Is morality objective or subjective?

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anonymous66
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by anonymous66 » July 28th, 2018, 2:39 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.
I'm using objective to mean not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.
So an action is not – and does not become - morally right or wrong just because someone believes it is.
I agree with you here. And if morality is objective, then an action does not become morally right or wrong just because someone believes it is. In the same way physical and mathematical facts do not become right or wrong just because of what someone believes.
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.
I agree with you here. And if morality is objective, then an action does not become morally right or wrong because of arguments from authority. In the same way physical and mathematical facts do not become right or wrong because of arguments from authority.

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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by RustyK4 » July 28th, 2018, 9:32 pm

Fooloso4 wrote:
July 28th, 2018, 1:04 pm
While I agree with Aristotle’s approach, I do not agree with your conclusion that morals and values are not subjective. The philosophical life may be the best life but it is a way of life of the few not the many. Put differently, if the philosophical life is the best life is only so for the best men. Eudaimonia cannot be separated from the particulars of the individual, not only in terms of external circumstances but in terms of the particulars of character and ability. The life to which I am best suited may not be the life to which you are best suited, although as human beings both ways of life will have a great deal in common.

Further, deliberation regarding what we ought to choose, determined in accord with the facts of the matter and the goal of flourishing, what Aristotle calls phronesis, is not an objective science. It is a matter of practical rather than noetic wisdom. In other words, Aristotle’s ethics does not yield clear, unambiguous, or objective answers to moral questions. That should not be taken as a shortcoming of his ethics but marks a limit of human knowing.
I agree that "Eudaimonia cannot be separated from the particulars of the individual, not only in terms of external circumstances but in terms of the particulars of character and ability." However, I disagree that "what Aristotle calls phronesis, is not an objective science". There might be limits to human knowing, but that does not detract from the fact that -- given the circumstances and particulars of character and ability -- there is an objective answer to "what is the right thing to do" even if discerning that is beyond our current human abilities in many cases. More to the point, in many cases discerning the objective thing to do is NOT beyond our current human capabilities. It may sometimes be open to argument and discussion, and perhaps to disagreements caused by ignorance of the facts of the matter, but pursuit of the objective facts of the matter can enlighten us to the extent of agreeing on the objective right thing to do. As long as we agree that the end pursuit of morality is the achievement of "flourishing".

Regrettably, many would not agree on that "summum bonum" of morality. Those who maintain a theistic concept of morality ("God makes the rules"), or an altruistic concept of morality ("the Other must benefit"), would be among those with whom we who have a Eudaimonistic conception of morality will always disagree.

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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by LuckyR » July 28th, 2018, 10:25 pm

Iapetus wrote:
July 28th, 2018, 4:40 am
Reply to Lucky R:

Odd that you should mix complex systems (jet aeroplanes), and quantum mechanics in a comment on the same subject.


I don’t see why that is at all odd. The ‘complex system’ was an example of something which was considered to be understood but which, in fact, contained an inherent fault. I could have used umpteen different examples. The reference to quantum mechanics was, again, incidental. The point – made by a famous scientist – was that, when we think we understand something, that understanding is often very far from perfect. I didn’t think I would have to explain all of that to you.

Metal fatigue was understood long before jets were built.


To a degree but not entirely. That is why the Comets crashed. The understanding as imperfect. That was the point of my example. One of the crashed Comets was reconstructed in a hangar and fatigue lines were found at the corners (?) of the windows. From then on, aircraft windows were designed to be rounded. That added to the incomplete sum of human knowledge.

If it was, then it does not violate my post since the prediction was better than pure chance yet not 100% accurate.


A determination that a prediction is ‘better than pure chance’ can only be made following an established protocol – usually a statistical test. The result produces a level of probability with inbuilt confidence levels which assume sources of error. The confidence levels are related to sample size. If a scientist achieved results of 100% then her/his peers would always assume a problem with sampling and would suggest a review of the procedure.

But you made the statement that, "if I succeed 100% of the time, I truly understand the issue and can claim that "this" causes "that"". That would be an extremely dangerous assumption to make. In the late 1950s and following scientific procedures, the drug thalidomide was introduced to relieve morning sickness in pregnant women. It was subsequently discovered that this produced a severe risk of birth deformities and the drug was taken off the market in 1961. It was believed that the drug was safe until it was discovered that it wasn’t and there was a delay between these two states. In between there was discovered a correlation. It was only later that a causal relationship was established, after which action was taken.

