The Instigator
jamccartney
Pro (for)
Losing
0 Points
The Contender
philochristos
Con (against)
Winning
7 Points

All Morality is Relative

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 2 votes the winner is...
philochristos
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/25/2014 Category: People
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,466 times Debate No: 53348
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (2)
Votes (2)

 

jamccartney

Pro

In this debate, I will be arguing the point that there is no such thing as objective morality, for it is all relative. Here is a definition of objective morality:

Objective morality is the idea that a certain system of ethics or set of moral judgments is not just true according to a person's subjective opinion, but factually true.

Relativity is the absence of standards of absolute and universal application.

I will be arguing that morality is simply founded upon opinion and not fact, nor the Bible.
My opponent will be arguing that all morality is the same and is not relative.

I look forward to this debate.




1. http://rationalwiki.org...
2. http://www.google.com...
philochristos

Con

I accept, and may the odds be ever in your favour!
Debate Round No. 1
jamccartney

Pro


Introduction



I would like to begin my thanking my opponent for accepting this debate. This is a rather interesting topic and is one that not often comes up on this site. As it is time for me to begin my arguments, I will do so now.



Arguments



There is no such thing as objective morality. All morality is relative and differs among all people. What I find moral may not be exactly what my opponent finds moral. What my opponent finds moral may not be what George Washington found moral. Because of this, morality is not a fact. It is not fixed. Morality is moving across an ever evolving curve.



1. Objective morality based on the rudiments of God's word


2. Objective morality based on the morals of the leaders


3. Objective morality based on the morals of the average citizens




Objective morality based on the rudiments of God's word is taken seriously by most Theists, and they tend to believe that God's moral law is the only morals they will follow. However, I don't think the Bible teaches morality, so it is therefore not a fact. If every human being on Earth thought it was a fact, it would be. An opinion can only become fact if every person has the same opinion. Leaders of governing systems use their morals when creating laws. This does not make the laws moral to the people, it makes the laws moral to the leaders. All citizens have their own opinions of what morality is. They also have a say in what laws are created, assuming the government is not totalitarian. So where do laws come from? What makes rape immoral? It comes from the people. The people pick the morals. It has nothing to do with what is factual. There are people who do not like certain laws. There are people who think rape is moral, while there are people who think it is not.


Think of it like this:


I like pizza. It is my personal opinion that pizza is good, but that does not make it a fact that pizza is good. There are some people, however, that do not like pizza. Therefore, one cannot say that pizza is good if not everyone likes it. This is the relativity of tastes. It works the same way with morality.


I think what the Nazis did to the Jews during the Holocaust was immoral, but the Nazis did not. If you look at it from their perspective, they were doing God's bidding, for they had "Gott Mit Uns" inscribed on their belts, which translates to "God With Us." Though I, and I assume my opponent as well, thinks the Holocaust was wrong, it was technically not because not everyone thought it was wrong. The only reason we can criticize them is because they were breaking the laws that certain people put into place because they thought the laws were moral.



Conclusion



Morality is based on opinion, not fact. For not everyone thinks the same way, not everyone has the same morals. Therefore, there is no such thing as objective morality. Morality is a relative concept that differs among all people and constantly evolving. I look forward to my opponent's arguments.


philochristos

Con

Thanks to Pro for initiating the debate, and thanks to the reader for carefully considering our arguements.

Preliminaries

Pro did not stipulate the burden of proof in the first round, but I'm going to assume a shared burden of proof which means we each have to defend a point of view, and not merely refute each other's argument. Pro has to show that morals are relative, and I have to show that morals are objective.

Since we each have a point of view to argue for, and since Pro used this round to argue for his point of view, I'm going to use this round to defend my point of view. Then I'll use the next round to give a rebuttal to what Pro said in this round, and he can use the last round to rebut what I say in this round. That way we each have an equal amount of space to defend our views and offer rebuttals.

A note on epistemology

There are two kinds of knowledge: a priori and a posteriori. A posteriori knowledge is knowledge we infer from prior items of knowledge. A priori knowledge is knowledge that is not inferred from prior items of knowledge. Since for whatever items of knowledge we might have, it was either inferred from prior knowledge or it was not (by the law of excluded middle), these two types of knowledge exhaust the possibilities.

It is not possible for all of our knowledge to be a posteriori because if every item of knowledge is based on a prior item of knowledge, that leads to an infinite regress. It would be impossible to arrive at any item of knowledge since there would be no starting place.

So if knowledge is possible at all, then there must be a priori knowledge. Since there is knowledge that is not based on anything prior, the knowledge must be obtained immediately upon reflection. That is, rather than derive the knowledge by reasoning from prior items of knowledge, we have the knowledge immediately just by reflecting on it.

