The Instigator
Ragnar_Rahl
Pro (for)
Losing
7 Points
The Contender
TheSkeptic
Con (against)
Winning
9 Points

"For general purpose, the term "Morality" should refer to "The code which dictates how a goal (a val

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 3 votes the winner is...
TheSkeptic
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/3/2009 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,337 times Debate No: 9921
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (8)
Votes (3)

 

Ragnar_Rahl

Pro

When people are talking about morality, they are attempting to convince someone to take or not to take an action (and when they are thinking about it, deciding whether to take an action). Advocating something makes no sense if you do not wish to achieve something by it.
TheSkeptic

Con

I thank RR for challenging me to this debate; we had a short discussion in the forums about this topic and I recommended we brought this to a debate, so here we are.

I also want to note that my opponent's full resolution is the following: For general purposes, the term "morality" should refer to "the code which dictates how a goal (values) are achieved." This can be seen from our discussion in the forum and from his revision in the comment sections. I'll assume no dissent will arise here.

My case will be quite brief, and will take inspiration from this source[1]. Bernard Gert does a great job of outlining a case that I would say creates a definition that is not only intuitive, but accurately fits all, or at least most, ethical theories while being able to contrast itself from other similar "codes" - such as religion, formality, etc.

====================
Why my opponent's normative definition of morality fails
====================

My opponent's definition of morality is too vague and inclusive -- allowing things to be considered moral that are not normally part of the moral discussion.

First and foremost, he uses the term "how to achieve a goal" in an ambiguous sense; seemingly almost anything can be considered a goal. It can't be that this is referring to some general rule that tells us how to achieve EVERY goal in life -- no such maxim can exist and at the same time be effective, so then it must be taken to mean to refer to any code. If this is so, then his definition of morality can be applies to the most extraneous conventions. For example, the rulebook of a video game will dictate you in order to achieve a goal (presumely for you to win the game).

"When people are talking about morality, they are attempting to convince someone to take or not to take an action (and when they are thinking about it, deciding whether to take an action). Advocating something makes no sense if you do not wish to achieve something by it."

----> True, but to define morality thus as a code of conduct that guides behavior is WAY too hasty. To apply your definition, this would mean that a simple command or request would turn into a moral proposition. Actions as trivial as recommending someone how to complete a math problem would be classified as a moral action.

My definition will be built to overcome his flaws:

====================
The case for my normative definition of morality
====================

On all accounts of morality, it is a code of conduct and even my opponent agrees. All accounts of morality are capable of guiding behavior, but the problem is that other nonmoral codes of conduct do the same - such as the law, decorum, and religion. I would present a definition as to draw separation among other forms of code of conduct and morality.

To fully outline the my definition, it will be the following: "Morality is an informal public system applying to all rational persons, governing behavior that affects others, and has the lessening of evil or harm as its goal." Now, to explain each part:

As a public system, everyone who are subject to morality would know whats kinds of acts are prohibited, suggested, etc. As an informal system, it has no ultimate authoritative judge, though we do we have unique systems (legal frameworks) to facilitate disagreement. There may be inner disagreements, but it all happens under an agreed framework -- in the same way basketball players may argue with referees about a call on a play, though still agree about the framework of basketball rules and regulations. A moral system would govern behavior, whether it be one of the more religious-tied or Kantian ethics in which self-governing behavior is stressed, whereas more secular ethical theories guide our behavior in how it affects others. The final part is a little contentious, but all it means is that morality has the job of dictating that some acts should be repressed while others should not (or even be encouraged).

====================
Conclusion
====================

As you can see, my definition is not only much more comprehensive but sensible. Here's a great quote by Gert in his final summation:

"The proposed normative definition of "morality" is controversial but it does have some features that should be widely accepted. The definition allows as meaningful the commonly asked question, "Why should I be moral?" It is also compatible with the commonly held view that it is not always irrational to be immoral, however it guarantees that it is never irrational to be moral. This definition also explains why we want others to act morally and why others want us to act morally. It thus does what definitions of referring terms are supposed to do: it clarifies this term's relationship to other terms with which it is related, and helps to explain why we use the word in the way that we do."

---References---
1. http://plato.stanford.edu...
Debate Round No. 1
Ragnar_Rahl

Pro

"
First and foremost, he uses the term "how to achieve a goal" in an ambiguous sense; seemingly almost anything can be considered a goal."
And?

"It can't be that this is referring to some general rule that tells us how to achieve EVERY goal in life"
Transportation operates by economic and physical laws ( a set of rules, not a rule), whatever your destination may be.

