Is morality objective or subjective?

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Felix
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Felix » July 8th, 2018, 2:31 pm

P.S. - What does "stroppy" mean? Is it subjective?
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

Gertie
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Gertie » July 8th, 2018, 4:54 pm

Peter Holmes wrote:
July 6th, 2018, 6:16 am
The key to answering this question is the difference between factual and moral assertions – and how this relates to what we call objectivity and subjectivity.

We use the word objective to mean to ‘relying on facts’. And facts are true regardless of what anyone believes or claims to know, and regardless of their source. But all factual assertions are falsifiable, because they assert something about reality that may not be the case. So evidence is needed to justify them.

By contrast, we use the word subjective to mean ‘relying on judgement, belief or opinion’. Judgements can be individual or collective. They can be more or less rationally justifiable. And because they express values, we often refer to such judgements as value judgements or just values.

The difference between objectivity and subjectivity has been called the fact-value distinction. But discussions about specifically moral values are about how we ought to behave, so here the difference has been called the is-ought distinction.

Given this understanding of objectivity and subjectivity, moral assertions are subjective, because they express value judgements, rather than make falsifiable factual claims. And two examples illustrate the distinction.

1 The assertion people eat animals and their products is a fact – a true factual assertion. But the vegan assertion eating animals and their products is wrong expresses a moral judgement, not a fact. The two assertions have completely different functions.

2 That some states execute some criminals is true. But that states should execute some criminals – that execution is morally justifiable – is a judgement. If there were a moral fact of the matter, we could not argue about the judgement.

An argument that objective morality is evidence for the existence of anything – let alone a god – is unsound, because morality is not objective. It is rational to have sound reasons for our moral judgements, such as wanting to promote individual well-being. But they remain judgements, so they are subjective.

Trouble is, the assertion morality is subjective seems wrong and offensive. It seems to mean that whatever someone judges to be morally right or wrong is indeed morally right or wrong – so that anything goes, and moral relativism and anarchy is the result.

But that is to forget the is-ought distinction. To say an action is morally right or wrong is to express a judgement, not to state a fact. So an action is not – and does not become - morally right or wrong just because someone believes it is.

The expressions objective morality and moral fact are contradictions – or they could be called oxymorons. But our moral values and assertions matter deeply to us, so the mistake of believing there are moral facts is easy to explain. It is an understandable misunderstanding.

But, ironically, if there were moral facts, their source would be irrelevant. The assertion this is good because I say – or a god says – it is good has no place in a rational moral debate. An argument from authority is as mistaken for moral as it is for factual assertions. So the theistic argument from objective morality undermines itself.

The full version of this argument is at: http://www.peasum.co.uk/420676773
I pretty much agree.


But what I take from that, is we need a better, more appropriate way to think about how to get an Ought from an Is than worrying about Subjective vs Objective. A different way to ground Oughts which we can cohere around.


We can agree that Oughts lie in the field of the Subjective, because we are conscious Subjects, and they are created by us, for us. The key point is, that as conscious, experiencing Subjects, we have Interests, a quality of life, a stake in the state of affairs - and that's the proper grounding for Oughts. It matters if I harm you, because you are capable of being harmed/suffering (unlike say smashing a rock or a computer, which aren't conscious as far as we know). The harm is no less real or important because it's subjective. As Goldstein points out, it still matters, and mattering is the appropriate framework for Oughts.

As individual Subjects, some interests will be shared (like basic needs), and some will differ, so although the 'well-being of conscious creatures' is our shared grounding for Oughts, there needs to be some flexibility and nuance in how the principle is applied - individual freedom to pursue our own interests is important too. Harris calls it 'the moral landscape', Goldstein calls it 'the mattering map'.

Peter Holmes
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Peter Holmes » July 10th, 2018, 4:24 am

Thanks, Gertie.

I think what you say makes sense. But I'd stress the completely different functions of factual and moral assertions. I agree it's right to make 'the well-being of conscious creatures' - or something like that - our 'shared grounding for Oughts'. I think that's a rational judgement, and that our social moral progress - slow and faltering as it has been - has come from that principle. But it remains a moral judgement - so it must be subjective.

The importance of overcoming moral objectivism lies in the danger of believing any moral judgements and values are or can be objective - matters of indisputable fact. That leads to the torturing of opponents, the murder of abortion practitioners, the flying of planes into buildings, and death camps - along with many other atrocities in our sorry history.

Eduk
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Eduk » July 10th, 2018, 6:21 am

The importance of overcoming moral objectivism lies in the danger of believing any moral judgements and values are or can be objective - matters of indisputable fact. That leads to the torturing of opponents, the murder of abortion practitioners, the flying of planes into buildings, and death camps - along with many other atrocities in our sorry history.
It is interesting that you decry moral objectivism because it leads to torture, murder, terrorism, genocide etc. This seems to ignore the moral judgement on the 'wrongness' of torture, murder, etc.

