What could make morality objective?

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fionaimmodest
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Re: What could make morality objective?

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I know of no objective moral philosophy that is not derived from some belief system However, something cannot be objective if based on something that is non-falsifiable.
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Re: What could make morality objective?

Post by GE Morton »

CalebB wrote: May 1st, 2021, 4:41 pm Objective morality can be achieved if one's moral values ultimately lead to the wellbeing of yourself and the conscious beings in your society.

If we can scientifically determine how to promote the physical and psychological wellbeing of a person, then we can get an idea for what behaviors and values are objectively moral.
And there's the rub. We can't "scientifically determine" what promotes the physical and psychological well-being of a person, because what promotes well-being is different for each person. That's the flaw in Harris' thesis. What promotes well-being is satisfaction of each person's interests, values, and tastes, all of which are subjective and wildly variable from person to person. They are not limited to Harris' lists of things considered essential by "experts" for a hypothetical, "generic" person. Evel Knieval gladly risked life and limb to pursue his passion; mendicant monks forego everything on Harris' list to please their God; for some, careers, social connections, etc., are anathema; they prefer a hermetic existence.

A rational, objective morality must take this subjectivity of values into account.
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Re: What could make morality objective?

Post by GE Morton »

Peter Holmes wrote: May 2nd, 2021, 1:59 am
It seems to me that Harris and Dillahunty gloss over the choice of goal - 'if morality isn't about everyone's well-being, then what else can it be about?' - in order to move on to facts, and therefore, supposedly, moral objectivity.
We've covered this. You may call any code of conduct someone might adopt a "morality," if you wish. That is a common understanding of that term. Those are "private moralities." But Harris is right that public moralities --- sets of principles and rules governing interactions between moral agents in a social setting --- as considered by most philosophers over the centuries, do indeed have the aim he assumes.

Harris's problem is not with the purpose of morality he assumes, but with his failure to realize that what promotes well-being is subjective and idiosyncratic.
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Re: What could make morality objective?

Post by GE Morton »

Peter Holmes wrote: May 2nd, 2021, 2:25 am
I've explained why your argument is fallacious. You agree an 'is' can't entail an 'ought'.

And anyway, you think 'ought' is merely instrumental, denoting goal-consistency but not obligation - so that entailment is irrelevant.

And yet you claim the 'is' of having a goal entails the 'ought' of pursuing it, without begging the question.
I've answered all those points. "Is" cannot entail the "moral ought." It can entail an instrumental "ought." Having a goal entails taking actions to achieve it. In, "If you wish to drive a nail, you ought to use a hammer," the "ought" only means, "the hammer will help you achieve your goal; it is the best tool for the job at hand." It does not imply any obligation to use a hammer.

At least, not a "moral" obligation. There are other kinds of obligations, however, such as logical obligations. E.g., "If you accept the premises and the reasoning is sound then you're obligated to accept the conclusion."

We need to de-mystify morality, and begin approaching it as a pragmatic endeavor, as an engineering problem, not different from building a bridge or designing a set rules for a highway system, all of which problems involve deciding what it is we wish to accomplish --- setting a goal --- and then devising the best way to achieve it.
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Re: What could make morality objective?

Post by GE Morton »

Peter Holmes wrote: May 3rd, 2021, 5:30 am
Okay, I'll rephrase it: making a promise doesn't mean having to keep it; and having a goal doesn't mean having to pursue it. We can choose to keep or break a promise - or to pursue or ignore a goal. If 'ought' is merely instrumental, there's no obligation is either case.
What would count as "having to keep it"? If it means you are somehow forced to keep it, then you're right; making a promise cannot physically force a future action upon you. But if "have to keep it" means "not contradicting/falsifying your earlier statement," then you are logically obligated to keep it.

And, yes, as I said before, having a goal entails taking actions to accomplish it, by virtue of the definition of "goal."
Of course, I don't think moral 'ought' is instrumental, because moral objectivism is the claim that there are moral facts regardless of goals. And moral objectivism can't be rescued by denying its core premise.
I'm not sure whose definition of "moral objectivism" you have in mind. In my view there are no moral facts independent of goals, but given a moral goal, then whether particular rules or actions further that goal are moral facts.
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Re: What could make morality objective?