"no such maxim can exist and at the same time be effective,"
This presumes only one morality can exist. Faulty assumption.

:If this is so, then his definition of morality can be applies to the most extraneous conventions. For example, the rulebook of a video game will dictate you in order to achieve a goal (presumely for you to win the game).
Correct. Within the context of playing Madden with normal camera settings and controls, assuming one is playing for the purpose of winning, it is immoral to call running plays and press and hold down on the D-Pad from the start to end of every play-- it runs counter to the goal in question.

:Actions as trivial as recommending someone how to complete a math problem would be classified as a moral action.
There is nothing trivial about the question of how to solve a math problem. If I own a store (which is formed for the purpose, at least proximately, of profit), and I treat the change for a 10 dollar purpose with a 100 dollar bill as 5 pennies, I am destroying the integrity of my store and encouraging all my customers to shop at a more honest competitor.

If I am a student in school still deciding on a career to undertake for such purposes and I should happen to intentionally and falsely convince myself of the mathematical premises behind this monetary proposition, I am committing a likewise immoral act.

:but the problem is that other nonmoral codes of conduct do the same - such as the law, decorum, and religion.
Legislators and religionists would be very annoyed to hear that their propositions are without moral import. I don't pay much attention to decorum but I doubt they differ much on that account.

:"Morality is an informal public system
There is no such entity as the public

:Applying to all rational persons, governing behavior that affects others, and has the lessening of evil or harm as its goal.

Evil and harm presume a preexisting conception of morality.

:As a public system, everyone who are subject to morality would know whats kinds of acts are prohibited
We already disagree on the nature of the system. This doesn't speak well for our agreement on the acts, and that's just two people. To think it a public system with public knowledge (knowledg which does not differ from individual to individual) you would have to not only ignore the disagreement between you and I, but demonstrate that 6 billion persons all agree.

:There may be inner disagreements, but it all happens under an agreed framework
The framework we've already disagreed about.

:but all it means is that morality has the job of dictating that some acts should be repressed while others should not (or even be encouraged).
Repression is already covered by the concept of law, which though with moral import is not synonymous with morality. Morality also has to do with not only "Should this be repressed or not" but "Once that is decided, should I practice it?"

:As you can see, my definition is not only much more comprehensive
:My opponent's definition of morality is too vague and inclusive
To be comprehensive is to include more things. My opponent contradicts himself on which definition is broader.

:The definition allows as meaningful the commonly asked question, "Why should I be moral?"
Allowing a stolen concept-- questioning whether the source of should should be-- is not an advantage.

:It is also compatible with the commonly held view that it is not always irrational to be immoral
Why on earth is merely allowing for common views an important consideration? The point of words is to express concepts, not to apologize for how they are arranged.

:however it guarantees that it is never irrational to be moral.
How does it do that exactly anyway?

:This definition also explains why we want others to act morally
No it doesn't. Explaining (falsely) that we all agree does not explain why.
TheSkeptic

Con

I thank RR for his fast and concise response. However, typical of RR, it's hard to reorganize all his responses into an order, so in my sections I will respond to his recurring responses -- to reply by quoting his reply is simply too troublesome and probably confusing for the audience and us two.

Before I begin, I want to make a very important point clear: my opponent gives no reason as to why his definition should be accepted contrary to mine. Because even if he shows mine to be inadequate, unless he supports his own theory then there is no point.

====================
Why my opponent's normative definition of morality fails
====================

First of all, the problem I am saying about his definition being ambiguous is that it's vacuous - it's the same problem that Meno had when attempting to define virtue; consequently, his definition included everyone as being virtuous. Socrates rightfully pointed out that it was a virtuous definition and thus is something we want to avoid prima facie.

My counterexamples of following rules to achieve a goal as being judged in moral dimensions is to show that my opponent's definition is prima facie wrong - he has yet to demonstrate why we should accept his definition. Sure, it can fit the examples given but only in the most peculiar manner. Following the rules in a game to win it is not an instance of morality, but rather an instance of rationality -- it would be irrational for you to disobey the rules and guidelines if your goal is to win the game, there is NO NEED to add unnecessary moral complexities into the equation. Furthermore, you are abusing the analogy in my math problem example. Sure, handling math can be very beneficial and even be brought into moral situations in even conventional moral theories (perhaps solving some intricate math problem to stop a ticking terrorist bomb?). However, I find it intuitively troubling to say that solving a math problem would be a morally praiseworthy moment.