It was believed initially that thalidomide was ‘safe’. That does not mean that it was 'understood' and subsequent events demonstrated that it was not. A finding of 100% suggests that more work needs to be done, because the exception has not been discovered. If you need more examples, then I can certainly provide them.

As to quantum events, as you know there is uncertainty built into the issue. Therefore 100% accuracy of prediction of single events is not possible. Thus does not fall within the confines of my post, so you are free to substitute anything you want to address that.


Uncertainly, as you say, is built into the issue. But it is built into everything. Scientists assume it. Statistical tests assume it. One of the great values of scientific intervention is that is can often identify those uncertainties.

If your argument was that statistical procedures provide more confidence in our ability to make decisions, then that would be another thing entirely. But that is not what you were saying.
I will address your thalidomide comment in the interests of brevity. No one claimed to fully understand the performance of the drug in the offspring of pregnant users, since that had not been studied. It was ASSUMED to be safe, hence why it was used. The prediction that it was safe (without study) was 0% accurate and thus that example (and similar ones you write about, like square windows) fall out of the scope of my original comment on 100% accurate predictions that you are trying to address.
"As usual... it depends."

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LuckyR
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by LuckyR » July 28th, 2018, 10:34 pm

Iapetus wrote:
July 28th, 2018, 5:09 am
Reply to Lucky R:

Ultimately they come up with a formula that (retrospectively) "explains" or "predicts" PAST performance.


You’ve lost me a bit there.

A prediction is about the future. It has to be based on what has gone before because there is nothing else to go on. Some predictions can be extremely accurate because they are based on ‘reliable’ data. The definition of a second in time is related to the ground state of a caesium 133 atom, which has been demonstrated to be as reliable as anything we know of. That does not mean 100% reliable; just the best that we have. It will, in fact, decay eventually but in a ridiculous number of years. If we find a more reliable measure of time, then that may well replace the current measure.

Other predictions may be far less reliable but may still serve a useful purpose. If, for example, a patient with liver disease is told that she will probably not survive until her next birthday without a transplant and that the likelihood of the transplant leading to a survival of two years is 60%, then she may well take such an option. The importance here is not so much the level of the prediction but the confidence that such a prediction is accurate.

Thus everyone agrees that we understand influences on the stock market but do not possess a truly causal understanding of performance.


Everyone does not agree that we understand those influences. If somebody really did understand those influences, then they could control the world. What they might be able to identify is some of the contributory factors, but that is not the same thing. They may also be able to identify how some of those contributory factors work in combination. That does not mean that they understand the stock market. It might give them a competitive edge, which can be significant. Their predictions may be marginally more effective. That does not vaguely approach genuine understanding. Weather forecasters have learned a great deal about influences on the weather but they never claim complete understanding of the interactions. Any prediction is based on probability. Never certainty. Certainly never 100%.
I can tell by your response that I have failed to accurately communicate my ideas to you. If you use the "explains", instead of the "predicts", in your first quote, it is closer to what financial folks do when making investment algorhythms

And in the second quote, when I wrote "we understand those influences", I meant: "we understand that there are influences, even if no one fully understands how and to what degree they work". I thought that by using the example of the stock market (something that everyone knows is truly unpredictable) that I could take some verbal shortcuts. I guess I was mistaken. Sorry.
"As usual... it depends."

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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Fooloso4 » July 28th, 2018, 11:47 pm

RustyK4:
However, I disagree that "what Aristotle calls phronesis, is not an objective science". There might be limits to human knowing, but that does not detract from the fact that -- given the circumstances and particulars of character and ability -- there is an objective answer to "what is the right thing to do" even if discerning that is beyond our current human abilities in many cases.
I am not sure that our inability to find objective answers to moral questions at present is something that will change in the future. What advances in our abilities might lead to objective answers to questions such as abortion or euthanasia? What we value more is subject to change but I do not see anything that would yield objective knowledge of what we ought to value more. If we cannot find answers to these questions then we do not have an objective moral science. Speculation about what we might know at some future date cannot be the basis of an objective moral science. Certainly we can and should deliberate and decide for ourselves what seems best but what seems best does not yield objective knowledge and will not resolve differences.

