Clinton Wilcox: Except that you have failed to offer up any reasons why we should think moral beliefs are mistaken beliefs or subjective attitudes. In fact, as C.S. Lewis has noted, if you study morality down through history, what is striking is not that they have had differences of opinions, but in fact there have been many moral prescriptions that they all held in common. For example, all cultures have believed that one ought to act unselfishly, but they have differed on the application of it — i.e. who should we act unselfishly toward?”
Me: In-group altruism is a human and non human characteristic that has evolved due to evolution via natural selection. This is where scientific methodology has led us. It has been selected and valued because cooperation within an in group aids in survival and reproductive success. My view accounts for moral disagreement and agreement. Your view posits an un necessary, non falsifiable uber natural drive when moral phenomena is already accounted for via human evolution and the fact that organism are valuing machines. My view has explanatory scope, and is inline with science. My view is that hypothetical imperatives exist, which you don’t dispute, but your view posits a different kind of imperative that is unnecessary and unfalsifiable. You have failed thus far to put forth evidence and cogent arguments for the existence of said “moral” oughts.
Clinton Wilcox quotes me: “False, and that is an appeal to consequence, not an argument.”
Clinton Wilcox: Actually, it’s a reductio ad absurdum, not an appeal to consequence.
Clinton Wilcox: I’ll give you an example. If morality is objective, we can claim that Hitler was an evil man, and the Holocaust was an extreme act of evil against a group of people the Nazis felt were undesirable. If morality is subjective, then we can’t make that claim. At best, all you can say is that Hitler had a difference of opinion. He preferred to kill some people, you prefer not to. But neither opinion is morally better or worse than any other. If you believe that, then there’s a word for that: sociopathy.
Me: I understand you don’t like the consequences of my view, but that doesn’t make it false. “Differences of opinion” isn’t a logical absurdity. It’s just a feature of my view you don’t like. Again, you’re appealing to consequence.
Clinton Wilcox quoting me: “That’s correct, but that’s not meaningless, it has a non cognitive meaning or it is an expression of a mistaken belief. Or one is merely parroting the accepted sentiments of their age and culture. Virtue signaling to gain social status in the herd.”
Clinton Wilcox: It is meaningless, and if you truly believe that what Hitler did wasn’t evil, then I would never allow you around my children. Also, the argument was not that “Hitler was an evil man” becomes literally a meaningless expression. The argument was that there is no meaning in debating whether or not he was good or evil, because to the relativist, good and evil do not exist.
Me: Again, this is a consequence of my position that you don’t like, but it isn’t a logical absurdity. It’s like arguing that the ship won’t sink, because then all the passengers will die. Reality doesn’t care about your feelings.
Clinton Wilcox quotes me: “False again. People keep agreements because if they don’t they may face un desired consequence, like becoming a social pariah, getting sued, going to jail, violent conflicts etc.”
Clinton Wilcox: Some people might. But return to our Hitler example, Hitler ruled the Nazis and killed millions of people without fear of going to jail, becoming a pariah, getting sued, etc. If morality is relative, then there was absolutely no reason for Hitler to do other than he did. I might keep my promises because I don’t want to be a social pariah, but if someone doesn’t care how other people view him, then he might break his promises willy-nilly. In fact, to use a less extreme example than Hitler, we see husbands abusing their wives and children. Again, you can’t say this behavior is wrong, and in lieu of objective morality, then since the man is in a position of power over his wife and kids, then he has absolutely no reason to do anything other than what he is doing, and you have no grounds on which to say he is doing anything wrong.
Me: Yes. If someone wants to kill millions, and they can do so with impunity, then there is no reason they ought not. Again, I know that hurts your delicate subjective sensibilities, but that doesn’t make it false.
Clinton Wilcox quotes me: “No, I and others like me do not.”
Clinton Wilcox: I’m going to return to my comment about sociopathy. We have terms like sociopath and psychopath specifically because we all recognize that there is right and wrong. If you don’t, then psychologists consider you a sociopath or psychopath, because something has gone wrong with your moral center.”
Me: I used to be a psych major. Being a sociopath has nothing to do with moral realism. It has to do with the absence of guilt. A sociopath is a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behaviors and a lack of guilt (which is the herd instinct). Many psychologists are not moral realists. But even if they were, that doesn’t make it true. Nor is it evidence for the probability of moral objectivity.
Clinton Wilcox quoting me: “Commands are neither true or false, commands are not truth apt, they are expressing a desire for agents to either abstain from or to perform certain actions. Tell me, is “Shut the door!” true or false? And even if these “divine beings” existed, I have no motivating reason to obey said commands unless I wish to avoid punishment or obtain a desired end.”
