Conflated and Misunderstood Terms – Volume 3: Objective / Subjective – Morals / Morality

This article is to define and discuss objective and subjective, morals and morality. As with any article on AiR we don’t always agree. Where science is concerned and the evidence is irrefutable we of course accept and believe it to be true. When it is opinion or something philosophical we may have differences. As such I am glad we have a philosophy masters student in our midst. He has helped me bridge the gap between some ideas and misconceptions I had with academic definitions. My fellow authors may not agree with me on this but we pride ourselves on our reason, reasoning, and being reasonable. Hopefully this article will give us pause for thought and we will all learn something from it.

Self improvement and scepticism

I’ve been on a bit of a self improvement kick recently. I’ve noted a number of faulty arguments and definitions we atheists and agnostics seem to use. A few years ago Kriss put together an article on faulty atheist arguments. I have been undertaking my conflated and misunderstood terms series. We consider ourselves the more rational, as we hold the more rational position, but I have noticed serious resistance when pointing these faulty arguments and definitions out.

There seems to be something that prevents us from looking in to our position again. I think one element is respect. I think another element is wanting to know more. When we have looked in to something a lot can lose interest. We assume we know everything on the topic, forgetting the nuance. Sometimes we don’t respect the person or their position and we don’t listen to them.

{Dave’s Notes: Part of being a sceptic is to question our own deepest held beliefs, knowledge, and what we claim to know. Checking that our beliefs are correct, coherent, and consistent, is something that all sceptics should do. Often times we pick up information from various circles that we travel in, and from people that we hold a lot of respect for. Sometimes that information is wrong. That it comes from someone we respect, or is a commonly held belief in whichever circle we belong, sometimes tricks us into thinking it must be accurate, and this leads us to not question it, and even defend it. These are the beliefs, ideas, and concepts that people that consider themselves to be sceptics should be questioning. It is a good idea to question these kinds of beliefs, ideas, and concepts even if you do not consider yourself to be a sceptic.}

In fact to quote the co-author of this article:

The first step towards the acquisition of knowledge of course is an interest in the topic at hand. If we are not interested in the topic then we will rarely seek out the knowledge. Sometimes it is curiosity, other times it is necessity, but it is usually some kind of interest that begins our journey.

Dave Mark Rowlands
Changing A Mind: Respect Matters (Nov 2016)
https://www.answers-in-reason.com/misc/changing-mind-respect-matters/

Contents

My Personal Journey into Objective Morals and Morality

I admit that my journey and conversations in to objective morality and morals were hindered by a lack of interest, and a lack of respect. The only arguments I heard in favour of objective morality were arguments from theists claiming the morals were from God. I had no respect, because they were arguing from an irrational position.

The best conversation, prior to one with Dave, I had with someone about objective morals was when I stated, “the closest thing I can see to an objective moral is a scale of harm from an evolutionary survival perspective, with a level of nuance, as well as the general well being of the populace.”

The person then responded, along the lines of, “and where do you think that comes from?”

They were arguing from a God perspective, trying to make it that my morals “were written on my heart”, given by God.

I concluded that because:
1. the thoughts came from my head
2. others did not agree with my scale
My scale was subjective, not objective.

In fact this is a faulty understanding of what objective is. So let’s cover the definitions, and delve deeper in to their meaning.

Definitions of Objective, Subjective, Morals and Morality

You should note the words below have many definitions and those supplied are the ones that relate specifically to this topic.

Subjective and Objective Morals and Morality
Objective vs Subjective

Objective

Not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

Subjective

Based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.

Moral

Standards of behaviour; principles of right and wrong.

Morality

A particular system of values and principles of conduct.

Principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour.

In short, the overarching group of morals.

An Objective Standard

So, the standard of morality I had provided was an objective standard. It wasn’t a personal opinion, it was based in part on science, our survival, and the general well being of people where there is no harm.

I also had the misunderstanding that an objective moral had to be correct – but how could something be correct without a subjective view?

Well, it isn’t about right or wrong, it is about an objective standard.

As Dave explains:

{Dave’s notes: Joe explains the differences very well here, but let me throw in a couple of comments. There are many that claim that morality is subjective because it comes from a mind, and anything that comes from the mind is subjective. While this statement is not technically incorrect, because one of the definitions of subjective is ‘that which comes from a mind’, that is not how the term is used in moral philosophy. In moral philosophy, when we speak of ‘subjective morality’ and ‘morals being subjective’, what we are speaking of is morality being based on personal opinion as per the definition given by Joe here. So, in other words, whatever the moral agent believes to be moral is moral.

This means that if morality is subjective in nature, then a person that believes that kidnapping and raping small children for fun is a moral act, then when that person does said act they have behaved morally. One could argue here that there are those that do not believe that kidnapping and raping small children for fun is a moral act, and so that means that the other person has behaved immorally.

However, that would be misunderstanding what subjective morality actually is. It is true that it would be an immoral act for the person that believes that it is not moral to kidnap and rape small children, however that has no bearing on anyone else. No matter how many people believe that kidnapping and raping small children is immoral, if morality is subjective then it is a moral act for anything that believes it is a moral act. To argue against it is not to give a normative statement, it is not to say ‘no, you have behaved wrongly’, it is simply to say ‘well I believe it is wrong’.

If morality is subjective then it also means statements like ‘the Bible is not a good source of morality’ are false statements. All sources of morality are just as good as each other if morality is subjective. For all that it takes to be a good source of morality is for an agent to believe that it is a good source of morality. There are no standards of judgement to appeal to so that it could be said that anything was not a good source of morality. The Bible is as good a source of morality as the Qu’ran, which is as good a source of morality as secular morality, which is as good a source of morality as the code of an organised crime gang running child prostitutes.}

So what does that mean for my standard on harm?

So my moral standard on harm, is not subjective, it is objective.

However, it does not fully qualify as a correct objective standard. This is not because it is wrong, there is enough evidence to back it up, but it IS incomplete.

A vaccination causes harm, but is ultimately amoral or even moral.

For example a vaccination causes harm in the short term. You get a small prick in your arm (oi oi). You can feel sick for a few days after. However it not only protects the self but others around you from disease. We are protecting the species. The long term effect outweighs the short term harm. The short term harm is amoral, and the long term effect makes it a moral action.

So we can modify this standard to being a reduction in harm for the long term benefit of the species.

Amoral Harm

We then have other forms of harm, that largely harm the self. Drinking, Smoking (except for 2nd hand smoke), and even drugs, all in moderation are neither moral or immoral. They are amoral. The same can be said for BDSM.

Again we have to modify our objective standard on harm. An objective standard, especially a correct objective standard, is completely nuanced. In fact I am oversimplifying it, but in short if a moral is built on more than personal opinion, e.g. using scientific evidence, then it becomes objective.

Conclusion 1: Morals are objective

Whilst people might have a subjective moral, they are not ever held in this regard. If they were, anyone could do anything because they felt it was moral. An Objective moral might start subjectively but is built on by so much more.

Remember Dave’s example above. If morals can be held to a subjective standard, anyone can do anything and claim it is moral, and this just isn’t the case.

A subjective moral example

“I don’t like people doing x. I think x is icky. x is immoral.”

Pure opinion.

An objective moral example

“I don’t think it is right to do x. x not only affects the person, but folks around them in a negative way. In fact it can have an ongoing effect that lasts for generations which we can see by studies in psychology that prove the x behaviour causes an insurmountable number of issues.”

Has a basis outside personal opinion.

So Morals are Objective, what about Morality?

Again this one seemed like such a puzzle to me that morality was objective. Even if we had objective morals, surely the standard of morality provided came from us? Does that not mean they are subjective?

