An objective morality can be discerned
Debate Rounds (5)
I wish to debate whether or not an objective morality can be discerned. Obviously, I will be outlining exactly how I believe this morality can be discerned, and my opponent will counter this (taking a nihilistic or relativistic stance). Here is how the debate will be structured:
1. Definitions/presupposition(s) and agreement upon said definitions/presupposition(s)
2. Opening arguments (no rebuttals)
3&4. Rebuttals, arguments, wisecracks and whatever else.
5. Closing arguments (stating whatever one believes still stands, despite rebuttals)
Objective - That which is based on shared reality rather than on internal affairs. That which is objective is not influenced by emotions.
Morality - Principles concerning the nature of right and wrong.
Presuppositions that I'm making:
That reality is in fact shared in some sense, and, as a result, principles regarding the nature of reality can be discerned.
That humans evolved, just like every other animal on the planet.
As I noted in the first round, my argument rests on a couple of presuppositions, and those presuppositions come with some baggage.
My first presupposition is that reality is, in some sense, shared. This is simply one of the scientific presuppositions, essentially disregarding the problem of hard solipsism. This particular presupposition comes with no baggage.
The second presupposition, that humans evolved and are animals, comes with substantially more baggage. I'll try to unpack that here.
First, humans evolved and are animals. This indicates that humans have a survival instinct (either as individuals or as groups) and that human faculties underwent some process of refinement.
Second, evolution implies that survival pressures occur. Natural selection spurs natural adaptation; natural adaptation is the natural way to adapt to survival pressures, but humans can technologically adapt. Ever since humans began to create tools, they have been "escaping" natural selection through technological means. Of course some pressures will still cause natural adaptation to occur (in the case of milk consumption, for instance), but humans didn't need to adapt strength because they had spears, and humans can't eat raw meat because they had fire.(1)
In this way the purpose of the traits of any animal can be discerned. We can create sentences in the form of "X trait occurred for Y reason." This doesn't imply any conscious goal in mind, it's simple a posteriori observation. Fish have fins because they need to swim and birds have hollow bones because they need to fly. I couldn't have told you this before the adaptations occurred, of course, but telling you afterwards isn't a problem. There is no teleological issue when talking about the purpose of natural traits in this way.
So, this brings us to morality. Why are we even moral in the first place? It clearly isn't arbitrary, and immorality is actually fairly hard to propagate (serial killers are quite rare, for instance). So, clearly, humans have some inbuilt, natural morality, but, again, the question is why. Well, often, when trying to determine the purpose of an adaptation, cross species examinations can be done, and when cross-species examinations are done in the case of morality, its purpose and its nature are easily discerned. The purpose of morality, like every other trait that an animal adapts, is to promote survival. Morality promotes survival through group cohesion, and this is quite apparent when looking across species. Why don"t I kill? It puts my group at risk. Why don"t I steal? It puts my group at risk. A group filled with immoral individuals will do substantially worse that a group glued together via morality.(2)
So, back to humans escaping natural selection: If we"re naturally moral, why are we so, well, immoral? That"s actually easy to answer. The only type of morality that humans ever needed to naturally adapt was minor. Humans just needed enough morality to keep a band of roughly 30 to 40 people from collapsing. After the rise of agriculture, and, by extension, society, the natural human morality couldn't keep up. This is when humans began to innovate an unnatural morality, enough to deal with large societies. This need to innovate coincides nicely with the rise of organized religion and law.(3)(4)(5)
This unnatural vs. natural morality divide also explains the inconsistent consistency across cultures, in group vs. out group dynamics (and Dunbar"s number) and the lack of large scale empathy next to the abundance of personal empathy. (6)(7)(8)
Now, my definition of morality is as follows then:
Morality - A suite of otherregarding behaviors that promote group cohesion through altruism, reciprocity, cooperation, etc.