Clinton Wilcox: I’m not sure what your comment is supposed to be referring to. No, commands are not either true or false — only statements have truth values. But I never said that commands are true or false. Saying “morality is objective” is a statement with a truth value. Saying “don’t murder” is a command, one that you can ignore or abide by. And I agree that you may have no motivating reason to obey those commands, but as I explained above with my comment about motivation vs. fact, saying you are not motivated to abide by the moral law does not prove a moral law does not exist.
Me: My point is that if your god existed, and he said “Thou shalt not murder” it wouldn’t be a truth. Good. We agree. But my other point, was that such an utterance doesn’t make it true that I ought not murder. No ought may be logically derived from God’s existence, or commands. That the utterance “You ought not murder” on its own has no truth conditions. Only when accompanied by an If clause can it be true or false or produce an ought.
Clinton Wilcox quoting me: ‘Good’ according to whom and by whose definition? Good is a subjective term.”
Clinton Wilcox: Good is not a subjective term if you have an objective standard by which to measure it. “Objective” just means “independent of the human mind”. Morality is objective because there is someone who is not a human who has given us this law. That’s why relativism is false, and even more than that, pernicious: no human has the right to decide for anyone else how to live. We are all in the same boat. Only if there is something or someone outside ourselves who is qualified to hold us accountable can there be an objective moral law. But the objective moral law is recognizable by everyone with a functioning conscience. Things like “It is wrong to murder,” “it is wrong to rape,” “it is wrong to torture” are all moral prescriptions that anyone can recognize.”
Me: Calling a mind “God” doesn’t make his morality objective. Even if God existed, and he imposed his values on everyone else, that doesn’t make his values objective. Nor does it make his commands binding. The mere fact of his existence would not magically create moral imperatives. Even if he existed, that in and of itself, wouldn’t make moral relativism false. But again, I’m a moral nihilist, not a relativist.
Nor would his existence make him “qualified” any more than my existence would make me qualified to hold anyone “accountable” to my subjective standards. And there is absolutely no evidence for a “moral conscience”.
Objective doesn’t just mean “independent of human minds” it means independent of minds and agents full stop. Calling a mind God, doesn’t = objective morality or moral imperatives. If you believe it does, then the burden is upon you to show how God’s mind is sufficiently different so as to produce such effects. And how such is even logically possible.
Clinton Wilcox quoting me: “That’s a non sequitur. It doesn’t follow that from the fact that someone hasn’t broken any law, that that someone ought to be able to punish law breakers or that that person ought to be obeyed. No, not even if you call that someone “Gawd”. God doesn’t escape the is/ought gap.
Also, the term “authority” in the manner you are employing it, is normative (it means “a right to rule”) which means you are begging the question. You are arguing for normative truths while assuming normative truth (authority) in your premise. Authority (the right to rule) doesn’t exist, it’s just a man made concept invented by some human primates to control other human primates.”
Clinton Wilcox: No, you are misunderstanding what I’m saying. If God is a breaker of the moral law, he does not have the authority to hold us accountable to it, because he would be subject to it, too. I didn’t say that not breaking the law gives God the authority, I was using that claim to support the premise that the Moral Law Giver must be perfectly good, not that he has the authority to hold us accountable.
Me: He wouldn’t have the “authority” in the first place, authority in any moral sense is bullocks! It’s just another human made pseudo concept devised as an instrument of control. It simply doesn’t follow that because no one would have the power to subject him to his own regulations, that he would have the right to impose them on others. And again! “Perfectly good” according to whose standards? By whose definition of perfection? His? Anyone can define themselves as anything. Space Aliens could invade us tomorrow and impose arbitrary standards and definitions on us, that doesn’t make them “objective”. Nor would such an event produce moral imperatives.
Clinton Wilcox: You use a lot of logical terms, but I don’t think you really understand what they mean. It is not begging the question to use normative truths to argue for other normative truths. In fact, logical syllogisms just are normative. That’s what they are. Take this argument:
All cats have claws
Felix is a cat
Felix has claws
I think you and I are using the term “normative” in a different sense. When I say “normative” I’m referring to prescriptive morality. You are arguing for prescriptive moral truths. That is “moral imperatives”. You are arguing that “You ought not murder” is just true on its own. I’m saying no! The ought is only true when conditioned by an If clause. For example: if you want to avoid death row, you ought not murder.