{Dave’s notes: The standard of morality provided does come from us, kind of. More specifically it comes from moral philosophy, and arguments for moral systems. Morality is, essentially, the study of right and wrong behaviour, what are good and bad actions. So, the standard of morality comes from a mind. However, this takes us back to the different definitions as stated previously. Bearing that in mind, what makes morality objective rather than subjective.

This one is a little trickier than objective morals. There are several normative moral systems that exist, like hedonism, utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, virtue ethics, preference satisfaction, and more. One could argue here that the fact that we choose our preferred system makes morality subjective. While it may be true that we end up choosing our preferred moral system, this still does not make morality itself subjective. Why is it still not subjective though?

It is still not subjective because while the individual may be convinced by particular arguments for what morality itself is, it those arguments that define morality; and the agent may even be convinced by an erroneous version of morality. For example, Hedonists define morality as being defined by actions that produce pleasure, happiness, and/or remove suffering (depending on their version of Hedonism). However, this may not be an accurate definition of what makes something moral. It may be virtue ethics that is correct, or utilitarianism, or preference satisfaction, or it may be more cosmopolitan. Us choosing what defines something as moral does not necessarily make what we chose correct, which would have to be the case if what defines morality is subjective. What defines morality is beyond personal opinion, even if we have not yet come to the correct conclusion.

Another way to look at it

To add to what Dave says, if we consider morality to be a group of behaviours (morals), even if all of these individual behaviours were held to a subjective standard, the over arching group on their definition would still be above opinion. So really, no matter if morals are subjective or objective, morality is still objective.

Conclusion 2: Morality is Objective

{Dave’s notes: There are obviously many different arguments around morality. There are those that argue that morality is subjective, relative, objective, and some even argue from a more Nihilist point of view; declaring that talk of morality is meaningless. However, these are the reasons why I consider morality to be objective (not based in personal opinion), rather than subjective (based on personal opinion):

1) Morality is the study of right and wrong actions. If morality is based entirely on personal opinion then it can never tell us what actually are right and wrong actions. It can only tell us what people’s opinions of right and wrong actions are.

2) If morality is based entirely on personal opinion then raping and torturing small children for fun and pleasure is moral so long as the agent believes it is moral, slavery is moral so long as people believe it is moral, and throwing homosexuals off of tall buildings simply because they are homosexual is moral so long as people believe it is moral. This could be considered a fallacy of affirming the consequent of course, because we are saying P must be true because otherwise p.

However, we argue as if these things are categorically wrong. So therefore there is a certain intuition about morality that makes it appear as though there are standards of judgement that exist beyond personal opinion. We argue that these things are wrong because of P, with P being the standards of judgement for moral actions. So we are not necessarily arguing that morality must be objective because otherwise these things would be considered wrong. We are argument that this things are generally considered to be categorically wrong, so therefore there must be standards of judgement to morality that exist beyond personal opinion.

3) As stated above, we behave as if there are standards of judgement to morality. For example, we find many atheists stating that the Bible promotes slavery and therefore it is not a good source of morality. We also find many atheists stating that God is a moral monster, or that they have better morals than the God described in the Bible or the Qu’ran. This could only be the case if morality had standards of judgement that went beyond personal opinion. So we behave as if there are standards of judgement to morality that are beyond the agent’s personal opinion, we behave as if morality is objective.

Considering all these three things together it gives us good reason to believe that morality is objective in nature. The most important point being the first. For if morality is the study of right and wrong actions, and a way to normatively tell us what those right and wrong actions are, then subjective morality can never fulfill the goal of morality. Subjective morality is self defeating.}



However, we argue as if these things are categorically wrong. So therefore there is a certain intuition about morality that makes it appear as though there are standards of judgement that exist beyond personal opinion. We argue that these things are wrong because of P, with P being the standards of judgement for moral actions. So we are not necessarily arguing that morality must be objective because otherwise these things would be considered wrong. We are argument that this things are generally considered to be categorically wrong, so therefore there must be standards of judgement to morality that exist beyond personal opinion.

3) As stated above, we behave as if there are standards of judgement to morality. For example, we find many atheists stating that the Bible promotes slavery and therefore it is not a good source of morality. We also find many atheists stating that God is a moral monster, or that they have better morals than the God described in the Bible or the Qu’ran. This could only be the case if morality had standards of judgement that went beyond personal opinion. So we behave as if there are standards of judgement to morality that are beyond the agent’s personal opinion, we behave as if morality is objective.

Considering all these three things together it gives us good reason to believe that morality is objective in nature. The most important point being the first. For if morality is the study of right and wrong actions, and a way to normatively tell us what those right and wrong actions are, then subjective morality can never fulfill the goal of morality. Subjective morality is self defeating.}

Does the Bible provide an Objective Morality?

Theists like to wave the Bible in your face as an objective standard, but does it truly hold up as one? Does it make a difference if you are a theist or an atheist? I’m going to pass this over to Dave to field.

{Dave’s notes: The Bible does provide an objective framework for morality. The morals within the Bible are not supposed to be open to personal interpretation, they are standards of judgement that are supposed to give us a normative framework for how we behave. That they are interpreted differently by different people does not necessarily make them subjective. It makes those that interpret them in a way they are not supposed to be wrong. However, just because the Bible provides a framework for objective morality that does not necessarily mean that this framework is correct. There are many problems with Divine Command Theory that show it to be a faulty moral framework. It would also have to be shown that the god of the Bible actually exists, and this god’s existence is something I believe can be argued against and shown to be false.}

Even though it is used as an objective framework, it seems evident that these morals were not from a god. This might be hard to understand as to why they are considered an objective framework. To a Christian these morals are above personal opinion. They come from a complete external source. These morals may have been created either objectively or subjectively but due to the way Christians perceive them, form an objective framework.

As we have said a number of times, objective does not mean correct.

Arguments for subjective morality

We must of course acknowledge there ARE arguments for subjective morality and felt we should present them here.

The following are a list of arguments we have compiled. If you have any others you feel should be included please submit them.

Knowledge and evidence comes from/is processed by our mind so nothing is truly objective. Even if you were to provide something that fits the definition of an objective standard, you are subjectively making a distinction on if the scale is right or wrong.

Error Types: Misunderstanding, Application

This argument poses a number of issues.

  1. Objective Morals do not have to be right or wrong
  2. It is a misunderstanding of objective. If you are using that knowledge and evidence to present a well formed moral standard rather than it being something more subjective like “I don’t like it” it is an objective moral. Yes, there could be some subjectivity to it or the application of objectivity could be flawed, but it would still be an objective moral.

Objective means anything that exists outside the mind, and subjective is anything that exists inside the mind. As morality comes from a mind, morality is subjective by definition.

Error Type: Definition

  1. This simply does not fit the definition of objective or an objective moral, definitions provided above.
  2. By using a faulty definition, you are of course right by that definition.

Different people believe different things are moral, so morality is subjective.

Error Type: Misunderstanding

  1. People can approach morality both subjectively and objectively, but a normative moral standard will only be accepted in an objective sense.
  2. The fact people have a different belief in their morals does not make them subjective, if morals were truly subjective anyone could claim anything was moral and do it. The fact that people are held to a standard above their own personal belief(or opinion) of what is moral shows that morality is objective.

Different cultures believe different things are moral, so morality is relative.

Error Type: Misunderstanding

  1. I actually agree morals can be relative, but the approach to both would be objective. Objective morals can and do change the more evidence we present. If a culture is lacking the knowledge of certain things, then its scale of morality would be different. However the scale would still be presented objectively.
  2. Bare in mind an objective moral does not have to be right or wrong, just outside personal opinion whilst considering the facts. If your facts are faulty or incomplete, your morals will be faulty or incomplete, but that doesn’t make them any less objective

Morality changes over time, things like slavery were considered moral in the past and immoral now, so morality is subjective/relative.