What does this mean for law, then? Well, this definition of morality can be expanded, and, with a basis to work from, it would be easy enough to determine what actions would promote the highest level of group cohesion. This doesn't automatically indicate a lack of personal freedom, as, when freedom is restricted, frustration breeds, and frustration leads to instability.(9)(10)
It should also be noted that convergent evolution is a great measure of the efficacy of a natural trait for its purpose (flagellum vs. submarine rudders, bird wings vs. plane wings), and the type of morality that I've laid out here is, in fact, a convergent trait that can be seen in cetaceans, canids, other primates and even rodents to some extent. It seems to increase as group complexity increases. (11)(12)(13)(14)(15)
7. http://www.npr.org... (there are better resources, but NPR is fun)
11. "Wild Justice" by Bekoff and Pierce. Yes, the whole thing.
The reason that humans have adapted a nearly-generic morality is because we are a social species. We have the ability to communicate with one another in a way that is unmatched in other organisms. I believe that evolution may have played a role in this in that through the process of natural selection those in tribes or families must have gained some survival advantage via their (what we consider to be) "moral" thoughts. My position is that human morality evolves to fit the needs of current state of a large group of people. For example, in Johannesburg, South Africa, there are huge amounts of torture, murder and other capital crimes. This is because the survival of the average person in Johannesburg depends on different factors compared to the survival of the average person in suburban upstate New York. Their morality has changed. It is not objective, because we can argue that their morality is bad for us. The morality of a law-abiding United States citizen is not objective because the murderers of Johannesburg can argue that the United States morals are equally bad for them. Objective morality cannot be discerned because one man's objective morality is another man's biased morality. Because there will never be a world in which everybody shares exactly the same morality, it is impossible to choose the "best" or "least biased" morality. Every morality is biased to someone.
One of Con's first statements is that morality is man made. Con later goes on to say that morality is society dependent (a relativistic stance). I have many objections to Con's stance here, but I'll expound upon a few.
First, is Con implying that only humans have morality? It would seem that this is the case, given that Con is claiming that morality is "man made." The sources that I've provided in my opening argument heavily contradict Con's claim here.
My second issue is with relativism in general. Relativism is an entirely useless stance for quite a few reasons:
1. It disregards the natural origin of humanity.
2. It makes morality, as a word, useless. I could start a society where flaying babies could be considered moral, and normative moral relativism would give that the go ahead. What if eating peanut butter is moral? What if doing 150 jumping jacks a day is moral? Moral relativism defines morality as the following when it is at its most extreme:
Morality - Literally any set of actions, given the proper context.
Since a purpose for morality can be discerned (through observing cross-species, cross-societal and historical patterns) I simply fail to see how relativism is sensible.
And my third issue is with a contradiction in Con's position. First, Con lays down Kant's Categorical Imperative with the line "This is the idea that everyone should act in a way that if everybody acted that way, our system would function properly" Con goes on to contradict him/herself by claiming a relativistic position with the lines "Their morality has changed. It is not objective, because we can argue that their morality is bad for us. The morality of a law-abiding United States citizen is not objective because the murderers of Johannesburg can argue that the United States morals are equally bad for them." How can murder ever be justified under a system where everyone must act according to Kant's Categorical Imperative?
Con asks what this morality that I propose would say about abortion. Let's return to my prior definition:
Morality - A suite of otherregarding behaviors that promote group cohesion through altruism, reciprocity, cooperation, etc.
What this definition says is "it depends." Research would need to be done to figure out how abortion impacts these metrics. And, luckily, my definition allows research to be done as it provides a basis for that research. It would probably be a complex issue with many possible cases that would need to be considered.
Con goes on to talk about a "nearly-generic" morality, but I"m afraid I need clarification regarding that term. Con also seems to imply that murder, rape and torture are appropriate given the "right circumstances," but, what, then, is the goal? Surely not survival, as murder, rape and torture, I'm quite sure, do not assist in survival. This seems to run counter to the overarching human desire to survive. Those in South Africa could say that the U.S. is morally reprehensible, but, using the definition that I propose, that South African claim could be measured, just as easily as the color of the sky. Someone may say that the sky is red, but the wavelengths will say otherwise.
