The Instigator
dtclark2188
Pro (for)
Losing
18 Points
The Contender
JustCallMeTarzan
Con (against)
Winning
21 Points

Moral absolutism does not explain moral judgments

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/10/2009 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,534 times Debate No: 6460
Debate Rounds (2)
Comments (4)
Votes (7)

 

dtclark2188

Pro

The issue at hand is whether or not moral absolutism is a viable analysis of moral judgments. Moral absolutism is the view that morality is a factual entity that has a truth value. For example, if I were to claim that "Eating chocolate ice cream is morally reprehensible," I have put forward a claim that is either true or false for all people under moral absolutism. To be fair, moral absolutism can either be a naturalist system, i.e. utilitarianism, or a purely intuitionist system, i.e. Kantian ethics.

Since I only have to show that moral absolutism is in error, I will offer several reasons why moral absolutism is incorrect, and I will give examples of several systems that are, at the very least, more plausible. First, if the moral absolutist wishes to work within the intuitionist framework, then he/she will have an insurmountable epistemological dept. As Michael Smith states in "The Moral Problem," if universe x contained all natural properties y and has moral standing z, then a universe x* that contained all natural properties y would be hard to explain as having a different moral standing, and, therefore, would typically be thought to have moral standing z. The lack of explanation for how moral properties could be independent of natural properties and yet there be an apparent correlation between natural properties and moral claims demands explanation (21-2). In other words, if the intuitionist wishes to claim that they have knowledge of something outside of the natural order of the world, they have to explain the apparent correlation between natural facts and moral facts.
If the moral absolutist wishes to go the route of the utilitarian, it is similarly easy to debunk them. A.J. Ayer stated in "Language Truth and Logic" that it is not self-contradictory for a man to claim that an action is right, but decreases the net happiness of the world (105). Ayer is claiming that an attempt to naturalize the language of morality is fruitless because there is no natural point of reference (utility, pleasure, etc.) that are inherently a part of 'right.' Therefore, attempting to produce an absolutist position using definitional naturalism is also fruitless.
I will leave it up to my opponent to address my first two points before moving on to counter-examples in the second round.
JustCallMeTarzan

Con

First, a definition so our debate doesn't run rampant with relativistic definitions...

Moral Absolutism: "Moral absolutism is the meta-ethical view that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong, devoid of the context of the act." (http://en.wikipedia.org...)

Absolutism: "any theory holding that values, principles, etc., are absolute and not relative, dependent, or changeable." (Dictionary.com).

****************************************

My opponent must be of the opinion that absolute moral positions are *possible*, else there would be no point for this debate. His contention is that whatever these absolute moral position are, they do not adequately explain moral judgments. I take this to presumably mean that when one makes the statement "Eating chocolate ice cream is morally reprehensible," he indicates that an absolutist position on this topic (eating chocolate ice cream) does not adequately explain the moral import of the action.

Second, Pro's burden of proof is not merely to show the position of moral absolutism to be in error - he must also disconnect the position from moral judgment. Else it would be possible to have the following conversation:

A: Eating ice cream is always morally reprehensible.
B: That statement is false, I'm going to eat some anyway.
A: That is an immoral action.
B: What? No it's not!
A: Sure it is - you just don't accept moral absolutism.

**********************************

Some responses:

>> "if universe x contained all natural properties y and has moral standing z, then a universe x* that contained all natural properties y would be hard to explain as having a different moral standing, and, therefore, would typically be thought to have moral standing z."

Correct...

>> "The lack of explanation for how moral properties could be independent of natural properties and yet there be an apparent correlation between natural properties and moral claims demands explanation (21-2)."

This statement presupposes that moral theory is dependent on natural properties in a morally absolutist system. If one can show an absolutist moral position that does not require natural properties, then the statement is moot.

>> "that it is not self-contradictory for a man to claim that an action is right, but decreases the net happiness of the world (105)."

Grammar aside, this statement concerns utilitarianism, which is inherently subjective (to whomever "assesses" the situation) and really doesn't apply to moral absolutism at all...

***********************************

To negate the resolution, I shall provide an absolutist moral position that explains moral judgment.

It is usually held that man has certain basic rights that are held by virtue of being a human - i.e. that these rights are not "earned" but simply exist. For example, the right to life is held as one that exists (but can sometimes be lost by virtue of one's actions).