Error Type: Misunderstanding

  1. This is one of the reasons I too though morality was subjective. As discussed and objective moral does not have to be correct. As such, morals can be self correcting in the sense that as new evidence comes to light, our understanding of certain topics changes.
  2. “our understanding” does not make it subjective. If I had 3 pieces of evidence that indicated men should rule over women, but then later discovered 4 pieces of evidence that showed how there should be equality in the sexes I made both distinctions objectively, I just corrected my standard when new evidence came to light.
  3. Consider science. As new evidence comes to light we might modify our understanding and change a theory. It doesn’t mean that theory was wrong, whilst it could be, it was likely just incomplete. It doesn’t mean that theory was subjective, it was still based on evidence above personal opinion, we just didn’t have all the evidence.

The same action can be considered moral in one context and immoral in another, so therefore morality is subjective and contextual.

Error Type: Misunderstanding

  1. What you are looking at here is what is known as a ‘Nuance’. Morals are far more deep than stating a single action is right or wrong. Lets take a single action. Killing. Now killing is never moral, but you could consider in some circumstances it to be the lesser of two evils. The situation might be initially subjective but the standard you hold it to would be done objectively. What were the reasons for killing? If you hadn’t killed that person what would have happened?

Morality is a concept, and concepts come from minds, so morality is subjective.

Error Type: Definition, Misunderstanding, Conflation.

  1. Here we are conflating something that “comes from mind” with something that has been “processed by mind using facts and evidence”
  2. Objective does not mean “comes from outside the mind” – that’s a common misunderstanding. I feel it is linked to the theological approach on objective morality, that morals come from God.
    An objective Moral is built by considering the available facts and evidence without personal opinion. The facts are the facts regardless of what your opinion is.
    e.g. Has abuse ever been shown to have a positive effect?

Morality is not an intrinsic/inherent property of the universe, and is created by subjects, so therefore morality is subjective.

Error Type: Misunderstanding

  1. It doesn’t matter who it was created by, just how it was created.
    “it’s not the destination, its the journey”
  2. It sounds like you are arguing against universal morality rather than objective morality.

Morality is an emotional response to things that either please us or offend us, so therefore morality is subjective.

Error Type: Misunderstanding

  1. Rape is pleasing to a rapist. Rape is not pleasing to a non-rapist.
    If morality was subjective then rape would be ok for the rapist to perform but not ok for the non-rapist to perform.
    Is rape ok for anyone to perform?
  2. What makes us have an emotional response? Does simply being offended make something immoral? Some people are offended by homosexuality, yet over the years we have come to realise love between two consenting adults is just love. There is nothing wrong with it. In fact homophobia, and other forms of bigotry, have become immoral.

Whilst there might be an objective standard, you are deciding if that action is moral or immoral, therefore even if a moral is built on an objective framework, morality is subjective.

Error Type: Misunderstanding

  1. Whilst I do understand that this is an area that could lean to an area of subjectivity, this too is approached objectively. Consider abuse, let’s use child abuse in this example. Has this ever been shown to have a positive effect? What do all the studies on child abuse say?
  2. Deciding something that is shown to have a negative impact, immoral does not make it subjective. Simply look up the synonyms of immoral; bad, vile, depraved, wrongful etc and consider if child abuse fits this definition. This isn’t opinion, you are comparing a behaviour to a definition. Again your decision is objective.

Most arguments for subjective morality are either empirical based or like you say, based on a misunderstanding/misrepresentation of what subjective actually means. There are no actual arguments for why morality itself should be subjective.

So does subjective morality exist?

Whilst people can build subjective morals, or have an opinion on an objective moral, in that they disagree with it for personal reasons rather than intellectual ones, the overarching element is a comparison to a standard, either subjective or objective, which is not based on personal opinion.

Based on a correct definition and understanding of what constitutes an objective moral and objective morality, I now understand objective morals and morality do exist. In fact no subjective moral has any bearing on anything else.

How will you choose to agree or disagree?

I also understand that folks who disagree with this will either do so subjectively, “I don’t like the sound of that!” or objectively, “based on x body of evidence I find your conclusions to be misplaced because of y.”

Every argument I see in favour of subjective morality revolves around either objective morals requiring a deity, objective morals being unchanging, or objective morality not existing because it requires human input making it subjective. In other words, every argument seems to revolve around a faulty definition.

Consider this, when has a subjective moral, that is to say one built from opinion e.g. “I like killing therefore it is moral” ever had any bearing or relevance against an objective standard?

Can we ever eliminate the element of personal opinion from a moral or morality? Doesn’t that make morality ultimately subjective?

This is a good question. This is something I have been pondering and one that kept me on the path of subjective morality. Whilst you might agree with the evidence, and therefore your opinion is the evidence is correct, the moral has still been built in an objective way. Unless you are ignoring credible evidence you don’t agree with, the moral is objective. Your personal opinion on an objective moral does not make it any more or less objective.

Equally you can approach the correct/incorrect element objectively. Consider the harm standard, specifically abuse in this instance. Is there an example where we can show abuse to have a positive effect on anyone? As there are only negative effects from this, would the behaviour not fit the definition of immoral?

Think about it this way:

Even if every moral was indeed subjective morality as a whole would still be objective.

Why? Because you are holding each moral to a standard (or definition) that is outside of your mind. It wouldn’t be your opinion if the moral was subjective or objective, you would be comparing that moral to an objective standard. . This makes MORALITY objective even if all morals were subjective. This of course isn’t the whole argument, but I feel Dave explained it clearly above.

Many folks who read this article will still be of the opinion morality is subjective. Perhaps they will be using a definition or understanding that doesn’t quite fit the actual definition that I haven’t covered off here.

I would love any feedback, or any great arguments for subjective morality, so please feel free to add a comment below and let’s have a discussion. Or even better, let’s have a full blown debate in our facebook group!

Final Thoughts

I was wrong before when I said morals and morality were subjective.

Using a faulty, erroneous definition, I thought objective morals had to be correct and were unchanging. Mistakenly, I believed if any part of the moral came from my mind, it was subjective. Objective, when concerned with morality is defined as means based on facts, in the same way we have an objective truth of an apple being an apple, vs the subjective, “I like the taste of apples,” which I misunderstood. I thought an objective moral meant it came from God. Because people had different morals, I thought they were all subjective. As you can see from this article, they are common mistakes.

I have, because of this faulty definition and understanding, hammered the old “morals are subjective” train.

Sorry!

I must apologise to anyone who I belligerently went on about how morals were subjective. Equally I hope those who knew morals were objective (excluding the god creature) can now explain to others in a way that they may accept.

As a sceptic we need to constantly reassess and reevaluate things when new evidence and arguments are presented to us. There is nothing wrong with admitting we are mistaken, though I do understand it is hard for some to swallow their pride.

I am happy to discuss this further and hope that folks respond to the article with any evidence for or against the argument.

Thanks Dave!

I’d like to thank Dave, for answering all my questions and helping me reference and correct my faulty definitions in this article, previous articles and others I have on the go. Whilst interested in Philosophy, I’ve spent far more time researching science and battling pseudoscience and faulty religious arguments.

My pleasure, Joe! Thanks for actually listening to what I had to say, rather than simply getting angry and yelling! 😀 – Dave

Online Discussions of Morality vs Ours

I’ve found online most folks are either flexing their ego or recycling something they don’t fully understand themselves. When you probe for answers they can’t give you them (unless it is something like “morals are from god” – and then they can’t answer why the morals are so poor in the Bible). This in turn has made me hold on to faulty definitions myself. Being told you are wrong without correction or direction is useless.

These conversations just result in people shouting their opinion on something without providing sufficient reasoning either way. How many times to we see atheists just shouting “Morality is subjective” at a theist who uses their Bible as an objective standard. When questioned they either can’t explain why, or use one of the faulty arguments/understandings above.