I haven't provided any sources here as I feel that those in my opening should suffice to cover most of what I've said. I look forward to Con's response. Con should address my opening argument rather than my rebuttal, if that wasn't clear. The 4th round will be used to rebut the rebuttals.
1. In what way does relativism disregard the natural origin of humanity?
2. I think your point about flaying babies is probably the most invalid. The one word refutation is, of course, religion. Rabbis have been flaying the genitalia of newborns since the days of old (the old testament of course :D). In their communities they consider this a good thing. There are people who agree with this morality, and those who argue against it. I don't see the point in your argument about peanut butter or jumping jacks... So what? What if eating peanut butter is moral? How can you possible discern whether or not an objective morality would define the morality of eating peanut butter? There is an infinite multiplication of moral points that could be made on any subject which could be said to argue that even a biased morality cannot be discerned. For example, say that you outlined your entire morality. This includes whether or not eating peanut butter is moral. The question can then be asked: Is the morality of eating peanut butter moral? You see, there is an infinite complication of moral rationalizations that would have to be decided before a true complete morality can be discerned. From now on I will assume that this debate is about the THEORETICAL discerning of an objective morality, in which an infinite number of moral rationalizations could be worked out (this is not possible realistically).
To address your third issue, I was using Kant's Categorical Imperative as an example of yet another morality that is not necessarily objective, but is a morality nonetheless. Just because some people think that they should act in such a way as Kant's imperative dictates, it does not make it objective. Murder is not justified under a system that follows Kant's imperative, but it is justified under a different set of morals that are those of the murderers and other criminals of Johannesburg.
To some, the life of crime is necessary to their survival. That is irrefutable... In an economically starved city such as Detroit, there are more criminals because they need to support themselves and their families. I do not imply that rape and torture and murder are appropriate, but that anything, including murder rape and torture, are moral under the proper circumstances. Questions arise such as this: Would you push someone in front of a train to save the lives of 10? In this case, morality is questioned. What would an objective morality say about this? Which is better? To condemn the 10 lives, or to murder the one? Because it is impossible to be objective about a question such as this, an objective morality cannot be discerned.
When I said "nearly-generic" morality I was referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which outlines rights that each person is born with.
Sorry that all of my arguments have been rebuttals... This is my second debate and I started the first two at the same time. :/
Anyway, thanks for the response.
Con claims that lion morality is "lion made" in the same vein that human morality is "man made." Is Con implying, then, that lions can create abstract and adaptable moral systems? I find this to be an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence. I would argue that lions base their "morality" on basic tenets, ingrained in the psyche, in the same way that humans do. This ingrained morality is semi-adaptable, but, unlike the relativistic morality proposed by Con, it has a base. The base isn't extremely relevant to lions, but the human version of that base is highly useful to humanity, as humans need to figure out the best actions for society at large, an unnatural dilemma that lions need not face.
Back to lions: As evidence for a consistent rather than relative morality among lions, one can look to the infanticide committed by adult male lions when they take over a pride. If lions were intelligent enough to reason, adapting their morality to the situation, these alpha males would only kill the male cubs (to keep the females around for future mating) and would make sure to kill all adolescent males from the former alpha. They do not; their morality is not adaptable, it is innate. 
Another thing to note is the lack of variability in "lion culture." If lion morality was "lion made" and relative from pride to pride, heavy variability would be expected between prides not associated with one another. Some variability is there, but, no matter what, lions follow some basic moral standards, as outlined in the above source provided.
This parallels with humanity in that, despite the hefty geographic separation, there are many consistent taboos and rules across cultures. I provided a source for this in my opening argument.
Relativism disregards the natural origin of humanity because, when it is in its normative form, anything goes. Naturally, humans do not let anything go in any context. Serial killers are almost always wrong, warlords are almost always wrong. This can be objectively known because morality serves a particular natural purpose. If someone tortures someone else to save 5 other people, the situation can be determined morally right or wrong objectively by using the definition that I propose combined with scientific methodology. The definition that I propose is objective, and it is supported by a mass of evidence, some of which I presented in my opening argument. I'm afraid Con has yet to provide any evidence supporting his/her position, particularly the position that torture in South Africa may be necessary for survival.