Post by Peter Holmes »

GE Morton wrote: May 3rd, 2021, 10:39 am
Peter Holmes wrote: May 2nd, 2021, 2:25 am
I've explained why your argument is fallacious. You agree an 'is' can't entail an 'ought'.

And anyway, you think 'ought' is merely instrumental, denoting goal-consistency but not obligation - so that entailment is irrelevant.

And yet you claim the 'is' of having a goal entails the 'ought' of pursuing it, without begging the question.
I've answered all those points. "Is" cannot entail the "moral ought." It can entail an instrumental "ought." Having a goal entails taking actions to achieve it. In, "If you wish to drive a nail, you ought to use a hammer," the "ought" only means, "the hammer will help you achieve your goal; it is the best tool for the job at hand." It does not imply any obligation to use a hammer.
No, you haven't answered these points. And here you merely restate the contradiction. You say there is no such thing as the 'moral ought' - so what 'ought' is it that an 'is' can't entail? Truth is, you're trying to have your cake and eat it. An 'is' can't entail any 'ought', so it can't entail an instrumental 'ought'. After all, you say there are only instrumental oughts.

At least, not a "moral" obligation. There are other kinds of obligations, however, such as logical obligations. E.g., "If you accept the premises and the reasoning is sound then you're obligated to accept the conclusion."
Not so. The point is that the conclusion of a valid and sound argument is true, whatever your opinion. And to repeat: if, as you claim, there is no such thing as a special moral obligation - no special moral 'ought' - this is irrelevant.

We need to de-mystify morality, and begin approaching it as a pragmatic endeavor, as an engineering problem, not different from building a bridge or designing a set rules for a highway system, all of which problems involve deciding what it is we wish to accomplish --- setting a goal --- and then devising the best way to achieve it.
No, what we need to do is stop claiming that there are moral facts - and producing unsound arguments to support that false claim.
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Re: What could make morality objective?

Post by Peter Holmes »

GE Morton wrote: May 3rd, 2021, 10:57 am
Peter Holmes wrote: May 3rd, 2021, 5:30 am
Okay, I'll rephrase it: making a promise doesn't mean having to keep it; and having a goal doesn't mean having to pursue it. We can choose to keep or break a promise - or to pursue or ignore a goal. If 'ought' is merely instrumental, there's no obligation is either case.
What would count as "having to keep it"? If it means you are somehow forced to keep it, then you're right; making a promise cannot physically force a future action upon you. But if "have to keep it" means "not contradicting/falsifying your earlier statement," then you are logically obligated to keep it.
No, your analysis is incorrect. Only an assertion with a truth-value can be verified or falsified. And the truth-value of 'I promise to do X' is determined by whether or not I do, in fact, make that promise - not by whether I keep the promise. Arguably, the factual prediction 'I will do X' is verified or falsified by whether or not I actually do X - but that's a different kind of assertion.

And I have no idea what you mean by the expression 'logical obligation'. Perhaps you're confusing reality with linguistic expressions, which is what you pointed out I was doing when I said that having a goal doesn't entail keeping it.

And, yes, as I said before, having a goal entails taking actions to accomplish it, by virtue of the definition of "goal."
No, this claim is false.
Of course, I don't think moral 'ought' is instrumental, because moral objectivism is the claim that there are moral facts regardless of goals. And moral objectivism can't be rescued by denying its core premise.
I'm not sure whose definition of "moral objectivism" you have in mind. In my view there are no moral facts independent of goals, but given a moral goal, then whether particular rules or actions further that goal are moral facts.
No, there are no moral facts, full stop. If 'ought' is both instrumental and non-obligatory, as you claim, then we're not obliged to pursue any goal, including a moral goal. The claim 'if we want goal Y, then we ought to do X' can only be advisory. This is your own argument.
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Re: What could make morality objective?

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Harris's problem is not with the purpose of morality he assumes, but with his failure to realize that what promotes well-being is subjective and idiosyncratic.
Fair enough. What aids one person to reach their ultimate state of well-being can be different to another person.
Its kind of like saying that one psychology book can treat all depression. It's always best to seek professional therapy because the remedy needs to be customized to the person's cognitive problems.

It is still important to evaluate your personal values and consider whether they would promote your well-being, but that would be a private morality.
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Re: What could make morality objective?