The arguments seem to be around folks arguing for ideological purposes rather than to understand the topic of morality. Folks are so concerned with arguing the conclusion, and against God, they don’t take the time to truly educate themselves.

I’ve really enjoyed our conversations and thank you for the inspiration to write again.

Read Again?

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29 Responses to Conflated and Misunderstood Terms – Volume 3: Objective / Subjective – Morals / Morality

  1. jakefelasco says:

    A quick comment while I continue exploring the article. The author defines objective as…

    “Not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.”

    This seems a reasonable definition in regards to purely technical matters. As example, we’ve built millions of bridges so it seems reasonable to state we are in possession of many facts regarding their construction.

    It doesn’t seem reasonable to propose that an objective position is possible in regards to the very largest of questions (those often addressed by the theism/atheism debate). A detached relationship with facts is not possible in arenas where there are no facts.

    Back to reading….

  2. jakefelasco says:

    The author writes…

    “In fact I am oversimplifying it, but in short if a moral is built on more than personal opinion, e.g. using scientific evidence, then it becomes objective.”

    This is just replacing one unproven authority with another, and then declaring one’s preferred chosen authority to be “objective”, ie. superior.

    As example, science can often tell us what actions will lead to death, but it can’t tell us whether death is better or worse than life, because it has no data to work with regarding death. A statement such as “X action will lead to death” can be objective because, like with building bridges, we can repeat the experiment many times. But a statement such as “death is bad, and thus actions which lead to death are immoral” is a purely subjective perspective, based entirely upon what story about death one personally prefers.

    • Facebook Profile photoDavidian says:

      // This is just replacing one unproven authority with another, and then declaring one’s preferred chosen authority to be “objective”, ie. superior. //

      You cannot compare the scientific method to something like a personal opinion.

      // As example, science can often tell us what actions will lead to death, but it can’t tell us whether death is better or worse than life, because it has no data to work with regarding death. //

      Completely irrelivant

      //A statement such as “X action will lead to death” can be objective because, like with building bridges, we can repeat the experiment many times. But a statement such as “death is bad, and thus actions which lead to death are immoral” is a purely subjective perspective, based entirely upon what story about death one personally prefers.//

      Sure, now let’s take the example of abuse, have there been any examples where abusing a child has been shown to have a positive effect on their life?

  3. jakefelasco says:

    Davidian writes…

    “You cannot compare the scientific method to something like a personal opinion.”

    The notion that the scientific method is always the authority which should be referenced is… a personal opinion. Such a notion ignores that the scientific method is made of thought, and like all elements of nature, thought is defined by it’s limitations. It’s one thing to state that thought and thus science can be very useful, and quite another to try to turn thought, and thus science, in to some kind of God with universal authority on all subjects everywhere.

    What many atheists are doing is just replacing one God with another.

    I wrote, “As example, science can often tell us what actions will lead to death, but it can’t tell us whether death is better or worse than life, because it has no data to work with regarding death.”

    If we can’t determine whether life is better than death, then we also can’t determine whether actions which bring about death should be labeled immoral.

    What we can see is that death is built-in to the system, and is a partner to life in every single instance, and thus to declare death bad is to go to war with the entire system. It’s not rational to go to war with the entire system, even if it’s true that death is worse than life, because we can’t do anything about death except put it off a bit.

    Davidian writes, “Sure, now let’s take the example of abuse, have there been any examples where abusing a child has been shown to have a positive effect on their life?”

    I’m entirely agreeable to label child abuse immoral in a tactical practical manner at human scale, just not in a sweeping universal mode which assumes infinite knowledge. There’s a difference between law and philosophy.

    • Facebook Profile photoDavidian says:

      //I’m entirely agreeable to label child abuse immoral in a tactical practical manner at human scale, just not in a sweeping universal mode which assumes infinite knowledge. There’s a difference between law and philosophy.//

      There’s a difference between an objective moral, a correct objective moral, and a universal moral

      // The notion that the scientific method is always the authority which should be referenced //

      It’s a process, or more rightly a method of investigation, the best we have at present, it uses evidence and tries to disprove the hypothesis constantly doing its best to make sure it is right.

      Yes, this gets processed by thought, everything does. 1+1 = 2.
      I processed that with thought but that is still an objective truth of base 10 mathematics.

      Language was created by our minds too, we use it to communicate…
      we’ve given things names and found ways to describe things including our own thoughts
      “That is an apple” is an objective truth
      “I like apples” is a subjective truth.

      “I don’t like abusing kids” is subjective

      “Abusing kids has been shown to have long term damaging effects, in some instances causing the kids themselves to become abusers of others” is objective

  4. jakefelasco says:

    You write, “It’s a process, or more rightly a method of investigation, the best we have at present…”

    Or, to put it more accurately, it’s the best method we have for SOME projects.

    • Facebook Profile photoDavidian says:

      Even if such a rigorous process is not followed for an investigation, I think we should always be looking for some credible, verifiable evidence.

      And we should always be as objective as we can in our approach to said evidence.

  5. jakefelasco says:

    You wrote, “We consider ourselves the more rational, as we hold the more rational position…”

    It’s perhaps interesting to observe that seemingly all ideologies propose that members of their ideology are somehow superior to somebody else.

    Dave writes, “Part of being a sceptic is to question our own deepest held beliefs, knowledge, and what we claim to know.”

    And if we do that well we may discover that all positions can be ripped apart in the right hands. This realization may cause the skeptic to evolve from questioning this or that belief, to questioning that which all beliefs and knowledge are made of.

    You write, “We are protecting the species. The long term effect outweighs the short term harm.”

    If we believe that protecting the species is a good thing, if we accept that as our foundational premise, we can then build a moral system upon that foundation. The moral system can be objective, proven to accomplish the stated goal, but the foundation the moral system is built upon is subjective, a matter of opinion.

    As seen through the lens of humanity, protecting our species seems essential. Seen through the lens of the biosphere as a whole, it would probably be better if we were to go extinct.

    • Facebook Profile photoDavidian says:

      // It’s perhaps interesting to observe that seemingly all ideologies propose that members of their ideology are somehow superior to somebody else. //

      They do, and it pisses me off if I am honest, but we do all fall in to that trap – part of our tribal nature I guess.

      // And if we do that well we may discover that all positions can be ripped apart in the right hands.
      This realization may cause the skeptic to evolve from questioning this or that belief, to questioning that which all beliefs and knowledge are made of. //

      I think that depends, if I was to say 1 + 1 = 2 in base 10 mathematics, could you rip that apart?
      And equally just because all positions can be ripped apart, can they all be done so rationally?
      Creationists “rip apart” dating methods with a complete lack of understanding of the science.
      They don’t actually “rip apart” the position though.

      // If we believe that protecting the species is a good thing, if we accept that as our foundational premise, we can then build a moral system upon that foundation. The moral system can be objective, proven to accomplish the stated goal, but the foundation the moral system is built upon is subjective, a matter of opinion. //

      I think you’re using objective as in “have an objective” like “capture the flag” rather than objective as is used in morality as in “based on facts”
      If you think species survival is a subjective thing, then if someone decides the species should go extinct can commit genocide and it be moral.
      If we think about evolution objectively it is about gene survival. These genes survive through species. We protect the genes of our own species above others.
      Survival is part of our (and every species) base instincts.

      // As seen through the lens of humanity, protecting our species seems essential. Seen through the lens of the biosphere as a whole, it would probably be better if we were to go extinct. //

      Yes there are definitely arguments that can objectively support humanities extinction, however if humans adapted to less damaging ways, pollution, population, renewable energy etc a lot of these arguments would not necessarily hold up. Extinction is an extreme solution to a problem that could be solved by many better and more moral means.