Now, as I have pointed out, included “authority” (a so called moral right) in one of your premises. You argued from normative truth, to prove normative truth. Hence, you begged the question.
This argument uses normative claims about cats (that they have claws) and Felix (that he is a cat) to arrive at another normative claim (that Felix has claws). That just is what deductive arguments do. To beg the question, one assumes what one is trying to prove — in other words, you smuggle your conclusion into your premises. But that is not what’s going on here.
Me: I think you and I are using the term “normative” in a different sense. When I say “normative” I’m referring to prescriptive morality. I’m referring to the bull shit concept known as “moral oughtness”. You are arguing for prescriptive moral truths. That is “moral imperatives”. You are arguing that “You ought not murder” is just true on its own. I’m saying no! The ought is only true when conditioned by an If clause. For example: if you want to avoid death row, you ought not murder.
Now, as I have pointed out, you included “authority” (a so called moral right) in one of your premises. You argued from normative truth, to prove normative truth. Hence, you begged the question. Authority implies the existence of moral imperatives.
The cat argument isn’t an accurate comparison. Because the cat argument isn’t assuming the very thing it seeks to prove. It also isn’t an example of “normativity” in the moral sense which is how I have been employing the term in “normative” in this discussion.
Clinton Wilcox quoting me: “No, he would be a standard. ‘Standards’ are subjective and a dime o [sic] dozen.”
Clinton Wilcox: “That’s false. Standards are objective. If I want to draw a square, how do I do that? Well, squares have four equal sides and four corners. Is that a subjective standard for squares? No, it isn’t. It’s an objective standard that we must meet if we want to draw a square. I can’t draw a plane figure with three sides and call it a square because it’s not a square.”
Me: that’s not an example of an objective standard. It is an example of a hypothetical imperative. Notice your If clause “if we want to draw a square”. If one wants to draw a square they must do x, y, and z. That is true but not a “moral” truth.
And this isn’t how I was employing the term “standard”. An example of a standard is “Thou shalt not murder”. This is a moral standard and it is subjective and un true. It isn’t a proposition. It is merely expressing a desire for certain people not to perform a certain action. Case closed.
David Stephens quoting me: “Moral force?” What meaningless drivel. What is good? What is “moral” on your view? define your terms or they’re just word salad … What does “wrong” even mean on your view? Are you saying “wrong” is a natural property in the universe or a non natural property? Also, if wrong were a fact, you cannot logically deduce an ought from it. That’s an is ought fallacy.”
David Stephens: “First, I believe I’m using the words “good” and “wrong” in standard ways. Dictionaries define words according to usage, and Merriam-Webster lists several senses of the word “good,” both as an adjective and a noun. As an adjective, it may mean “virtuous, right, commendable.” As a noun, it may mean “something conforming to the moral order of the universe.” This is listed separately from both “something useful or beneficial” and “the advancement of prosperity or well-being.” My only point in pointing this out is that the distinction between pragmatic/preferential senses of “good” and the moral sense is well understood. People frequently use the word “good” to refer to moral value. I am using these standard definitions. I mean “good” and “wrong” in their moral senses.”
Me: I am a philosopher of meta ethics, I understand how people use moral language. How one uses moral terms depends a lot upon one’s meta ethical position. Now, even if everyone except me, used moral terms in a moral realist way, that wouldn’t even make moral realism probably true. It is irrelevant. But the fact remains that people employ moral language in a myriad ways. Many of such usages are subjectivists, some non emotive and some (as I have already stated) to express mistaken belief (in a moral realist way). Now, even though moral terms are used in many different ways, these various ways can be broken into two categories: cognitive and non cognitive. And as my view would have it, (at least for the most part) false and untrue. I have discoursed and debated with thousands of people over the years on this very same subject. They have informed me how they use moral terms and sentences. And, if you bothered to sift through the sea of books concerning meta ethics, you’d see that there are many theories on the function and usage of moral language. Some cognitivists (Subjectivist) think that when people say “X is evil” they are merely describing their attitude about X or that they are referring to some commonly accepted standard within their particular culture. Perhaps this is sometimes true. The bottom line though, is that there are many different accepted ways in which moral language is used. What you believe to be standard is certainly not the standard for many.
David Stephens: But to be more specific, as I understand it, morality is defined a kind of value against which actions can be weighed, and which is distinct from pragmatic or preferential value. I believe that it is an essential feature of reality. I guess I concede that in some sense, the mere presence of right and wrong as values in the universe doesn’t automatically obligate us to do what is right.