Post by GE Morton »

Peter Holmes wrote: May 3rd, 2021, 2:44 pm
No, you haven't answered these points. And here you merely restate the contradiction. You say there is no such thing as the 'moral ought' - so what 'ought' is it that an 'is' can't entail?
"There is no moral ought" was a gloss. There is a concept of a "moral ought." But it is a spurious, unanalyzable, non-viable concept. It needs to be abandoned.
Truth is, you're trying to have your cake and eat it. An 'is' can't entail any 'ought', so it can't entail an instrumental 'ought'. After all, you say there are only instrumental oughts.
Well, you're being dogmatic. An "is" can indeed entail an "ought," in the instrumental sense. "Oughts" in that sense do not imply any "moral" obligation; they merely assert that doing X will further some end, or is the best means for furthering that end among options presently available. In fact, most uses of "ought" in common conversation don't assert or imply any obligation: "You ought to see that movie," "You ought to try that new restaurant," "You ought to get one of those for your kid," etc. They all merely assert that the action proffered will further some goal or interest you have.
Not so. The point is that the conclusion of a valid and sound argument is true, whatever your opinion.
Yep. Hence you're logically (but not "morally") obliged to accept it.
No, what we need to do is stop claiming that there are moral facts - and producing unsound arguments to support that false claim.
Is a set of rules intended to govern interactions between moral agents in a social setting, with the aim of securing and advancing the welfare of those agents, not a "morality"? If not, perhaps you can give us your definition of that term.

If it is a morality, and rule or action X furthers that end, is that not a moral fact? If not, what disqualifies it from that label?
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Re: What could make morality objective?

Post by GE Morton »

Peter Holmes wrote: May 3rd, 2021, 3:08 pm
No, your analysis is incorrect. Only an assertion with a truth-value can be verified or falsified. And the truth-value of 'I promise to do X' is determined by whether or not I do, in fact, make that promise - not by whether I keep the promise.
Oh, you're quite mistaken. The truth value of "Alfie promised to do X" is determined by whether or not he made the promise --- whether he uttered those words --- but "I promise to do X" is not a proposition at all --- it is a verbal act, a "performative." It has no truth value. It does entail the proposition, "I will do X in the future," however. You might want to read Austin's "How to do things with words."

https://pure.mpg.de/rest/items/item_227 ... 30/content
And, yes, as I said before, having a goal entails taking actions to accomplish it, by virtue of the definition of "goal."
No, this claim is false.
Well, I've given you the common definition of "goal." Since failing to act on an alleged goal is obviously inconsistent with that definition, I can only assume you have some eclectic definition of your own. What would that be?
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Re: What could make morality objective?

Post by Peter Holmes »

GE Morton wrote: May 4th, 2021, 2:06 pm
Peter Holmes wrote: May 3rd, 2021, 3:08 pm
And, yes, as I said before, having a goal entails taking actions to accomplish it, by virtue of the definition of "goal."
No, this claim is false.
Well, I've given you the common definition of "goal." Since failing to act on an alleged goal is obviously inconsistent with that definition, I can only assume you have some eclectic definition of your own. What would that be?
The condition 'which must be pursued' is not in any definition of the word 'goal' that I've come across. Do you have one with that stipulation?
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Re: What could make morality objective?

Post by CIN »

GE Morton wrote: May 4th, 2021, 1:47 pm
Peter Holmes wrote: May 3rd, 2021, 2:44 pm An 'is' can't entail any 'ought', so it can't entail an instrumental 'ought'. After all, you say there are only instrumental oughts.
Well, you're being dogmatic. An "is" can indeed entail an "ought," in the instrumental sense. "Oughts" in that sense do not imply any "moral" obligation; they merely assert that doing X will further some end, or is the best means for furthering that end among options presently available. In fact, most uses of "ought" in common conversation don't assert or imply any obligation: "You ought to see that movie," "You ought to try that new restaurant," "You ought to get one of those for your kid," etc. They all merely assert that the action proffered will further some goal or interest you have.
Seems to me this entire conversation is merely reinventing the Kantian wheel. An 'instrumental ought' is just a hypothetical imperative couched in 'ought' language in place of 'do' language. If instrumental oughts "merely assert that doing X will further some end", then the ought is not entailed by the person having that end, it is merely appropriate to them having that end. In fact I would suggest that this entire discussion is rather missing the point about morality. Moral principles are not entailed by facts, they are appropriate to facts. When I see that my dog is hungry, that does not entail that I ought to feed him, but my feeding him is an appropriate thing to do. Morality really is not about entailments, and it's a waste of time trying to force it into that Procrustean bed; it's about the recognition that, as a fact of nature, some actions are appropriate responses to some facts. The error in objectivism is to claim that obligations are facts; the error in subjectivism is to claim that obligations are subjective preference. They are actually neither; they are responses whose appropriateness is dictated by nature, rather than by personal preference.
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Re: What could make morality objective?