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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Iapetus » July 29th, 2018, 3:20 am

Reply to RustyK4:

If the topic of discourse is getting you quickly from London to Paris, and I offer the assertion “You should take the chunnel-train”, I am expressing a judgement about the way you should behave. I could even offer the assertion “The right thing to do is take the chunnel-train.” Or even “It would be wrong for you to take the channel ferry.” These are all prescriptive assertions, but given the context of discourse, do have value.


To what extent does expressing your judgement makes it ‘objective’? I can understand that, if the judgement is made based solely on travel time then it can claim to be more objective than other judgements. But it is still an approximation. Somebody else might suggest that, all things being equal, the chunnel-train is more rapid, but it might be more inclined to unexpected delays or breakdowns which increase travel time. There are variables. The judgement may certainly have value but not absolute value relative to other options. You seem to be using ‘objective’ here in a relative way.

If morality has to do with achieving “flourishing” (however you choose to understand that concept), the moral assertions become hypothetical conditional assertions that are indeed truth apt.


I find the ”(however you choose to understand that concept)” to be intriguing. It sounds highly subjective. If we are talking about something as relatively simple as travel time, we might be able to agree on a simple measure – such as hours and minutes – to make the judgement more objective. How would you do this with ‘flourishing’, even if everybody agreed on this criterion, which is not necessarily the case? Does ‘objective’ require that a few people agree on the criterion or that everybody does? If this is truth apt, then I have no idea how ‘truth’ in this context could be demonstrated, even in theory.

The physical universe will determine whether the stated judgements are in fact true ways to achieve flourishing.


I am bewildered by this. Firstly, I doubt very strongly that any broad agreement can be reached that morality has to do with ‘flourishing’, particularly when many ‘believers’ insist that morality must based on a set of laws which are handed down and not questioned. Your statement is, in itself, subjective. Even if we accept the premise I can see no way in which agreement might be reached on what is required to assess ‘flourishing’. Let’s imagine that we try to keep it simple by choosing some basic measures. An ascetic requires solitude for contemplation. A zealot requires freedom for their particular religion but suppression of all others. A bacchanalian requires plenty of access to booze, nightclubs and so on. How would you go about resolving conflicts objectively? What is it about the physical universe which will, of itself, sort out anything?

We choose values, and value them, because we believe that they will contribute to our own "flourishing".


Yes, we choose values. Subjective. Based on our own concepts and requirements for ‘flourishing’. Subjective. Which are highly unlikely to be the same criteria as those chosen by others. Subjective.

If that is the case, the morals and values are not subjective.


How so?

They become objective facts of the matter.


I am unable to follow your line of reasoning.

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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Iapetus » July 29th, 2018, 3:43 am

Reply to Lucky R:

I can tell by your response that I have failed to accurately communicate my ideas to you. If you use the "explains", instead of the "predicts", in your first quote, it is closer to what financial folks do when making investment algorhythms


Thanks, Lucky. But I can’t see that this makes any significant difference. The ‘predictions’ are partial and imperfect and the ‘explanations’ would, similarly, be partial and imperfect. If anybody claimed a ‘100% explanation’, then it would not be long before evidence – related to predictions – disavowed them of that idea.

And in the second quote, when I wrote "we understand those influences", I meant: "we understand that there are influences, even if no one fully understands how and to what degree they work". I thought that by using the example of the stock market (something that everyone knows is truly unpredictable) that I could take some verbal shortcuts. I guess I was mistaken. Sorry.


Your amendment is something quite different. We understand that there are influences on any action or behaviour. As a statement it is meaningless. Your use of ‘understanding’ was directed at the ‘influences’. You could, of course, have written ‘understand partially’ or ‘understand incompletely’ but you didn’t. This is significant, because, previously, you wrote, "if I succeed 100% of the time, I truly understand the issue and can claim that "this" causes "that". That is a fact and true causality". It is that statement which I have been addressing all along.

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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Iapetus » July 29th, 2018, 8:48 am

Reply to Lucky R:

Sorry, Lucky; I missed this one.