A priori knowledge

There are some items of knowledge we have that could not be based on anything prior since they are unprovable. Those items of knowledge must be a priori. Our a priori knowledge can be subdivided into three categories according to what they have in common and how they differ.

1. First person knowledge

These are items of knowledge about our own first person awareness. Some examples include the fact that we're thinking, perceiving, remembering, and feeling, and what we're thinking, perceiving, remembering, and feeling). This is where Descartes' famous cogito belongs. Merely by thinking, we can know that we exist.

2. Rationally grasped knowledge

These are things we can know about the world outside of our own minds, but they are still known immediately upon reflecting on them. Examples include the law of non-contradiction, that 2 + 2 = 4, and that when two straight lines intersect, the opposite angles are equal. Some of the items in this category require a little more careful reflection to see than other items; consequently, not everybody is able to see them as clearly. For example, one can carefully reflect on a triangle and discover that it's interior angels must equal 180º without having to measure them. But not everybody has the brain power to see that, and they have to either take the textbook's word for it, or measure the angles.

3. Synthetic a priori knowledge.

These are items of knowledge that are built into every healthy and normally functioning mind. Examples include the fact that our senses are giving us true information about the world (which is how we know the external world exists), that our memories are giving us true information about the past (which is how we know there's a past, and how it's possible to have a conversation), and that the observed can be extrapolated to the unobserved (which his how we're able to learn from experience, make predictions about the future, arrive at probabilities, and engage in the scientific enterprise).

What all of these categories have in common is that none of the items in them need to be proved before we can know them. in fact, in most cases, it's impossible to prove them. But without them, it would be impossible to prove anything else. The items in the first category are incorrigible because of our immediate access to our own mental states. The items in the second category can be known with certainty because they express necessary truths, and the necessity of them can be rationally grasped. Once the items in the first and second category are seen clearly with the mind, it is impossible to be mistaken about them.

The items in the third category differ from the first two in the fact that it's possible to be mistaken about them. They do not express necessary truths. It's at least possible that the external world is an illusion. It's possible that there was no past. It's possible that while past experiments have always indicated the world works in a certain way, it may work differently tomorrow. In fact, we sometimes make mistakes regarding the third category. We mistake hallucination with external reality. We remember things incorrectly. We make hasty generalizations. But the fact that we sometimes make mistakes regarding the third category doesn't shake our belief in the general principles.

The third category of knowledge has these things in common:

1. None of them can be proved.

2. It's possible to be mistaken about each of them.

3. We sometimes make mistakes when applying each of them.

4. All mentally healthy people apprehend them.

5. It seems prima face unreasonable to deny them.

6. Even people who do deny them continue to perceive them as if they were real; they merely deny their reality.

7. We all use them in our daily lives.

I would like to be able to give a longer list of items of knowledge for the third category and show how each of them fit all seven of those features, but space is limited.

Moral realism

My argument for morality is that morality fits in the third category because all seven of those traits apply to our moral awareness. We can get rid of morality by denying this particular way of knowing, but in doing so, we will undermined the justification we have for believing in every other item of knowledge in the third category since they are all known in the same way. Since morality has all these things in common with every other item in the third category, morality is on equal epistemological footing. That means it's just as rational to believe in morality as it is to believe in the past, the external world, the uniformity of nature, etc.

Now, let me show how morality fits all seven of the above features.

1. Pro probably already agrees with me that morality cannot be proved.

2. Pro probably also agrees with me that we can be mistaken about morality. In fact, he thinks we are.

3. We sometimes make mistakes in our moral reasoning. This is evident in the fact that people sometimes come to different moral conclusions even when reasoning from the same moral premises.

4. All mentally healthy people perceive a difference between right and wrong. This is evident in the fact that we consider sociopathy to be a mental illness. With the exception of sociopaths, the fact that we all perceive a difference between right and wrong is evident in the fact that (i) we all judge others, which entails applying standards of behavior we think actually apply to other people and not just ourselves, (ii) when accused of wrong-doing, our first instinct is not to deny the standard, but to make excuses for why we didn't violate the standard, (iii) moral decision-making is difficult because we think there are actually correct and incorrect answers to moral questions, (iv) moral relativists are rarely consistent, and (v) we all find moral relativism to be counter-intuitive when we think about specific instances of egregious moral wrongs.

5. It seems prima facie unreasonable to deny morality. The denial of morality leads to many counter-intuitive results. It would follow that no culture is better or worse than another. There's no such thing as moral improvement. There are no unjust laws. There is no objective basis upon which to criticize other people. Nobody deserves praise or blame. Debates on moral issues are just as meaningless as debates on whether salmon tastes good since morality would reduce to preference.