Me: I don’t care what you believe. I care what you can prove. I care about theories with explanatory scope, that do not deduce more entities than necessary. And if you concede that just because someone defines x as “good” that doesn’t make it moral, then fair enough.
David Stephens: However, I also believe that what is right is based in the nature of a Person who issues commands based on those values, and that that does obligate to do what is right. That’s controversial, I admit, but seems perfectly plausible to me. It’s also a lengthy discussion, and probably not one we would do well to pursue here at this time.
Me: That’s controversial with good reason. There is no evidence for it, and we have yet to find an is from which an ought may be derived. You cannot deduce an ought from the fact of God’s existence, anymore than from the existence of a meal worm. Such are not logical deductions.
David Stephens quoting me: “What you call “moral intuition” is really just the subjective feeling of guilt. A herd instinct in the individual. Nothing objective about it and it still doesn’t produce a non hypothetical imperative.”
David Stephens: Again, I get that’s the claim you are making. What is needed is some reason to think that’s true. In my own experience, my moral intuition is my ability to apprehend moral value and judge actions based on it.
Me: Again, you are the one making the positive claim. You already admit that subjective human sentiments exist. But then you go an extra un justified step and say that you have “moral intuitions”. There is no evidence whatsoever that you or anyone else “apprehend moral value”. You either value something or don’t. Value is a function of mind not some thing “out there” in-the-world. There is only valuing. If I value a particular flavor ice cream am I apprehending some kind of non natural property on your view? There is no reason to believe objective morality, just as there is no reason to believe in objective aesthetics. Or that chocolate is the “best” flavor of ice cream. Sure, many people might treat morality and aesthetics differently, but in my view this only illustrates different degrees of valuation. If you don’t like chocolate ice cream and I do, it’s not a big deal to me. But if you want me to die, and I wanna live, that is a huge deal to me because I have evolved a very strong instinct for self preservation. There is no reason to assume that morality is any less subjective than aesthetics or taste preference. The difference is only in intensity of emotion.
David Stephens: “It’s not a “feeling of guilt” anymore than my logical intuitions (feeble though they be) are just the feeling of strangeness I get when someone says something illogical. And in any case, it is my experience that moral intuition is a “sense” more than a feeling.”
Me: I don’t believe in “logical intuition”. Logic has proven to be truth tracking by helping us to make accurate predictions about the world. Feelings are irrelevant to truth. You can call it a “sense”, but that’s not an argument. You haven’t proven that your feelings are anything but emotion.
David Stephens: For example, I have sense which gives me the ability to discern color and judge what color value a thing has.
Me: False, color isn’t external to your mind. Color is a qualia which is the way your mind interprets certain electro magnetic waves. This is why some people can taste color, and why some are color blind. And why my blue could be your red. Not everyone interprets the same electro magnetic wave as the same color. I see no reason to believe in that kind of color—realism.
David Stephens: And you might tell me that “redness” is not really a feature of the world and what I call red is really just a feeling I have; but I wouldn’t really believe your assertion.
Me: It isn’t an assertion. But at any rate, you can have faith in color-realism all you’d like. It isn’t an argument for moral realism. It’s just a really bad analogy.
David Stephens: Well, I also happen to have the ability to discern right and wrong, and judge what value an action has on that spectrum.
Me: No. And again, I could make the same claim that slapping women for fun is moral and you could object, but you could not prove me “morally incorrect”. “Moral rightness” is not provable or a falsifiable theory. And it is meaningless. All you could do is keep writing checks your position can’t cash.
David Stephens: You might not have such a sense, but that does nothing to abate the collective force of the vast majority of us who do, any more than the colorblindness of some means that the rest of us should disbelieve that color is a feature of the world.
Me: Where is your evidence that the vast majority have this sense? Or even that you do? Again, where is your evidence that color is an in-the-world property?
It remains to be proven that it is “clarity” instead of just a herd instinct, in an individual (you). Where is your evidence that it is anything more than sentiment, anything more than guilt?
David Stephens: I’ll admit it’s exceptionally difficult to “prove” the clarity of moral intuition to someone who doesn’t have it. It is, again, like trying to prove the existence of color to a blind person who has never heard of sight. He has no faculty for understanding color, no way to approximate its value. And if you truly have no experience or grasp of the moral force behind the words “good” and “evil,” then I admit we will have a hard time here, and I’m sorry for that. Suffice it to say, pretty much everyone I have ever spoken to gets what I’m saying when I say that murder is wrong in a moral sense, and that improves my confidence in our shared sense. People with no sense of right and wrong as moral values as opposed to pragmatic ones are, in my admittedly limited experience, a small minority.”