Con brings up the fact that circumcision is accepted within some cultures, but I don't see how that is relevant. Circumcision and flaying are two entirely different things.
Con's point about the "morality of the morality of eating peanut butter" doesn't make sense, as morality applies to actions, not to concepts. Morality, much like "car" or "grocery bag" cannot be moral or immoral under any theory that I'm aware of. What those objects are used for can be, of course, but morality doesn't apply to objects themselves.
Furthermore, Con speaks of "laying out my entire morality", but I'm not proposing a deontological system. The system that I propose is consequentialist, based on some basic quasi-deontological tenants. This debate is about the validity of my proposed moral theory as evidence of an objective morality.
Con's point about the murderers of Johannesburg ties into the issue that Con rose with my peanut butter and jumping jack examples. If literally any action can be moral or immoral, then the word "morality" is useless, much like how the word "car" would be useless if anything could be a car. Morality has a natural origin. No one can argue whether or not hands grasp objects and the means by which they do.
As for the trolley problem, it would depend on who the people on the tracks are and on who the person being pushed is. I'm afraid that saying that it's impossible to be objective about this dilemma begins with the assumption that the morality that I propose is invalid; this is an assumption that Con has yet to support in the face of the evidence and arguments that I've provided.
Again, if Con would be willing to argue against my opening and this rebuttal, that would be great, if not, that's understandable; I should've been more clear when laying out the format.
This is wrong. As an infant, the foreskin is actually attached to the head of the penis. Ergo, the surgical peeling of the foreskin back is literally flaying.
This next argument could also be made for lions, but I will use dogs instead because there are more examples:
What is a wild dog's innate morality? Why do you think that an animal's morality is only semi-adaptable? A wild dog can be exactly the same species as a tame one, and yet a wild dog would eat a human being if caught in their environment. I don't see the semi-adaptability in that. It seems to me to be fully adaptable. A child can be raised with the morals of a serial killer. There is no innate morality within him that is preventing him from murdering. When you mention the "lack of variability" in lion culture, this is not valid. If a group of 100 lions are raised in the same environments, then their morals will of course be similar. However, there are trainers who raise lions from cubs, and they don't have vicious relationships with those lions. Their most basic morals have been completely changed by their environment. The same could be said for killer whales in theme parks. Like humans, they are usually docile because of the environment that they are raised in. There are occasionally attacks, but the same could be said for human beings. Not because of their innate hatred for humans, but because they are provoked in some way.
First of all, any action can be moral or immoral. This is why morality is relative. You may not think that eating peanut butter is a moral choice, but what about eating peanut butter next to somebody who is deathly allergic to peanut butter? What if you don't know that the person sitting next to you is deathly allergic to peanut butter? Are you now no longer obeying your morals, or do your morals change to fit the situation? These are all questions that apply to every action. Some actions cannot be defined as moral or immoral. Is murder worse than manslaughter? Why? Somebody still died. Does intent carry moral value, and if so, who decides that it does?
Why do you think that some people in Johannesburg torture rape and murder everyone they want to? If they have the same innate moralities that I do, why don't I torture rape and murder everyone that I want to? The answer is simple. To paraphrase from Penn Jilette who doesn't take credit for this statement: I have tortured, raped and murdered everyone that I want to, and that number is zero. Why is it that the murderers and torturers of South Africa have a higher number? Is it more likely (and I am using occam's razor here) that they innately believe that murder is bad, but their upbringing overcomes this psychological capacity? Or is it more likely that they have no innate morals, and that their experiences in life are the building blocks of their morality?
"That which is objective is not influenced by emotions."
To decide the morality of an action is an emotional decision, not an intellectual one. Even if there were innate morals embedded in each person, they would be influenced by emotions.
I will end with a question.