  6. jakefelasco says:

    Hi again Davidian,

    //They do, and it pisses me off if I am honest, but we do all fall in to that trap – part of our tribal nature I guess.//

    Imho, the desire for superiority arises from the divisive nature of what we’re made of, thought. Seen through the division process of thought, we see ourselves as a separate thing which is very small, and thus vulnerable. So we attempt to attach ourselves to something larger, like an ideology for instance, and then proclaim ourselves superior to somebody so that we’re not the smallest, and thus the most vulnerable.

    //I think that depends, if I was to say 1 + 1 = 2 in base 10 mathematics, could you rip that apart?//

    I can’t rip that apart, but that doesn’t automatically equal nobody being able to do so. Not really the best example though, as the game is kind of rigged by referencing a topic of our own invention, base 10 math. It gets rather trickier when making claims about phenomena not of human invention.

    //And equally just because all positions can be ripped apart, can they all be done so rationally?//

    Well, as you’ve seen, we can often rip apart rationality as being the valid authority for particular issues.

    Truthfully though, this claim I’ve made is really just a matter of my personal faith. So many widely assumed things are so easy to rip apart. As example, we’re considering candidates for president here, and nobody is asking any of the candidates about the primary power of the presidency, the ability on one’s sole authority to destroy modern civilization in just a few minutes. The entire political and journalist class of “elites”, ripped to shreds in a single paragraph. And nobody cares. More ripping!

    //If we think about evolution objectively it is about gene survival. //

    Um, well, evolution has actually destroyed the overwhelming vast majority of species ever to exist, and continues to do so today. Could it be more accurate to say evolution is about a circular pattern of creation and destruction?

    I will admit I don’t quite get the explanation of objective morality proposed by the article. If you can boil it down to a few sentences perhaps I would be able to wrap my mind around it? And then actually be on topic! And they said miracles don’t exist… 🙂

    • Facebook Profile photoDavidian says:

      // Well, as you’ve seen, we can often rip apart rationality as being the valid authority for particular issues. //
      We can, but it is self defeating, because if using human reason and rationality are not a “valid authority” and you use human reason to come to that conclusion, your conclusion is based on an invalid authority.

      // Um, well, evolution has actually destroyed the overwhelming vast majority of species ever to exist, and continues to do so today. Could it be more accurate to say evolution is about a circular pattern of creation and destruction? //

      consider the genes that survive as each species evolves. We share some of the same genes with other creatures on this planets, and have some that are different.
      The Gene survives above the species. The genes make us want to survive, but over time they might get altered or mutate slightly and after many of these mutations speciation occurs
      The strong genes still survive.
      Weaker genes don’t.

      // I will admit I don’t quite get the explanation of objective morality proposed by the article. If you can boil it down to a few sentences perhaps I would be able to wrap my mind around it? And then actually be on topic! And they said miracles don’t exist… 🙂 //

      No problem Jake, I’ll at least try.
      I’m Assuming you understood the bit about an objective standard and morals being objective but just needed the Morality bit simplified?

      Morality is a group of behaviours (morals)
      There are different Normative Moral Systems, all of these have a set of morals.
      Even if you subjectively choose a moral system to ascribe to;
      e.g. based on “I like the sound of it” the Morality itself is still objective – the parameters for the normative moral system are pre-defined.
      What defines morality is beyond personal opinion, even if we have not yet come to the correct conclusion.
      And if we consider why folks might choose a particular system, it is often deeper than “Sounds right” – it is usually based on how compelling they find the argument for it being correct

      Even if you create a new system, and that system is based purely on subjective morals, the system is then pre-defined and becomes objective.
      But as discussed, morals are not held to a subjective standard either.

  7. jakefelasco says:

    //The strong genes still survive.
    Weaker genes don’t.//

    Ok, so I’m nitpicking, but actually none of the genes survive. They all go down eventually, though some go faster than others, that’s true.

    // the Morality itself is still objective – the parameters for the normative moral system are pre-defined.//

    Are you saying that an action is objectively moral if it is defined as moral by whatever moral system the user subscribes to?

    • Facebook Profile photoDavidian says:

      // Ok, so I’m nitpicking, but actually none of the genes survive. They all go down eventually, though some go faster than others, that’s true //

      “The oldest known functioning gene is the one that codes for the enzyme glutamine synthetase, which creates the amino acid glutamine from glutamate and ammonia. As this enzyme is a crucial part of the way cells make protein and remove excess nitrogen, natural selection has preserved it unchanged. Every living thing uses this same gene that first evolved more than two billion years ago – before even the first cells with a nucleus emerged.”

      // Are you saying that an action is objectively moral if it is defined as moral by whatever moral system the user subscribes to? //

      Just remember, objective does not mean correct. It means based on facts.
      “Facts” can sometimes be wrong – e.g. the earth being flat used to be a fact
      Facts can also be incomplete.

      Objective Morals, like a scientific theory, are self correcting with new evidence.
      Consider that it was thought physical discipline was the best way to raise a child.
      It was considered Perfectly Moral for a school to take a cane to a child.
      With new evidence we understand the negative impact this has on folks and as such consider treating kids this was as abuse.

      So yes, something could be objectively moral but be incorrect.
      To get deep into CORRECT Objective Standards rather than just Objective Standards we’d need more than the comments section.

      However, never fear, Dave is actually doing a more in depth series into morality, the definitions, why these definitions of the words are used and hopefully will cover off correct objective standards too.

  8. jakefelasco says:

    //Just remember, objective does not mean correct. It means based on facts.//

    Hmm… Facts are a slippery business.

    How about this definition? Objective morality is any system of behavior rules which helps a group of people move towards whatever goals they have as a group.

    In a society which seeks peace, murder could be declared wrong, and that rule could be declared objective to the degree it assists in establishing peace.

    In a society which believes in a ruthless survival of the fittest philosophy (like nature), then murder could be declared right, and objective to the degree it assists in weeding out the weak individuals.

    I’m unclear if this definition has anything to do with what you are proposing. Perhaps you can clarify.

    Perhaps this is somehow relevant. My wife and I are MAJOR nature nuts. I’m as repelled by Nazism as any other sane person, but then I observe that Nazism seems far closer to the natural order than say, Judeo-Christian ethics. I also observe that the Nazis were attempting to use basically the same strategy that was used to build America, racial conquest. But the Nazis seemed rather more honest about it. If an alien was observing all this from orbit, who would they declare the more moral? Dishonest racial conquest, or honest racial conquest?

    Environmental morality proposes we live as much in tune with nature as possible. Isn’t that what the Nazis were doing? I am the predator. You are the prey. I will hunt you, and eat you if I can.

    Again, I may be wandering far off topic here, not sure.

    • Facebook Profile photoDavidian says:

      // Hmm… Facts are a slippery business. //

      As technology and knowledge improve I think facts are becoming more accurate. We have objective truths that an apple is an apple. Even in a different Language an apple is still an apple even if it is referred to as une pomme

      // How about this definition? Objective morality is any system of behavior rules which helps a group of people move towards whatever goals they have as a group. //

      Again it appears you or conflating the definition of Objective again. It is not having an Objective, like capturing a flag, it is being objective in your approach, e.g. using facts and evidence to build your moral standard.
      These moral standards are then fitted into a system of morality.

      // In a society which seeks peace, murder could be declared wrong, and that rule could be declared objective to the degree it assists in establishing peace.
      In a society which believes in a ruthless survival of the fittest philosophy (like nature), then murder could be declared right, and objective to the degree it assists in weeding out the weak individuals. //

      If we are speaking of morals rather than morality, and objective moral is one based on facts.
      You could argue that folks cannot be completely objective in there interpretation of the facts, but that doesn’t make the objective standard subjective, it just means it is likely wrong in the same was as if the facts are incomplete or wrong, the moral would still be objective, it would just be incomplete or wrong.

      Murder by definition is the unlawful killing of another human. If murder is declared right that society would probably declare it legal to kill, and therefore not be murder.
      So let’s be specific and say, killing another human.