Multiple times in his response he states that I am presuming only one morality can exist, and that this is faulty...I implore him to expand on this. Is he really saying that there can be multiple moral standards? This stinks of moral relativism, and I doubt him as an Objectivist would further this position as it is ironically contradictory.

====================
Why my opponent's normative definition of morality fails -- Responding to several quotes
====================

"Legislators and religionists would be very annoyed to hear that their propositions are without moral import. I don't pay much attention to decorum but I doubt they differ much on that account."
----> "Insofar a person is legitimately ignorant of what he is morally prohibited or required to do, he is not subject to moral judgment. This is one way in which morality in the normative sense differs from law. Law is not a public system for sometimes "ignorance of the law provides no excuse." Even if a person is legitimately ignorant of what he is legally prohibited or required to do, he may still be subject to legal judgment.[1]"

"There is no such entity as the public"
----> Elaborate.

"Evil and harm presume a preexisting conception of morality."
----> All moral systems deem a category of actions as evil/prohibited/immoral, do they not? And all moral systems aim to lessen the presence of such unwanted actions, do they not?

"Morality also has to do with not only "Should this be repressed or not" but "Once that is decided, should I practice it?""
----> Deciding whether or not to do what is moral is an issue for meta-ethics.

"To be comprehensive is to include more things. My opponent contradicts himself on which definition is broader."
----> A trivial mess up; what I mean to say is that my definition is comprehensive enough to the point of not including that which is prima facie amoral.

"Allowing a stolen concept-- questioning whether the source of should should be-- is not an advantage."
----> Which would only be valid under your definition of morality...which has yet to be defended.

====================
Conclusion
====================

Not only have I shown my definition of morality to be comprehensive and adequate, but I have yet to hear a defense of my opponent's definition. It may sound silly to debate about what definition we should attach to a word, but for the sake of philosophic discussion (and scientific sometimes) it's very important -- for example, there are concerns about the definition of knowledge and free will in philosophy, with a legitimate discussion still raging.

---References---
1. http://plato.stanford.edu...
Debate Round No. 2
Ragnar_Rahl

Pro

:my opponent gives no reason as to why his definition should be accepted contrary to mine.
Did that R1. If I can succeed in rebutting everything you post after that, that means what I posted R1 stands. Whether I do so is for the audience to decide.

And I'm sure the contrast in our formats is a good thing :).

:First of all, the problem I am saying about his definition being ambiguous is that it's vacuous - it's the same problem that Meno had when attempting to define virtue; consequently, his definition included everyone as being virtuous.
If that's a problem you're on about, I can think of someone who is not living up to the definition of morality I've provided.

"
Someone is in love with their spouse (i.e. has as a goal strict and honest cohappiness with the spouse), a spouse who asks of them monogamy.
They commit adultery. Before, during, and after the adultery, they continue to espouse in their own head their love for the spouse, knowing that they aren't living up to it and yet not refraining from the adultery. Why? They let fleeting emotions and such get in the way of the execution. Their resolve was insufficient."
See? Problem inapplicable.

:Following the rules in a game to win it is not an instance of morality, but rather an instance of rationality
Of rationality given what premise? A moral premise. There is nothing in rationality that says one way or another whether you should follow the rules of the game-- unless you have chosen a goal first. Can you show a counterexample to this? What in rationality dictates that someone follow the rules when they are morally apathetic, i.e., have no goals?

:it would be irrational for you to disobey the rules and guidelines if your goal is to win the game, there is NO NEED to add unnecessary moral complexities into the equation.
The "If your goal" IS the "moral complexity" in the equation, the only one I am speaking of. You already introduced it, and it took you a matter of seconds. Maybe you don't need to, but you sure have a hard time not doing it.

"I find it intuitively troubling to say that solving a math problem would be a morally praiseworthy moment."
Intuition is non-objective.

"
Multiple times in his response he states that I am presuming only one morality can exist, and that this is faulty...I implore him to expand on this. Is he really saying that there can be multiple moral standards?"
Yes, I am.

"This stinks of moral relativism"
Depends how you choose to define it. Normally, relativists seem to hold that the truth value of a proposition is non-absolute, which is not what I advocate-- I advocate it's absoluteness within a context.