6. Even people who deny morality continue to perceive a difference between right and wrong. They just deny that the perception corresponds to anything outside of their heads. Instead of saying, "Rape is really and objectively wrong," they say, "Rape is wrong for me," or, "I personally oppose rape." But rape continues to be abhorrent to them, and they find it difficult to deny that it really is wrong since it appears wrong to them.

7. Every one of us thinks morally in our day to day interactions with people. Most of the time, we don't notice because the right thing to do is obvious and we do it without much thought. We know we shouldn't steal somebody's wallet, not just because we might get caught, but because it's wrong. We're polite to people, not just because we want them to be polite to us, but because we think that's the right thing to do. Whenever we face moral dilemmas, and it isn't obvious what we should do, then we're forced to think more carefully about morals. We do it continuously throughout the day, but especially when interacting with people.

Conclusion

Since morality fits the seven traits of the third category of a priori knowledge, it follows that morality is just as epistemologically warranted as the other items in that category. If we are justified in believing in the past, the external world, and the uniformity of nature, then we are equally justified in believing in morality. We can deny morality, but that would be just as unreasonable as denying the external world, the past, and the uniformity of nature. So the conclusion that any rational person ought to come to is that there really is a difference between right and wrong that is not merely just in our heads.

Debate Round No. 2
jamccartney

Pro


Introduction


I would like to inaugurate this round by showing appreciation to my opponent for giving me his reasoning as to why objective morality exists. He has given me many many arguments and I will now begin my rebuttals.




Rebuttals


First, my opponent began by naming the two kinds of knowledge: 'a priori' and 'a posteriori'. He then argues that all morality falls under the third category of a priori knowledge. Under the third category, he made a list explaining the traits that apply. Then, he said that morality falls under most of them. He went through a list and explained the reasoning behind them. Some of them, however, prove my point correct.



1. "None of them can be proved." Yes, this is correct. Allow me to, again, give the definition of 'objective morality':


Objective morality is the idea that a certain system of ethics or set of moral judgments is not just true according to a person's subjective opinion, but factually true.


Because of this, we can see that morality cannot be proved and is therefore not factual. My opponent, however, said he agrees.


2. "It's possible to be mistaken about each of them." If this is true, then we do not know morality is factual, and therefore is not. However, my opponent already stated he also agrees with me.


3. "We sometimes make mistakes in our moral reasoning." Yes, we do. Different people perceive morals in a different way. My opponent seems to agree as well.


4. "All mentally healthy people perceive right and wrong." Of course they do, but there are three kinds of 'right and wrong':


Logical right and wrong: The difference between whether 1+1=2 or whether 1+1=3.


Decisional right and wrong: The difference between walking out in the street and getting hit or waiting for the car to pass and not getting hit.


Moral right and wrong: The difference between killing a person or not killing a person.


My opponent seems to be specifically talking about moral right and wrong, so I will only discuss that.


"This is evident in the fact that we consider sociopathy to be a mental illness. With the exception of sociopaths, the fact that we all perceive a difference between right and wrong…" This also applies to psychopaths. I do not consider sociopathy and psychopathy to be a mental disorder. Though they are in the minority, there exists more than one kind in each group: Severe and moderate. Ironically, I happen to be the perfect example of a moderate psychopathy, which means I simply lack a few emotions and my empathy level is not as high as others.


Because of this, I do not not have exactly the same emotions as others. It is my perception of morality, not my following other people's rules. I have my own opinion of what morality is and my opponent does too.


5. "It seems unreasonable to deny morality." Yes, it is unreasonable to deny what other people think, however that does not make it factual. People sharing common beliefs does not make it factual. My opponent's morals are not factual, nor are mine.


6. "Even those who deny morality have an opinion of right and wrong." Again, I will assume my opponent is speaking of moral right and wrong. I have already discussed this point, so I will not do it again.


7. "Everyone thinks morality in our day to day interactions with people." This is true, yes, but not everyone thinks of the same morality. My opponent and I both know not to kill someone, but not everyone knows that. If one were raised to not be taught morals, they would not know the morality everyone else knows. They don't have a mental illness, they simply do not know others' morals.



Conclusion


In conclusion, I have refuted my opponent's argument and I believe I have proven that there is no such thing as objective morality. I look forward to my opponent's final rebuttals and arguments. Once he does so, the debate will be in the hands of the voters. Thank you.


philochristos

Con

Since this is only a two round debate, and since I go last, Pro will not have an opportunity to defend his original argument against my rebuttal, so it's not really fair for me to use this space to defend my original argument against his rebuttal. So this round will be a rebuttal of his original argument in the last round.

Pro only gave one argument for his denial of moral objectivism. It can be summarized in a syllogism like so:

1. If there were moral facts, then there would be no moral disagreement.
2. There is moral disagreement.
3. Therefore, there are no moral facts.