      I am sure you could take an objective approach to killing other humans being moral, but equally I think there is enough evidence to show the negative impact this would have on people, not just the person being killed but their family and friends. With our species the way it is, there is no way killing humans as standard could fit a correct objective standard.

      //I’m unclear if this definition has anything to do with what you are proposing. Perhaps you can clarify.//

      Nope, as stated you’re using the “an objective” rather than “being objective”

      //Perhaps this is somehow relevant. My wife and I are MAJOR nature nuts. I’m as repelled by Nazism as any other sane person, but then I observe that Nazism seems far closer to the natural order than say, Judeo-Christian ethics. //

      If you refer to our tribal nature, us v them mentality and binary thinking, you could be right that it might be more “natural” but natural isn’t always good. Black widows are natural but you wouldn’t want one biting you.

      So our tribal nature isn’t necessarily a good thing either, we should endeavour to ascend the tribe.

      As for Judeo-Christian Ethics.. yeah, they are crazy, selling women to their rapist, stoning homosexuals and all sorts of craziness.

      // I also observe that the Nazis were attempting to use basically the same strategy that was used to build America, racial conquest. But the Nazis seemed rather more honest about it. If an alien was observing all this from orbit, who would they declare the more moral? Dishonest racial conquest, or honest racial conquest? //

      Neither would be regarded as moral. Would they split hairs over the level of honesty?
      We would have to take the whole situation. If we are speaking of WWII and the concentration camps etc then I think they are doing far more physical damage…
      but this is a topic that is more nuanced again than I think we could really give proper time to in the comments.

      // Environmental morality proposes we live as much in tune with nature as possible. Isn’t that what the Nazis were doing? I am the predator. You are the prey. I will hunt you, and eat you if I can. //

      I think that might also be a mistake for being in harmony with nature.
      It isn’t about getting back to base instincts but it is about as not trying to destroy nature.

      Finding a balance, or a harmony, with nature. So reducing one’s carbon footprint, using renewable sources of energy, perhaps growing your own veg etc.

      // Again, I may be wandering far off topic here, not sure.//

      A bit, but don’t worry, it is an enjoyable conversation 😀

  9. jakefelasco says:

    //It is not having an Objective, like capturing a flag, it is being objective in your approach, e.g. using facts and evidence to build your moral standard.//

    Ok, thanks for the correction regarding your view.

    I would contend again that the facts and evidence are built upon a foundation of faith. As example…

    //Murder by definition is the unlawful killing of another human.///

    Yes, and this prohibition is built upon the faith based belief that life is better than death, an assumption for which there is no evidence. Just as with atheism and religion, the faith comes first, and then facts and evidence are arranged to support that foundation.

    //As technology and knowledge improve I think facts are becoming more accurate.///

    Try this perhaps? When will science end? When will we have learned everything that we can learn? If you answer a very long time or never, and if we assume knowledge development will continue to accelerate, it follows from that they we currently know close to nothing.

    //We have objective truths that an apple is an apple.//

    “Apple” is a noun, and like all nouns it presumes the existence of separate “things”, which don’t actually exist in the real world beyond the human conceptual realm. Rather than label “apple” (or any noun) as an objective truth, I would label it a useful fiction.

    Much more to say about this sometime, but not here, and not today, as the wife is ringing the dinner bell. 🙂

    Have a good one!

    • Facebook Profile photoDavidian says:

      //It is not having an Objective, like capturing a flag, it is being objective in your approach, e.g. using facts and evidence to build your moral standard.//

      >>Ok, thanks for the correction regarding your view.

      I would contend again that the facts and evidence are built upon a foundation of faith. As example…>>

      >>//Murder by definition is the unlawful killing of another human.///

      Yes, and this prohibition is built upon the faith based belief that life is better than death, an assumption for which there is no evidence. Just as with atheism and religion, the faith comes first, and then facts and evidence are arranged to support that foundation.>>

      It causes harm, but not just to the person, it isn’t just about an assumption of life being better than death.
      Consider this
      1. It removes the persons CHOICE on whether to live or die – what right does anyone have over anyone else’s life, at least in the circumstance of murder?
      2. It causes pain for their family.. even if death was better, like Christians believe, it still causes pain to the family members when someone dies, let alone has been killed.
      3. Consider if this person has children etc, not only are they going to feel the pain in point 2, but now their quality of life might be affected. Perhaps they won’t be able to afford medial care, or go to collage etc.

      ^Objective effects on a murder rather than a subjective “killing is bad cos I think life is better”

      >>//As technology and knowledge improve I think facts are becoming more accurate.///

      Try this perhaps? When will science end?>>

      I would guess, never. Science is a process, a method of investigation.
      There will be certain things we will never learn anything more on I am sure.
      But right now with the universe being so vast, I am sure that we will always be investigating and learning new things.
      Not necessarily things that might effect say, how to treat our children, but perhaps newer and better ways of space flight etc.

      >>When will we have learned everything that we can learn? If you answer a very long time or never, and if we assume knowledge development will continue to accelerate, it follows from that they we currently know close to nothing. >>

      That is kind of irrelevant to the definition of an objective moral though.

      >>//We have objective truths that an apple is an apple.//

      “Apple” is a noun, and like all nouns it presumes the existence of separate “things”, which don’t actually exist in the real world beyond the human conceptual realm. Rather than label “apple” (or any noun) as an objective truth, I would label it a useful fiction. >>

      Yes, language originated in the mind, but objectively an apple is an apple. Subjectively I like apples. Objectively Apples are usually green or red. Subjectively I prefer green Apples.

      >>Much more to say about this sometime, but not here, and not today, as the wife is ringing the dinner bell. 🙂 >>

      Enjoy Din Dins

      >>Have a good one!>>

      You too

  10. jakefelasco says:

    //It causes harm, but not just to the person, it isn’t just about an assumption of life being better than death.//

    In the Roman Colosseum causing harm was judged to be a good thing, as generating entertainment for the masses was deemed more important than the pain of a few. Declaring “causing harm” as being bad is a subjective judgment, a matter of personal opinion.

    What’s objective are the facts and evidence built upon that subjective foundation. You know, science can tell us which acts will cause harm, or generate entertainment, and then we can label such acts as good or bad.

    You see this already in regards to religion. A huge pile of logical arguments are built upon a foundation of faith. It’s the same with atheism, and moral systems. One has to have a god or some other starting point to build the whole system upon. That starting point can’t be objective, because it is the starting point, there is no higher authority it can point to to justify it’s validity.

    //That is kind of irrelevant to the definition of an objective moral though.//

    The “when will science end” example is only relevant in that it shows how incredibly young we are, and thus provides some caution for declaring “facts” and “objective”.

    • Facebook Profile photoDavidian says:

      Objective does not mean correct.

      The system of morality that regarded gladiators etc as moral can be objectively argued against. Equally, you could argue that if they chose to be in the arena then they are making a conscious choice and know the risks, and therefore is as amoral as boxing.. and you could argue that the killing element is still an immoral action too..

      So again, objective does not mean correct. They used the facts available to them to acknowledge the entertainment, keeping folks happy, far outweighs the negative actions in the arena. Especially as unhappy people could do a lot more harm through being bored and unruly than the benefits of said arena.

      This is an objective approach to a problem.

      There is now a hell of a lot more forms of entertainment thanks to technology, sporting events, games, internet etc.

      We don’t need to harm to be entertained. (Or at least if we need to harm, it’s done with computer sprites)

      Again, the scale of harm. I feel we’ve already discussed how our survival is an instinct built in to us. Some of our genes are 2 billion years old.

      Most harm has been shown to be immoral, some is amoral (e.g. BDSM, having a pint) some has a small harm for a massive benefit, e.g. a vaccination is moral.
      For the most part, harm is shown to only have a negative impact.