I will address your thalidomide comment in the interests of brevity. No one claimed to fully understand the performance of the drug in the offspring of pregnant users, since that had not been studied. It was ASSUMED to be safe, hence why it was used. The prediction that it was safe (without study) was 0% accurate and thus that example (and similar ones you write about, like square windows) fall out of the scope of my original comment on 100% accurate predictions that you are trying to address%.

You have just made a post hoc assessment, and an inaccurate one at that. The drug had been tested for safety by Australian obstetrician Dr William McBride and, though not developed specifically for morning sickness, was advertised as “completely safe” for everyone, including mother and child, “even during pregnancy,” as its developers “could not find a dose high enough to kill a rat.” No scientist believed at the time that 100% confidence could be achieved, for reasons which I have already explained. However, as you probably know, confidence levels for statistical tests in such circumstances are always set above 95% and usually above 99%. That is not 100%. Nothing demonstrates that the confidence level was ‘0% accurate’ because, in most circumstances, the drug worked as required; it helped with morning sickness and had few recognisable after-effects. But, as we now know – being wise after the event – the margin of error was far too great.

Your comment that the drug was assumed to be safe simply reinforces my previous comment about ‘100%’ findings; “A finding of 100% suggests that more work needs to be done, because the exception has not been discovered”.

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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Felix » July 29th, 2018, 5:28 pm

Fooloso4: What advances in our abilities might lead to objective answers to questions such as abortion or euthanasia?
I think we have sufficient scientific evidence to make objective moral decisions about these subjects, e.g., knowledge of the human gestation cycle in the case of abortion.
Fooloso4: What we value more is subject to change but I do not see anything that would yield objective knowledge of what we ought to value more.
This is where Aristotle's concept of prescriptive truth can be applied: by determining what needs all human beings have in common, we can distinguish between real and apparent goods, and rank them accordingly. Clearly one must start with some sort of self-evident mission statement, Mortimer Adler's suggestion was: "We ought to do what is really good for us," which is based on Aristotle's maxim of right desire.
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by ThomasHobbes » July 29th, 2018, 5:47 pm

Felix wrote:
July 29th, 2018, 5:28 pm
Fooloso4: What advances in our abilities might lead to objective answers to questions such as abortion or euthanasia?
I think we have sufficient scientific evidence to make objective moral decisions about these subjects, e.g., knowledge of the human gestation cycle in the case of abortion.
LOL
Knowing the gestation period is nine months does not result in an objective choice about when abortion is morally abhorrent. Neither does the scientific knowledge about the painlessness of particular means of killing say anything about the "oughts" of euthanasia.

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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Felix » July 29th, 2018, 6:05 pm

LOL, Knowing the gestation period is nine months does not result in an objective choice about when abortion is morally abhorrent.
Well obviously one must know more than just the length of the gestation period, i.e., time of fertilization, development and implantation of the embryo in the uterus, when the fetus begins to form, etc., all of which is known. And of course before and after sex contraception exists.
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Fooloso4 » July 29th, 2018, 6:06 pm

Felix:
I think we have sufficient scientific evidence to make objective moral decisions about these subjects, e.g., knowledge of the human gestation cycle in the case of abortion.
And how does knowledge of the human gestation cycle solve the problem? As you say, we have sufficient knowledge of it and yet there is no consensus as to the morality of abortion.
This is where Aristotle's concept of prescriptive truth can be applied: by determining what needs all human beings have in common, we can distinguish between real and apparent goods, and rank them accordingly. Clearly one must start with some sort of self-evident mission statement, Mortimer Adler's suggestion was: "We ought to do what is really good for us," which is based on Aristotle's maxim of right desire.
What is really good for us? Is it good for us collectively and or individually to fight an unjust war? We might agree that justice is a real good, but what if we cannot agree as to whether that war is just or not? Is it really good for us to prolong a life by medical means at all costs? To prolong that life even if the person wishes to die? To force a fourteen year old victim of to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term? To force a farmer into bankruptcy by preventing him from farming because an endangered fish or toad is found on his land?