Me: Well, I have had the opposite experience with many folks, and given that your view is not taken seriously in academia, I’m sure you are in the extreme minority. At any rate, you have no evidence for your view and have put forth zero cogent reasons to believe it.
David Stephens quotes me: “No, it is a plausible well established accounting of how moral language is employed that has explanatory scope and power.”
David Stephens: Perhaps it is! I’m not disputing that, necessarily. I’m only pointing out that you haven’t shown that here. Maybe you have elsewhere!
Me: Actually I have. You apparently aren’t paying attention.
David Stephens quotes me: “Emotion isn’t truth tracking. “I feel a negative attitude feeling about killing” doesn’t tell us anything about the act of killing, it only tells us about how you feel about killing.”
David Stephens: Again, I agree… But the whole substance of my claim is that moral values are more than emotions, in my own experience. I know that you don’t think my experience is based in anything true, but I guess I don’t care much, unless you have some particular reason why I should think that.
Me: You have no reason to believe in “moral intuitions” or “objective moral value” and yet you do. You have a faith position. And no one can argue with faith, it is un reasonable by its very nature.
Me quoting Friedrich Nietzsche: “I write this to you, dear Lisbeth, simply with the view of meeting the line of proof usually adopted by religious people, who appeal to their inner experiences to demonstrate the infallibility of their faith. Every true faith is infallible, it accomplishes what the person holding the faith hopes to find in it, but that does not offer the slightest support for a proof of its objective truth. Here the ways of men divide: if you wish to strive for peace of the soul and happiness, then have faith; if you wish to be a disciple of truth, then search.” – Julian Young, Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, London, Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 58-60.
David Stephens: Yes, I do have negative emotions about killing; but more than that, I have a negative moral sense about it.
Me: How do you know you have a moral “sense” about killing? Hmm? How do you even know with absolute certainty that you are not brain in a vat? Hmm? What do you claim the difference is, between a moral “sense” and an emotion? Is your answer that your moral “”sense detects moral properties? But how do you know that such an in built detector exists? Because you “sense” moral properties? That’s viciously circular reasoning.
David Stephens: Yes, I feel sadness and shame and social aversion when I think about it, but also a sense of moral culpability.
Me: No, you feel guilt and shame and then you call it “culpability”. This is due to societal and cultural conditioning.
David Stephens: A sense of sin, we might call it. Clearly, you seem not to have such a sense, which again makes this an admittedly difficult thing to discuss.
Me: I know that little invisible intangible anal-dwelling butt monkeys live in your rump. I know because they have psychic powers and they have communicated with me. I know this sounds hard for you to believe but it’s true. They don’t communicate with you because they said you have “a broken antenna.” You see how silly that sounds? It is precisely your argument.
David Stephens quoting me: “Then clearly you don’t know what a good argument is, and you cannot recognize when you thesis has been utterly demolished.”
David Stephens: I’m a little confused here. I’m not even sure what thesis you think you’ve demolished, much less how you have done so. The basic sum of what I’ve said so far is that I and many others have a sense by which we experience moral value in the world, distinct from our emotions or pragmatic concerns. You’ve responded by asserting that that’s false, that our sense is not truth-tracking, but is merely subjective and emotional. But that’s not an argument. It’s a disagreement. Why would I doubt that my sense is truth-tracking?
Me: Why would you believe that your so called “intuition” is truth tracking? Also, if you think that’s my argument, then you have very poor reading comprehension.
David Stephens: You can’t just assert the opposite of what someone says and claim to have demolished his/her thesis…
Suffice it to say that whatever you think your argument is or has been, I am not at all convinced by it, nor do I think it has threatened moral objectivity.
Me: You cannot convince a believer with cogent arguments. If you could, there wouldn’t be any “believers”. My argument has been that due to the is ought gap, all oughts are only logically deducible from if clauses, and that therefore only hypothetical imperatives exist.
That your view deduces more entities than needed to explain the phenomena of human experience.
That my view has explanatory power and scope in line with evolution and scientific knowledge.
And that your view is mere question begging and cheap sophistry.
David Stephens: In any case, I’m feel like Facebook comments are the worst possible venue to have these discussions, haha. I hate to go back and forth like this. It would be easier doing this in person, but since that’s not a likely possibility, I’m excusing myself from the discussion here! I’ll leave it to others to hash everything out. Thanks for taking the time to talk though!
Me: Yes, perhaps we could continue this discussion via Skype sometime.
Have a good night, don’t let the butt monkeys bite your sphincter ; )