"and I doubt him as an Objectivist would further this position as it is ironically contradictory.
"
This is a bit of a tangent, but--

"Life or death is man's only fundamental alternative. To live is his basic act of choice. If he chooses to live, a rational ethics will tell him what principles of action are required to implement his choice. If he does not choose to live, nature will take its course.
"
Ayn Rand-- Philosophy, Who Needs It. Note that this already admits that the Objectivist ethics is inapplicable outside the context of choosing to live. Ayn Rand may personally have been very inconsistent on this front. If you wish to argue my correcting the inconsistency makes me non-Objectivist, that is a matter for another debate, I'm sure Peikoff and friends will thank you for the attempt. If you wish to argue that this is inconsistent with something else I advocate, feel free, but keep in mind that your opponent is Ragnar_Rahl and not Ayn Rand.

""Legislators and religionists would be very annoyed to hear that their propositions are without moral import. I don't pay much attention to decorum but I doubt they differ much on that account."
----> "Insofar a person is legitimately ignorant of what he is morally prohibited or required to do, he is not subject to moral judgment. This is one way in which morality in the normative sense differs from law. Law is not a public system for sometimes "ignorance of the law provides no excuse." Even if a person is legitimately ignorant of what he is legally prohibited or required to do, he may still be subject to legal judgment.[1]"
"
This doesn't seem to be an argument in response. Whether law is a "public system" (whatever you mean by that) or not, it still derives from a code of action taken for some purpose.

"
"There is no such entity as the public"
----> Elaborate."
How do you elaborate on a negation? Since you are the one seeking to advocate that there is such an entity, and the burden of proof means that the default presumption is that I am correct in negating it, the duty lies on you to elaborate what you mean by it-- normally the term refers to a supposed entity made up of the combined will of all humans in a given geographic area, an entity which does not exist as those wills are incompatible and thus cannot be combine.

"
"Evil and harm presume a preexisting conception of morality."
----> All moral systems deem a category of actions as evil/prohibited/immoral, do they not?"
Incorrect. Some deem such a category evil. Others deem ANOTHER category evil. And they often disagree about just whh and why. But evil, and related terms, still cannot be defined without first naming the system, so this fails to respond to the statement.

"
----> Deciding whether or not to do what is moral is an issue for meta-ethics.
"
Which is-- a moral field. Ethics and morality are effectively synonyms, the attempt to distinguish the terms tends to be practiced by the irrational in order to protect either religious morality or some secular derivative of the charity concepts within it from the subject of philosophy-- i.e., in order to prevent reason from being exercised upon them. I have yet to observe any other reason for such a distinction.

"A trivial mess up; what I mean to say is that my definition is comprehensive enough to the point of not including that which is prima facie amoral."
What is "Prima facie amoral?" And how unless it already assumes our definition making your argument circular?

"Which would only be valid under your definition of morality"
http://www.answers.com...
Incidentally those of a deontological bent, who inherently must use a different definition as mine is incompatible with their arguments, seem to see the same linguistic relationship with "Should" and morality.

I seem to recall your only alternative use of "Should" relying on "Rationality--" but unless you can find a means of making reason say you should or should not do x without reference to a goal you would have to concede the game.

"but I have yet to hear a defense of my opponent's definition."
Only because you evidently didn't read R1.
TheSkeptic

Con

I thank my opponent for this debate - it's been interesting. As usual, given our contrast in formats I'll simply split it up into three sections: general reply to my opponent's claim, replies to specific quotes, and the conclusion.

====================
Why my opponent's normative definition of morality fails
====================

Ah, so I see. His reason for defining morality as he did was from the statements in his first round: "When people are talking about morality, they are attempting to convince someone to take or not to take an action (and when they are thinking about it, deciding whether to take an action)." To be honest, the reason I didn't realize this was his argument was because, well...it really isn't much of an argument. It's true that when people talk about what one ought to do, they are telling them what actions they should take...but this is not unique to morality at all. In so many areas of discourse the same thing happens - when architects are talking about a new project, they are telling others what actions they should take to create the most efficient/elegant/etc. structure. Again, the usage of the word should does NOT only include moral discussions. He chooses an incredibly irrelevant fact and decides to define morality as such.

My point about bringing up Meno as an analogy is not to say that your definition applies to everyone in all situations, but rather it's simply vacuous due to it including nonsensical situations such as solving a math problem.

He then states that a moral dimension is necessary in deciding to take action towards a goal, contrary to my proposal that this is often rationality. He entirely misunderstands the point -- you do not need to have moral concerns to motivate one to follow rules in order to achieve a goal. If I am concerned with the truth, then using the laws of logic and rational thinking will get me to the goal. If I am hungry, I rationally know that buying food will quench this qualm. It is perfectly possible to follow the rule to achieve a goal and NOT have morality to do with it. Not all goals are of moral concern; it can be simply desires that one has.