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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Steve3007 » July 30th, 2018, 4:56 am

Greta wrote:Murphy strikes again, alas. Ironically we have had incredibly clear skies (brilliant for watching the current daisy chain of planets at present) and the clouds did come here, but just behind the eclipse so we only lost the last five mins or so. On the plus side, since the only sensory aspect of stargazing is visual, you should theoretically be able to borrow the pixels of those with a better view without losing much more than bragging rights ... "I was there!" :)

Yes, in theory borrowing other people's pixels should be just as good as making one's own. It's interesting that it never quite is.
Felix wrote:Well obviously one must know more than just the length of the gestation period, i.e., time of fertilization, development and implantation of the embryo in the uterus, when the fetus begins to form, etc., all of which is known. And of course before and after sex contraception exists.
Knowledge of these kinds of things could be useful once we've already decided what we consider to be important. For example, if we think that avoiding causing suffering is the important thing then knowledge about the development of the nervous system could shed some light. But not always. If we decide that refraining from killing human beings or living things is important then I don't think any improvements in our knowledge about the development of human foetuses is going to help, because such knowledge will never get us to a point where we discover a sharp objective dividing line beyond which a new human being suddenly exists.

I think it's the fact that nature is continuous and lacks these objective dividing lines that's the problem there. We have to impose these lines because we often have to be make binary all-or-nothing decisions. To abort or not to abort, that is the question. And we have to classify things, to manage the complexity of the world. But those dividing lines will always be arbitrarily drawn by us on a continuum with no possibility of ever objectively identifying their "correct" position.

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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Thinking critical » July 30th, 2018, 8:45 am

The idea of objective morality creates somewhat of a paradox by definition, we are demanding a subjective judgement of something independent of the influence of the subjects biast.
As far as I can see the quest for moral superiority must be built on what we can show to be inherently true in regards to the wellbeing of humans based on a fundamental condition.

First we need to address the cognitive predisposition which conditions us to have an innate sense of specific behaviours and acts which even in the absence of prior knowledge we still know are inherently wrong.
As I have stated in a previous post it is an emperical fact that no living creature on the planet with the ability to experience physical pain and suffering, will intentionally and knowingly put itself into a position which will result in immense life threatening agonising pain, just for the sake of it. Life has evolved with a survival instinct to ensure that this type of behaviour does not occur. The fact that survival is an innate quality of living things (in that we are born with a predisposed instinct to survive) we can successfully argue that the will to live drives the fundamental nature of evolution, concluding that nature itself demands that we must survive and has programmed us to do it without intentionally causing grevious bodily harm to ourselves. Meaning we are inherently aware (to a degree) how to live the right way in accordance with nature.

Next we need to consider what it means to express a right or wrong emotional response. It can be clearly demonstrated that such qualities are specific to living things, so it makes sense the terms good and bad relative to moral judgements describe the mental state of those living things. Immense pain and suffering is definitively described as bad and any improvement in mental state due to less pain and suffering is consequently less bad, eventually :( moving up the scale to an arbitrary sense of good.

Therefore we can conclude morality derives from an innate sense of healthy survival instinct which also consequently ensures the mental well being of living things.
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Re: Is morality objective or subjective?

Post by Iapetus » July 30th, 2018, 2:16 pm

Reply to Felix:

This is where Aristotle's concept of prescriptive truth can be applied: by determining what needs all human beings have in common, we can distinguish between real and apparent goods, and rank them accordingly. Clearly one must start with some sort of self-evident mission statement, Mortimer Adler's suggestion was: "We ought to do what is really good for us," which is based on Aristotle's maxim of right desire.


The problem with ‘self-evident’ statements is that they are so often not self-evident. It seems to me self-evident that "We ought to do what is really good for us” is one such statement because it contains so many vague variables. Does the ‘we’ refer to individuals? If so, then does it suggest that the needs of the individual take precedence over the needs of the many? There is certainly conflict in such a suggestion, yet Adler makes much play out of his assertion that truth can be identified by lack of contradiction. Infuriatingly, he is extremely reluctant to offer clear examples.

Does the ‘ought’ derive from the social need? If so, then the first contradiction – between individual and social needs – is identified automatically. If not, then where does it come from?

Does it derive from what is ‘really good’? This sounds to me incredibly silly and quite useless. If we define ‘really good’ generally as something which benefits everybody then, firstly, it refers to an ideal which is impossible to identify. Secondly, it completely ignores the possibility that what is ‘really good’ for one person might be ‘really bad’ for somebody else. Thirdly, it is a self-fulfilling argument which leads us nowhere. My automatic response to a statement such as this is to ask for examples because I find it so unconvincing.

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