Post by Peter Holmes »

CIN wrote: May 4th, 2021, 7:14 pm
GE Morton wrote: May 4th, 2021, 1:47 pm
Peter Holmes wrote: May 3rd, 2021, 2:44 pm An 'is' can't entail any 'ought', so it can't entail an instrumental 'ought'. After all, you say there are only instrumental oughts.
Well, you're being dogmatic. An "is" can indeed entail an "ought," in the instrumental sense. "Oughts" in that sense do not imply any "moral" obligation; they merely assert that doing X will further some end, or is the best means for furthering that end among options presently available. In fact, most uses of "ought" in common conversation don't assert or imply any obligation: "You ought to see that movie," "You ought to try that new restaurant," "You ought to get one of those for your kid," etc. They all merely assert that the action proffered will further some goal or interest you have.
Seems to me this entire conversation is merely reinventing the Kantian wheel. An 'instrumental ought' is just a hypothetical imperative couched in 'ought' language in place of 'do' language. If instrumental oughts "merely assert that doing X will further some end", then the ought is not entailed by the person having that end, it is merely appropriate to them having that end. In fact I would suggest that this entire discussion is rather missing the point about morality. Moral principles are not entailed by facts, they are appropriate to facts. When I see that my dog is hungry, that does not entail that I ought to feed him, but my feeding him is an appropriate thing to do. Morality really is not about entailments, and it's a waste of time trying to force it into that Procrustean bed; it's about the recognition that, as a fact of nature, some actions are appropriate responses to some facts. The error in objectivism is to claim that obligations are facts; the error in subjectivism is to claim that obligations are subjective preference. They are actually neither; they are responses whose appropriateness is dictated by nature, rather than by personal preference.
Thanks, but why is 'appropriatenss dictated by nature' any different from standard moral objectivism?

'If your dog's hungry, then (it's a fact that) you ought to feed it.'

'If you make a promise, then (it's a fact that) you ought to keep it.'

'If you have a goal, then (it's a fact that) you ought to pursue it.'

What makes the consequent 'appropriate' in these hypotheticals?
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Re: What could make morality objective?

Post by CIN »

Peter Holmes wrote: May 5th, 2021, 12:58 am Thanks, but why is 'appropriatenss dictated by nature' any different from standard moral objectivism?

'If your dog's hungry, then (it's a fact that) you ought to feed it.'

'If you make a promise, then (it's a fact that) you ought to keep it.'

'If you have a goal, then (it's a fact that) you ought to pursue it.'

What makes the consequent 'appropriate' in these hypotheticals?
Thanks for replying. Let me start by apologising for the fact that my posts here are likely to be infrequent, owing to heavy commitments outside this forum. If this gets annoying, tell me and I will leave the discussion. I'm not here to annoy people.

'Standard moral objectivism'. Well, I'm not happy about 'standard', so with your indulgence, I'll pick a definition which offers some kind of detail and will also suit my purposes here:
"Moral Objectivism holds that there are objective, universal moral principles that are valid for all people." (https://www.indianhills.edu/_myhills/co ... tivism.pdf)
This definition implies that if a moral principle is valid for all people, then it is an objective principle. So the question is, what would make a moral principle valid for all people? I'll take 'people' to mean 'humans'. What would make a moral principle valid for all humans?

Let's ask a slightly different question. Suppose I define 'prudential' to mean the same as 'moral', except that it applies to oneself rather than others. So, for example, a moral obligation would be an obligation to others, and a prudential obligation would be an obligation to oneself.