Peter Holmes
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Peter Holmes » July 10th, 2018, 6:45 am

Not so. I - and fortunately many of us - judge torture, murder, terrorism and genocide to be immoral. It's those who mistake their moral judgements for facts, about which they are certain, who can be motivated to persecute and destroy others - thinking that what they do is morally justifiable.

Peter Holmes
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Peter Holmes » July 10th, 2018, 7:10 am

For example, while Calvin's torturers set about their righteous work in the cellar, he was proclaiming the infinite love of the god he believed in, and whose objective moral law he claimed to be obeying. (To claim he wasn't being Christian is to commit the no-true-Scotsman fallacy.)

Gertie
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Gertie » July 15th, 2018, 4:28 am

Peter
Thanks, Gertie.

I think what you say makes sense. But I'd stress the completely different functions of factual and moral assertions. I agree it's right to make 'the well-being of conscious creatures' - or something like that - our 'shared grounding for Oughts'. I think that's a rational judgement, and that our social moral progress - slow and faltering as it has been - has come from that principle. But it remains a moral judgement - so it must be subjective.
Right. And I'm saying so what if it's subjective? If it matters, that's what counts, and 'mattering' is an inherently qualiative/value/meaningful feature of conscious Subjects. We need to stop thinking of Subjectivity, as in 'the being of a conscious subject', as less important than objective facts about 'stuff' when it comes to Oughts. The ability to experience as a conscious subject is key to morality, that should be our starting point.


The importance of overcoming moral objectivism lies in the danger of believing any moral judgements and values are or can be objective - matters of indisputable fact. That leads to the torturing of opponents, the murder of abortion practitioners, the flying of planes into buildings, and death camps - along with many other atrocities in our sorry history.
Spot on.

If God is dead, there is no higher, all-knowing, 'objective' authority to look to (for better or worse), like some perfect super-parent. So we need to assume responsibility for ourselves, and think afresh about what really matters, and why.

Peter Holmes
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Peter Holmes » July 15th, 2018, 6:11 am

Agreed, Gerite - and nicely expressed. But I suggest one clarification.

It would make absolutely no difference if there were a god - and we all knew. The claim 'this is objectively morally good (or bad) simply because a god says it is - or because it's consistent with its nature' - has no justification. The source of a moral judgement has no bearing on its 'correctness' or 'truth'. Moral judgements have no factual truth value - that's why they're not objective. A god's existence or non-existence is irrelevant.

Belindi
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Belindi » July 15th, 2018, 2:08 pm

Gertie wrote:
The importance of overcoming moral objectivism lies in the danger of believing any moral judgements and values are or can be objective - matters of indisputable fact. That leads to the torturing of opponents, the murder of abortion practitioners, the flying of planes into buildings, and death camps - along with many other atrocities in our sorry history.
Neither can empirical judgements be objective - matters of indisputable fact. Firstly there's the problem of induction . Next there's indomitable subjectivity.

Empirical judgements applied to life situations tend to be about efficiency. Thus one ought to sacrifice to the appropriate god to cause the monsoon to come and bring much needed water;it's immoral not to do so when it's the custom to do so. In many real life situations there is no difference between efficaceousness and goodness.

1.Information extracted under torture is unreliable. 2.Torturers become brutalised. 3. Members of the general public who know that the torturing is happening and who have not been brutalised get bad consciences and the national morale takes a turn for the worse.

1. and 2. are about how torture is inefficient. 3. is about why torture is immoral.It's immoral because it gives individuals guilty consciences and nightmares and spoils the national morale. 1. 2. and 3. can all be put into words using 'ought'.

I could draw a similar scenario for the other two atrocities which you name, Gertie. My conclusion is that subjectivity is such that it affects both empirical oughts and moral oughts , and that there is no absolute difference between the empirical ought and the moral ought.

Peter Holmes
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Peter Holmes » July 16th, 2018, 4:00 am

Hi, Belindi.

The point is: there are no empirical (objective, factually faslifiable) 'oughts'. The mistake of moral objectivism is to claim that there are.

Perhaps you agree, but I'm not sure.

Your expression 'empirical judgement' seems confused. If you're saying that we can't make objectively true factual assertions, I think that's wrong. And the so-called problem of induction is a separate issue that muddies the issue unnecessarily.

Belindi
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Belindi » July 16th, 2018, 5:18 am

Actually, Peter, people say empirical oughts quite often. For instance, "you ought to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day".This ought ultimately is subjective as it arises from the empirical criterion of maintaining health , and utlimately the subjective criterion that health is good.

Here's another example. " if you want to row faster you ought to feather your oars". It's backed by empirical evidence. It also connotes that the advice giver is an authority on rowing technique.
All utterances regardless of whether they are about techniques(empirical) or social relations(moral) are embedded within social situations and are therefore subjective.