      Consider the difference between a subjective and objective approach to harm.

      Subjective: I don’t like getting hurt, therefore harm is immoral

      Objective: physically abusing children can be shown to have an ongoing negative effect on their life. They may become depressed, anxious, dangerously promiscuous or even go on to be abusers themselves. Therefore this form of harm is immoral.

      Can you see the difference between a subjective and objective approach?

  11. jakefelasco says:

    //The system of morality that regarded gladiators etc as moral can be objectively argued against. //

    Yes, and it can be argued for too, the greater good for the greater number etc. Which equals it being a matter of opinion.

    //So again, objective does not mean correct.///

    Understood. Objective means based on facts, which are open to interpretation, manipulation, misunderstanding etc, and thus not really facts after all. Perhaps you are trying to build your moral equations on a fixed solid ground, which doesn’t really exist?

    //Can you see the difference between a subjective and objective approach?///

    As I’ve said, what I see that objective is only possible upon a subjective foundation. Your moral equations above are entirely based on opinions, moral opinions which I agree with, but still, opinions.

    However, once we’ve accepted a foundational premise such as “pain is bad” on faith, we can then build an objective moral system based on facts on top of that. We can for instance, use science to determine what actions will lead to pain.

    Theists use holy books and gods as their faith foundation, and then build a logic system on top of that. Atheists accept the infinite (applying to all things) authority of reason on faith, and then build a logic system on top of that. In both cases the surface level logic systems can be rational and factual, but at the bottom of both approaches is faith.

    As example, it’s factual the Bible says do XYZ, and so it’s rational for Bible believers to do XYZ. But first one has to believe the Bible is worth listening to, and that’s a matter of faith.

    As example, it’s factual there is no compelling evidence of gods, and so it’s rational to not believe in gods. But first one has to believe reason is relevant to the question, and that’s a matter of faith.

    Subjective first, then objective in service to the subjective. Imho…

  12. jakefelasco says:

    It’s subjective because the system of morality being proposed is based on the premise that harm=bad, which is an opinion. Once one accepts that opinion as the foundation of a moral system, one can then build an objective structure on top of the foundation.

    The principle that harm and abuse etc are bad, in our culture at least, is largely derived from Judeo-Christian ethics, which as a member of western culture we’ve both absorbed. For 1,000 unbroken years Catholicism dominated western culture to a degree unimaginable today, and the clerics succeeded in pounding their moral theories in to our brains at the genetic level. So now even those of us who reject Catholicism take such principles to be an obvious given. And thus we are instinctively outraged when Catholic priests rape children, because we’ve bought the Catholic moral theory.

    Other cultures had different ideas about harm and abuse. As example, during the same era the Catholics were dominating Europe some Central American cultures were routinely sacrificing children on their alters. Like the Romans and others, they had a different opinion about harm and abuse.

    I’m not objecting to your moral theory, which I agree with, only with the notion that it is built on facts and thus not opinion.

    That said, I’m also happy to agree to disagree, as this topic is not one that I am fanatic about. I’m carrying on as I am mostly just because I enjoy chatting with you. Had you claimed that all moral systems are built upon opinion, I would have likely taken the opposite view, just for the exercise of it.

    In other news, working on an article here which I will submit to your review once it seems ready. Noah’s Arc weather here this week, so that should help me stay home and nail it down.

    • Facebook Profile photoDavidian says:

      //t’s subjective because the system of morality being proposed is based on the premise that harm=bad, which is an opinion. Once one accepts that opinion as the foundation of a moral system, one can then build an objective structure on top of the foundation.//

      it is not an opinion, you can clearly see the damaging effects of something like physical abuse or rape, and I showed you how they can be examined, e.g. the abuse can lead to depression, anxiety, inability to function in society, reclusiveness, negative effects on those close to them, and the chance that they will end up becoming an abuser themselves and do what has been done to them, to others.

      This particular form of HARM, abuse, has had no positive impact. It has had a lot of negative impact.

      That is not opinion. That is fact.

      You see what I mean by this? Rather than it being “I don’t like harm” it is “this particular harm has all these negative effects”

      Equally survival is built in to all species. Even [most of] those that have died out.
      We can even see other creatures “rebel” at their “alpha” if they become too violent etc.

      There is this understanding of immoral behaviour that runs deeper than just our species.

      There may not be a universal morality
      We may never reach a point where we know we have a correct objective standard
      but a standard of harm can still be built objectively, based on the impact of said harm.

      I don’t think there is any way we can argue positive benefits from rape or abuse, not with rationality anyway.

      // That said, I’m also happy to agree to disagree, as this topic is not one that I am fanatic about. I’m carrying on as I am mostly just because I enjoy chatting with you. Had you claimed that all moral systems are built upon opinion, I would have likely taken the opposite view, just for the exercise of it.//

      Always good to exercise ones brain. I was actually on the subjective side of the fence for a very very long time, and there are some questions that come up that I have to spend a while thinking about it.

      //In other news, working on an article here which I will submit to your review once it seems ready. Noah’s Arc weather here this week, so that should help me stay home and nail it down.//

      awesome, sounds great.

  13. jakefelasco says:

    //This particular form of HARM, abuse, has had no positive impact. It has had a lot of negative impact.//

    From the perspective of the individual or human society at large this is true. So, in the example case you offer, that perspective is the foundation, and as you are doing, many rational evidence based points can be built upon that foundation.

    A radical environmentalist might use a different foundation. They could argue that from the perspective of the biosphere as a whole, life on Earth would be far better off without humans, thus anything that causes harm to humans, makes them go insane and kill each other off is good. Many rational evidence based points can be built upon this foundation also.

    In order for either of these perspectives to be declared some kind of universal truth beyond opinion we would have to have some higher authority to reference, which is of course what theists attempt to do.

    But without such a higher authority, the starting point for each of these perspectives is an opinion about what to value most highly. One side chooses to place the highest value on humans, and the other side prefers to place the highest value on life on Earth as a whole.

    This is an interesting discussion. I’d not really given such matters close inspection until this thread, and whether I’m right or wrong, I’m a bit more educated on the matter than I was previously, so thanks for that.

    • Facebook Profile photoDavidian says:

      // A radical environmentalist might use a different foundation. They could argue that from the perspective of the biosphere as a whole, life on Earth would be far better off without humans, thus anything that causes harm to humans, makes them go insane and kill each other off is good. Many rational evidence based points can be built upon this foundation also. //

      But harm in the form of abuse would leave the person alive but broken, which in the realms of the biosphere might also have a negative impact.
      Only items which remove humans without causing a knock on effect to the environment could be argued for in that way.

      Equally, both approaches would still be objective. Objective does not mean correct.

      So I think where you are at with this conversation, and please correct me if I am wrong, but you understand how morals are built, and adhered to on an objective framework.
      You understand how normative moral systems are objective

      But you think that because someone decides harm is bad, even if they do so objectively like I did with the negative impacts of abuse, it is subjective?

      // In order for either of these perspectives to be declared some kind of universal truth beyond opinion we would have to have some higher authority to reference, which is of course what theists attempt to do. //

      But we are not discussing what makes a Universal Moral.
      We are not even discussing a Correct Objective Standard of Morality.
      We are just discussing Objective / Subjective, Morals and Morality.

      I think this is the bit people struggle with. I know I did.

      // But without such a higher authority, the starting point for each of these perspectives is an opinion about what to value most highly. One side chooses to place the highest value on humans, and the other side prefers to place the highest value on life on Earth as a whole. //

      what you are saying here is someone is deciding between two systems of morality, but that doesn’t make the morals or the morality subjective.
      Equally the person deciding between them would most likely give it more thought than a subjective opinion, would they?

      Lets use a very rough and weak couple of morals.

      Both of these morals are objective but opposing.