Now, suppose you have been working day and night on your philosophy posts for this forum and neglecting your meals, and as a result you have become ill; and suppose your nearest and dearest comes to you and says, 'Peter, you owe it to yourself to eat something.' If this is true, then this is a prudential obligation. My view is that it would be unreasonable to deny that it is true. It would not be reasonable to reply, 'Well, I would owe it to myself if objectivism were true, but it isn't.' The point here is that nature has made you so that you need food, and the same goes for all humans. It's because of this need that you have a built-in obligation to yourself to eat food sometimes. (To pick up my word 'appropriate', eating is an appropriate thing to do when you are hungry.) Since the same would go for anyone else in your position, this prudential obligation passes the test for being a universal prudential principle, and is therefore objective.

I claim to have established an objective 'ought' here, an 'ought' that follows from an 'is'. The bridge between the two, the bridge across the supposedly unbridgeable gap, is provided by nature; we are what we are because nature has made us that way, and this means that we have certain natural properties, and these are universal across all humans; and these, therefore, following the above definition of 'objective', confer a certain objectivity on the principles that relate to them. It's not the kind of objectivity that you find in mathematical theorems, but it's universal among humans, and that will do for the kind of objectivity given in the definition I adopted above.

If this can be done for a prudential 'ought', can it also be done for a moral 'ought'? I think it can. As I defined them above, the ONLY difference between a moral principle and a prudential one is that the first applies to our treatment of others, and the second to our treatment of ourselves. Now if this is the ONLY difference, the other features of my scenario should carry over into a moral rather than a prudential version of the scenario. Thus, if you are unable to feed yourself, there is still an obligation: that is not removed by your own inability to meet it. And so your prudential obligation to feed yourself is replaced by a moral obligation on your nearest and dearest (or whoever else might be in a position to do it) to feed you.

Let me now return to your initial questions:
'If your dog's hungry, then (it's a fact that) you ought to feed it.'

'If you make a promise, then (it's a fact that) you ought to keep it.'

'If you have a goal, then (it's a fact that) you ought to pursue it.'

What makes the consequent 'appropriate' in these hypotheticals?
I'm not going to say anything about the second and third of these, because they introduce complexities which at this stage I want to avoid. Let's concentrate on the first one:
'If your dog's hungry, then (it's a fact that) you ought to feed it.'
Let's go, as before, via a prudential equivalent:
'If you're hungry, then (it's a fact that) you ought (=owe it to yourself) to feed yourself.'
I maintain that this is true. You do owe it to yourself to feed yourself if you are hungry, because when you are hungry, your health is either in deficit or in danger of becoming so. The situation here is like your bank balance being in deficit; if your balance is in deficit, then you owe money to the bank. In the same way, if your health is in deficit, then you owe something to yourself (in this case, food). That's what we mean when we say 'ought'; we mean that somebody owes somebody something, because somewhere, there's a deficit to be made up.

Now. about my dog. He is hungry, and so his health is in deficit (or likely to become so). If he could use the can opener, then he would owe it to himself to open the can and feed himself. Since he can't, the obligation to meet the deficit (or threatened deficit) in his health must devolve on anyone who is in a position to meet it; in this case, me. So what would be a prudential obligation for my dog, were he able to meet it, becomes a moral obligation for me.

I think people who aren't philosophers (what we rather arrogantly call 'ordinary people') understand all this better than most philosophers do. Virtually all 'ordinary people' understand that if you are hungry, you owe it to yourself to eat. A smaller number of 'ordinary people', but still a very large number, thankfully, understand that if someone else is hungry and can't feed themselves, the rest of us owe it to them to feed them.

Thanks for reading (if you got this far). Over to you.
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Re: What could make morality objective?

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CalebB wrote: May 1st, 2021, 4:41 pm Objective morality can be achieved if one's moral values ultimately lead to the wellbeing of yourself and the conscious beings in your society.

If we can scientifically determine how to promote the physical and psychological wellbeing of a person, then we can get an idea for what behaviors and values are objectively moral.
The problem with this approach is that what counts as wellbeing, or what counts as a normative (in the sense of a goal-oriented, should/ought-to-achieve state), isn't objective. That all depends on preferences.
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