It sometimes happens that the technical and the moral are intertwined as in religious rituals especially those that are magical and superstitious.

Oughts are about who is the boss or would be the boss, that's all.

I agree with you that there are no objective moral tenets. I'd add that neither are there totally objective empirical tenets. The difference between moral and empirical tenets is that the empirical tenets are less obviously subjective because they are usually subjected to reason and are falsifiable by reason. Whereas moral tenets are usually falsifiable only by appeals to God or some other authority. I submit that it's the direct appeal to authority that makes objectivity of moral tenets so dangerous for the subjects of autocrats. Societies that permit appeal to inductive reason are better for the ruled-over because the less powerful people in society can, theoretically. acquire the skills of reason.I say"theoretically" and I mean that education for all frees the ruled-over to become as powerful as the establishment.

Peter Holmes
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Peter Holmes » July 16th, 2018, 5:41 am

I disagree. That eating fruit and veg every day benefits health is a fact - a true factual assertion. That we should or ought to do so is a judgement, based on the fact. Same with feathering the blade: there's the physical fact, and the practical application if you want to row faster. I think you're using the word 'ought' in a different way. (By the way, are or were you a rower too?)

The claim 'all utterances are subjective' needs explaining with regard to the objective - subjective distinction. Why is the assertion 'the earth orbits the sun' subjective?

Belindi
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Belindi » July 16th, 2018, 6:25 am

Peter Holmes wrote:
July 16th, 2018, 5:41 am
I disagree. That eating fruit and veg every day benefits health is a fact - a true factual assertion. That we should or ought to do so is a judgement, based on the fact. Same with feathering the blade: there's the physical fact, and the practical application if you want to row faster. I think you're using the word 'ought' in a different way. (By the way, are or were you a rower too?)

The claim 'all utterances are subjective' needs explaining with regard to the objective - subjective distinction. Why is the assertion 'the earth orbits the sun' subjective?
Peter,I used to row but only pottering about on the sea loch never on those competition boats. I just liked learning how to row better and my brother taught me. Are you or were you a competition rower ?
Physical facts impress me as they do you. I wish to move moral tenets closer to assertions of physical facts. In the end we cannot know anything objectively.
" Earth orbits the Sun" is a physical fact. It's also well known that people can be mistaken in perceptions and frequently are.However "Earth orbits the Sun" is a proposition that's embedded in established received theory. I have not a clue how it could be falsified, however theoretically I trust that it could be falsified. By contrast 'Don't torture' is easily falsifiable and this ready means of falsification makes the moral tenet seem to be so much more subjective than the physical fact.

I didn't enjoy writing that last sentence. But I do know that the UK government was complicit in rendition of foreign nationals to countries where they could be tortured. And I expect that the government at that time was using the utilitarian principle.

I would like to explain myself as someone who viscerally fears and hates torture. So I'm motivated , if I cannot discover that 'Don't torture' is objective, at least I want to move it closer to an empirical fact that torture is wrong. I would not submit the question to The Bible or some other folk tradition and so I hope to find a reasoned way to explain that harmonising with nature is good and unnatural acts such as torturing are bad.

Peter Holmes
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Peter Holmes » July 16th, 2018, 6:56 am

'In the end we cannot know anything objectively.' But ' "Earth orbits the Sun" is a physical fact.' This looks like a contradiction to me - but I may not be understanding your distinction.

I agree that any factual assertion is falsifiable, because it claims something that may not be the case. But it doesn't follow that we can never know things and express that knowledge by means of true factual assertions, which we call 'facts'. If what we call a fact turns out to be false, that just means it never was a fact, so we were mistaken. But that doesn't mean that no facts are facts. We can know things objectively.

You're right that a moral assertion such as 'torture is wrong' expresses a value judgement, so it isn't a factual claim, so it has no truth value, is therefore unfalsifiable. That conclusion is the whole point of this discussion of moral objectivism. It's a profound mistake.

I rowed and coached, and my brother was a GB rowing Olympic gold medallist. We produced a technique manual that's still selling - which was why I thought you may have been alluding to it. Sorry - just a coincidence.

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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Belindi » July 16th, 2018, 8:00 am

Peter, I am sorry about the death of your brother at such a young age and I trust that the manual of rowing will help to perpetuate his memory.

"Earth orbits the Sun" is and "Torture is wrong" are both propositions. God believers and believers who are non-religious objectivists would say that "Torture is wrong" is true a priori. I say that "Torture is wrong is true a posteriori , as in fact "Earth orbits the Sun" is true a posteriori.

I'm sceptical enough that I claim that no a posteriori claim to knowledge whether that claim is empirical or moral can be absolutely and objectively true. As it happens I also believe that maths and formal logic are a priori systems which are within their limitations absolutely true beliefs.

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