      1. Killing humans is bad. It not only removes a person’s right to life, but also hurts the persons family. It causes pain deeper than just the act, and if the person is a primary care giver and bread winner for a family could have a serious detrimental effect on the unit.
      There could also be a number of

      2. Killing humans is good. Humans are the biggest threat to the earth. We can consider a number of different ways they pollute and destroy oceans and lands. Many creatures suffer at the hand of humans, not just for food or sport, but due to humans reckless nature.

      So lets think about this and which we agree with.

      if we look at option 2, we can see that it is an extreme response to something that could be dealt with in a much tidier manner. That many humans are environmentally conscious, we just need a worldwide government consensus to actually do something about it, and equally can make a number of changes in ones own country/town/company etc.
      Option 1 causes a lot of pain as well as removing somone’s rights.

      Whilst I would agree that polluting and destroying our environment is immoral, I would say killing a human is more immoral.
      Killing is a very final action. It is removing someones rights, and causes pain to the family.
      Pollution could one day be an end to the planet, our species, many forms of wild life. We can make positive changes to improve this.

      deciding on something doesn’t make it opinion – yes, someone could subjectively decide on something… but even if I subjectively decided on, say.. hedonism because “i like feeling good” that doesn’t change the nature of morals or morality, just the way I have chosen.
      But like I explained above, I have compared objectively reasons killing a human is good or bad, and we can show that there are better ways to protect the environment than going on a murder spree.

  14. jakefelasco says:

    //But harm in the form of abuse would leave the person alive but broken, which in the realms of the biosphere might also have a negative impact.
    Only items which remove humans without causing a knock on effect to the environment could be argued for in that way.//

    A nuclear war would in the end be good for the environment if it collapsed the primary threat to other life forms, human civilization. Note the Chernobyl example, humans gone, wildlife returning.

    //But you think that because someone decides harm is bad, even if they do so objectively like I did with the negative impacts of abuse, it is subjective?//

    Abuse = harm is objective, proven, fact. I agree with you here.

    Harm = bad is an opinion, subjective. But not here.

    I’m not arguing for environmental radicalism, so you don’t need to argue against it. I just used that as an example of how if one starts from a different foundational premise, one can then construct a very different moral system. And, if there is no higher authority who can referee and settle the debate, then it’s all just opinion. Anyone can argue enthusiastically for any particular moral system, but that doesn’t elevate the position above opinion.

    • Facebook Profile photoDavidian says:

      // A nuclear war would in the end be good for the environment if it collapsed the primary threat to other life forms, human civilization. Note the Chernobyl example, humans gone, wildlife returning. //

      And if we did this to the entire world at once? how much of the nature would survive?
      This is causing a hell of a lot of pain and suffering for a number of life forms on the planet, do you think nuclear genocide can truly ever be argued to be the correct and most moral action when there are so many other options to try first?

      //Abuse = harm is objective, proven, fact. I agree with you here.

      Harm = bad is an opinion, subjective. But not here. //

      So here are you saying you can see the type of harm caused by abuse is objectively negative, but an overall “harm = bad” is opinion?

      I’ve objectively argued harm can be immoral, moral, and amoral.

      When it comes down to it, the harm is tied to suffering.
      The greater the suffering caused, the more people suffering from the harm caused, the more immoral it is.
      The greater the reduction in suffering, e.g. one might have to suffer for many, or a minor suffering (e.g. vaccination) to a greater benefit to the many, the more moral something is.
      Something that causes nothing more than a minor harm to yourself that you have chosen (e.g. Alcohol, BDSM) is amoral.

      You could argue killing one person to save 100, whilst the killing is a negative action, its overall result is a moral one as you have prevented harm and suffering in 100 people by killing one.

      When it comes to great suffering, I’m not sure how one can subjectively say it is bad.
      Great suffering is objectively a negative thing.

      // I just used that as an example of how if one starts from a different foundational premise, one can then construct a very different moral system. //

      Right, and there are a number of normative moral systems, they are all objective, but I agree someone could subjectively or objectively decide which one suites them.
      Consider how people operate though, do you think their decision would be as glib as “i like the sound of that one” – do you not think they would have more of an objective approach?
      Equally even if someone subjectively chooses a system, does that make the system itself any less objective? Are they not ascribing to a moral system that regardless of their opinion it is essentially there in black and white?

      // Anyone can argue enthusiastically for any particular moral system, but that doesn’t elevate the position above opinion.//

      Agreeing with evidence doesn’t make it opinion.
      If the evidence is conflicting or missing then you might not have enough information and should essentially remain agnostic to which is correct.
      And then yes, you could argue it then comes down to a bit of subjectivity, but that wouldn’t make the system subjective, just your opinion on which system is correct.

      Put it this way:

      Whilst a small amount of suffering could make people stronger in the long run, can we objectively show a positive effect for great human suffering?
      One that definitely outweighs the level of suffering?

  15. jakefelasco says:

    Hi again!

    //do you think nuclear genocide can truly ever be argued to be the correct and most moral action when there are so many other options to try first?//

    Yes, of course it can be argued. I’m not making that argument, but if I were I would probably argue for some highly contagious genetically engineered human-only disease. Or, simpler yet, maybe I would argue for spraying ebola over major population centers.

    Again, I’m NOT arguing for any of this, but only arguing that it can be argued, and that such arguments can be rational _IF_ one starts from the premise that life as a whole has a higher value than human life exclusively. Such a premise is obviously an opinion, as is the counter premise that human life should instead be given the higher value.

    Once a subjective opinion has been chosen as the fundamental premise, then rational objective arguments can be made which demonstrate how the chosen goal, whatever it may be, can best be reached.

    //So here are you saying you can see the type of harm caused by abuse is objectively negative, but an overall “harm = bad” is opinion?//

    I agree that abuse leads to harm. Whether harm should be labeled as good or bad is an opinion.

    Invading Poland caused harm. Objective fact.

    From the Polish point of view this harm was bad. From the Nazi point of view this harm was good. From the Russian point of view the harm was probably also good, as the harm weakened Poland making it easier for the Russians to take it over.

    Each of these parties is free to make their case, but without some higher authority to reference, there’s no way to definitely settle the debate.

    //Are they not ascribing to a moral system that regardless of their opinion it is essentially there in black and white?///

    I sense you may be trying to elevate your own preferred values (which I share) above opinion. But instead of using God to do that, you’re using your own chosen authority. First you declare your own chosen authority to be the valid binding decision maker (subjective) and then you build an objective case on top of that foundation.

    Please note that, should this be true, I’m totally ok that you should choose to do something like this. I’m really not trying to persuade you otherwise, but you seem to want these concepts to be pounded on, so I’m pounding. I’m happy to stop pounding any time you wish to move on to something else.

    //Whilst a small amount of suffering could make people stronger in the long run, can we objectively show a positive effect for great human suffering?//

    Well, this depends on our definitions of small and great. Here’s a try at an argument.

    FACTS: A presidential campaign is underway here as you know. What you may not have noticed, because hardly anyone has, is that NOBODY is asking the candidates about the most awesome power of the U.S. presidency, the ability of a single person to destroy modern civilization by pressing a button. Round the clock coverage on every topic under the sun, except for this one.

    THEORY: We are insanely ignoring the biggest threat to everything we care about, and such stupidity will inevitably bite us on the ass sooner or later.

    SOLUTION?: Given that we seem incapable of focusing on this threat in an appropriate manner using reason alone, the only solution may be the system we typically use for learning, pain. If terrorists blew up a couple of cities many millions would die, but that might wake us up sufficiently so that we could avoid the far larger calamity of total civilization collapse.

    You can argue for far less painful solutions, which of course I would welcome, but so far the evidence suggests that only something truly dramatic will wake us up.

    If human beings were fundamentally rational, then we might be able to consider the equation harm=bad to be objective. But in the real world, lots of harm is typically required to make any kind of progress.