I'm going to go ahead and concede the second premise and just take issue with the first premise.

Pro is confused about the nature of subjective statements and objective statements. Take at look at these various claims he makes:

"For not everyone thinks the same way, not everyone has the same morals. Therefore, there is no such thing as objective morality."

"Though I, and I assume my opponent as well, thinks the Holocaust was wrong, it was technically not because not everyone thought it was wrong."

"What my opponent finds moral may not be what George Washington found moral. Because of this, morality is not a fact."

"If every human being on Earth thought it [Biblical morality] was a fact, it would be. An opinion can only become fact if every person has the same opinion."

Basically, he thinks that if everybody has the same opinion about something, it becomes a fact. But if not everybody has the same opinion about something, then it's not a fact. "Fact," in the context of all these statements means "objectively true."

But this is just a misunderstanding of the objective/subjective dichotomy. Whether a statement is objective or subjective has nothing to do with whether everybody agrees with it or not. Rather, it has to do with what makes the statement true or false. If a statement is subjective, then the subject makes the statement true or false. If the statement is objective, then the object makes the statement true or false.

I'll give some examples. Here's a subjective statement:

Pizza tastes good.

What determines whether this statement is true or false is the subject making the claim. If the subject likes the way pizza tastes, then pizza tastes good to that subject, even though it may taste bad to somebody else. Whether pizza tastes good or not depends entirely on what people believe and prefer, and it differs from individual to individual. Some like it, and some don't, so it tastes good to some and not to others.

Here's an objective statement:

The earth is round.

What determines whether this statement is true or false is the object--the earth. If the earth is, in fact, round, then the statement is true, and if the earth is, in fact, a cube, then the statement is false. Even if everybody thought the earth was a cube, it would still be round. The shape of the earth does not depend on what anybody believes about it. That's what makes the statement objective. Notice that objective statements can be false. The claim that "The earth is a cube" is an objective statement even though it's false. What makes it an objective statement is that whether it's true or false has to do with the shape of the earth and not with anybody's belief about the shape of the earth.

With these explanations in mind, it should be obvious what the problem is with Pro's argument. Universal consensus cannot make a subjective statement objective, and disagreement cannot make an objective statement subjective. Consensus or lack of consensus has absolutely nothing to do with whether a claim is objective or subjective.

Pro's first premise is false. If there are objective morals, that would not necessarily entail that everybody agreed with them. After all, people can have their facts wrong.

If you think about it, Pro's argument undermines his whole point of view. He and I disagree on the question of whether there are any objective moral values. Pro believes "There are objective morals" is false, and I believe it is true. By Pro's reasoning, the claim that "There are no objective morals" is not a fact since he and I disagree about it. By his reasoning, that means his point of view is just his subjective opinion, like his taste in pizza.

So pro's position in this debate is self-refuting. By arguing with me, he assumes that one of us is right and the other is wrong. But by his reasoning, his point of view is right for him and wrong for me. There's no fact to the matter.

But the fact that he's arguing with me shows that he thinks he's right and I'm wrong, which means there is a fact to the matter. If there is a fact to the matter even though he and I disagree, then obviously universal agreement is not necessary for a statement to be a fact. So his first premise is false. That means his argument is unsound.

Thank you for coming to tonight's debate.

Debate Round No. 3
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by Boesball 3 years ago
Boesball
Phiochristos does a great job of representing us Christians!
Posted by jamccartney 3 years ago
jamccartney
I don't think WilliamsP understands my point, for he talked about a different kind of fact than I was talking about. Oh well. Good debate anyway.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by Poetaster 3 years ago
Poetaster
jamccartneyphilochristosTied
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: Con thoroughly and plainly refuted Pro's central argument, while presenting a defense of his own position, which itself went undiscredited. Con managed to show that Pro's case was rooted in some very severe misconceptions which would, if true, render the very act of debate absurd. This completely undercut Pro's license to even disagree with Con, resulting in a total 'reductio' of his case. Con also showed substantial meta-ethical awareness in his delivery without being too pedantic. Conduct and writing was fairly matched.
Vote Placed by WilliamsP 3 years ago
WilliamsP
jamccartneyphilochristosTied
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Total points awarded:04 
Reasons for voting decision: Morality is objective because it is founded on fact. Opinions, contrary to the belief of Pro, can also be founded upon facts. Evolution is not accepted by everyone yet it is still FACT. Now, my reasons for voting are the following: Conduct is tied because there was no forfeiture or offensive text. Spelling and grammar goes to Con because of the sophisticated terminology he utilized. Pro spelled everything correctly, but Con made a more convincing argument, which leads into the next point. Convincing arguments goes to Con because of the sheer length and complexity of his arguments. Finally, reliable sources are tied because no argument contained any sources.