Furthermore, he advocates the interesting claim that there can multiple moral standards. They are, as he states, absolute within a context. At first glance, this seems to be contradictory prima facie - how can we have multiple absolute moral standards? A standard implies it's objective, and absolute means it doesn't change. The idea, then, of having multiple objective, absolute standards is infeasible unless specified conditionals are put into place (which can be suspect as why would several moral standards have limits on their moral territory). RR states that they are within a context, but fails to elucidate.

I see no point in quoting Ayn Rand. Objectivist ethics holds there to be objective morals - which is why inevitably Objectivists are usually if not always libertarians due to the particular rational egoistic theory you subscribe to.

====================
Why my opponent's normative definition of morality fails -- Responding to several quotes
====================

"Intuition is non-objective."
----> Don't be so quick to throw intuition away; it's a powerful tool in philosophy.

"This doesn't seem to be an argument in response. Whether law is a "public system" (whatever you mean by that) or not, it still derives from a code of action taken for some purpose."
----> The point is that law is distinct from morality in the sense that you can be held legally liable for certain actions even though you may not have been aware of it (travelling to a foreign country and accidentally breaking some traffic law). On the other hand, you can't be held morally responsible if you weren't aware of the moral theory's validity -- an utilitarian can't blame you for not increasing the aggregate good if you either do not advocate utilitarianism or even know of it.

"Normally the term [public] refers to a supposed entity made up of the combined will of all humans in a given geographic area, an entity which does not exist as those wills are incompatible and thus cannot be combine."
----> What? Public simply denotes the general body of a group of people, such as public opinion being the aggregate of individual attitudes or beliefs in a certain group of people. Sure, there will be some conflicting attitudes and beliefs but a public opinion is a rough estimate. Just because some wills are incompatible does not mean the entire existence of a public opinion (and other such instances of public) is gone.

"Incorrect. Some deem such a category evil. Others deem ANOTHER category evil. And they often disagree about just whh and why. But evil, and related terms, still cannot be defined without first naming the system, so this fails to respond to the statement."
----> You misunderstand. I'm not saying different normative ethical theories have the same category of evil, but that they simply have A set of actions they label as evil. The latter is how I used evil; a broad term to refer to whatever set of actions a particular ethical theory deems to be prohibited.

"Which is-- a moral field. Ethics and morality are effectively synonyms, the attempt to distinguish the terms tends to be practiced by the irrational in order to protect either religious morality or some secular derivative of the charity concepts within it from the subject of philosophy-- i.e., in order to prevent reason from being exercised upon them. I have yet to observe any other reason for such a distinction."
----> There is an important difference between the fields of ethics that has nothing to do with religious morality or charity concepts. Applied ethics deals with how moral outcomes can be obtained in certain situations (abortion, gay marriage, etc.), descriptive ethics deals with what people believe is right or wrong, moral psychology deals with how moral capacity develops and what it is, normative ethics is how moral values should be determined (aka what one ought to do), and of course meta-ethics is about the nature of morality itself. It's plainly obvious that these are different fields that deal with similar but still distinct ideas.

"I seem to recall your only alternative use of "Should" relying on "Rationality--" but unless you can find a means of making reason say you should or should not do x without reference to a goal you would have to concede the game."
----> Refer to my previous explanation. You can have a goal that has nothing to do with morality but rather things such as desires.

====================
Conclusion
====================

My opponent's normative definition fails on the grounds that he has chosen to define it via an arbitrary fact of moral discussion that is inherent in many other areas of discussion.
Debate Round No. 3
8 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 8 records.
Posted by RoyLatham 7 years ago
RoyLatham
A very good debate. Con convinced me that the resolution is vacuous. He showed that there are operative rules of action that are not moral rules. Saying that they are rules of reason does not exclude them from being rules of conduct as the resolution requires.
Posted by Vi_Veri 7 years ago
Vi_Veri
I must read this soon : )
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
Haha noted.
Posted by Ragnar_Rahl 7 years ago
Ragnar_Rahl
Don't call me dear, you aren't very pretty to be honest :P.
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
Oh dear, so fast.
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
Gotcha, I'll note that in my first round. And uh, I'll accept this sometime Sunday - I have a flu so it's kinda hard to deal with debates right now.
Posted by Ragnar_Rahl 7 years ago
Ragnar_Rahl
Just notice the resolution is clipped, should read "Value is achieved."
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
I'll accept this in the weekend, I'm kinda busy.
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Vote Placed by Vi_Veri 7 years ago
Vi_Veri
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