Where do you think innate morals come from (You may say God, but we only have one more round left so...), and if they are innate in us because of evolution, then why have we not adopted an innate language to help us communicate, or an innate understanding of which plants are safe to eat and which are poisonous?
My initial argument, as far as I can tell, still fully stands. I'll restate it here in diluted form:
1. Morality is a naturally occurring, ecological phenomena.
2. Morality's purpose can be discerned through many different means, either by observing convergence across social species, observing patterns through human history, looking at the morality of primitive/hunter-gatherer "societies", observing the consilience of various religious/legal traditions, whatever.
3. The purpose of morality can then be used to form various natural "pillars" upon which one can build an adaptive, objective, consequentialist morality.
4. Through my own study, I have found the purpose of morality to be to maintain group cohesion (for the the deeper purpose of human survival). I have found the pillars to be altruism, reciprocity and cooperation, though I'm sure there are more pillars that are currently escaping me.
5. One can then measure, objectively, various actions through this lens.
6. One needs to define this morality and apply it because humans have escaped (in some sense) natural selection. Our inbuilt, natural morality wasn't meant to deal with macro-level/societal issues.
7. Since the purpose of morality is survival, and nature has demonstrated, through millions and millions of years of selection, precisely what type of morality works for that, we should heed nature and apply the pillars nature has set even further. This is without even mentioning the practicality of this, as humans were "built" to apply this form of natural morality, so applying it further would be substantially easier than trying to create a new form of morality from the ground up. Not to mention humans have yet to be capable of matching natural complexity through technology.
Simple! I have provided many sources which support this argument. Con has presented the moral philosophy of relativism, where any action is moral or immoral according to the culture within which it occurs. I believe that I have sufficiently argued against Con's stance.
Again, thank you, Con, for the debate. Please, do recall that this portion of the debate should simply be used to state why you believe your argument still stands. No rebuttals.
1. Firstly, my question should be asked again, maybe someone can answer it in the comments: Where do you think an innate morality comes from? If it comes from evolution, then why have humans not evolved other innate knowledge, for example the toxicity and edibility of different plants? That is certainly important to survival, and yet it is not innate within us.
2 To prove that a morality can be objective, you must first prove that a moral choice can be made without involving an emotional state. I believe this to be very improbably, and I do not think that it has been made any more probably by pro's arguments.
3. Some moral choices simply cannot be made objectively, because morality is not a methodical process. Is it morally better to commit robbery or to commit arson? This answer to this question cannot be decided via logic. This is where morality comes into play. Each person morality is different on such a matter. If one person says arson and one person says robbery, does one of those two have the moral high ground? Even more importantly, if they'd had an innate morality, then why couldn't they agree on one choice over the other?
4. It has not been shown to my satisfaction that moral pillars are anything more than survival instincts. Survival instincts are not innate psychologically, but in my view are very quickly adapted by people who are avoiding the physical suffering which they will endure without survival instincts. As modern societies emerged, morality changes to fit the needs of a society. To put this in more understandable terms, I will provide a scenario. If tomorrow a drastic change occurs in the world, such as the beginning of a global war, will the children born two days from now be born with a different morality? I don't think that they will. I think rather that the children born two days from now (in this scenario) will be born with no moral instincts, and will rather learn morals from their environment (parents, education, etc.).
5. To prove the ability to discern an objective morality, you must also first prove that all actions can be measured objectively. It has not been shown that every action can be measured by the application of numbers or statistics. I will again use the train scenario. Is it moral to push someone in front of a train to save the lives of 5 or 10? How can one possibly measure the value of each life? The variables are the value of the life of the person being pushed in front of the train, the morality of murder, and the value of the lives being saved. None of these can be objectively measured, ergo none of these can be objectively moralized.
I apologize, I know I'm not supposed to rebuttal, but I just have one final point.
Human have not escaped natural selection. We have simply changed the way in which 'selection' occurs. Now economic and social statuses must be factored in to natural selection. Those who are genetically gifted mentally are now more valued than those who are genetically gifted physically.
Thank you for the debate.
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