I put forth the position that the basic right of self-determination in mind and body introduces a moral obligation to respect that right in others. It is impossible to hold the right AND violate that same right in others - as soon as you violate it, you would lose your own right, just as with one's right to life.

The absolute position that "There is a always morally right to have a right to self-determination" explains moral judgments.

Now, it is possible for an individual to not have a right to self-determination, but for that to be the case, he would have necessarily already had the right and simply lost it by virtue of his actions. Furthermore, the right to self-determination carries with it the right to a normative moral theory, as this normative theory is a necessary part of making a moral judgment.

The right to a relative moral theory vis � vis the moral right to self-determination explains all moral judgments, as we are not concerned with the particulars of one's normative moral theory.

I look forward to my esteemed opponent's rebuttal.
Debate Round No. 1
dtclark2188

Pro

Tarzan:
Second, Pro's burden of proof is not merely to show the position of moral absolutism to be in error - he must also disconnect the position from moral judgment. Else it would be possible to have the following conversation:

A: Eating ice cream is always morally reprehensible.
B: That statement is false, I'm going to eat some anyway.
A: That is an immoral action.
B: What? No it's not!
A: Sure it is - you just don't accept moral absolutism.

dtclark: The issue is not whether someone could intelligently have the above conversation and be sensible, the question is whether or not the assertion that "eating ice cream is wrong" has a an absolute truth value. If it cannot be shown that there is any kind of moral fact that comes about from natural properties (utilitarianism) or supersedes natural properties (intuitionism), that also is binding for all beings in situation x, then moral absolutism is incorrect. Therefore, my opponent has incorrectly categorized the debate.
***********************
>> dtclark: "The lack of explanation for how moral properties could be independent of natural properties and yet there be an apparent correlation between natural properties and moral claims demands explanation (21-2)."

Tarzan: This statement presupposes that moral theory is dependent on natural properties in a morally absolutist system. If one can show an absolutist moral position that does not require natural properties, then the statement is moot.

dtclark: I certainly was not presupposing that moral theories are dependent on natural facts. I was merely trying to indicate that, after examining the implications of having a moral theory that is devoid of natural facts, the moral theorist must account for his/her knowledge of that moral theory. If I were to say something as spurious as, "tiny dragons cause electrical fires" I would be asked to provide an explanation as to how I came upon such knowledge. Similarly, if someone were to purport to have knowledge of a moral fact, then one should reasonably expect him/her to be able to provide an explanation as to how they have come upon said knowledge. If we do not expect anyone to explain where their knowledge has come from, then it is just as reasonable to claim A as it is B, and there would be no way to determine the truth or falsehood of either.

******************************

>> "that it is not self-contradictory for a man to claim that an action is right, but decreases the net happiness of the world (105)."

Grammar aside, this statement concerns utilitarianism, which is inherently subjective (to whomever "assesses" the situation) and really doesn't apply to moral absolutism at all...

Actually, utilitarianism is a naturalistic attempt at moral absolutism, and I personally reject my opponents definition provided by wikipedia, preferring the definitions offered up by such illustrious analytical philosophers such as David O. Brink, Micheal Smith, A. J. Ayer, etc. However, since my opponent wants to give up one of the strongest versions of moral absolutism, i.e. definitional naturalism, which contains utilitarianism, I am more than willing to do so myself for the purposes of this debate.

*******************************
The problem with my opponent's substantive position is obvious. My opponent first asserts that a "man has certain basic rights that are held by virtue of being a human - i.e. that these rights are not "earned" but simply exist." By claiming this, my opponent has begged the question. If it is indeed true that a man has basic rights, then by what method did he come upon this knowledge? Did my opponent merely feel like this is true, or did he appeal to a larger audience's social upbringing? Either way, the question on point, as he himself has framed it, is to provide an explanation as to how one could have knowledge of a morally absolute fact, and to presuppose that there already exists a morally absolute fact, however minimal, simply begs the question.

Since my opponent's position is obviously inadequate for the purposes of this debate, I will not address it further because to do so would only entertain the idea that my opponent has said something on point. Rather, to keep the focus of the debate sharp, I will provide alternative hypotheses that explain moral judgments without presupposing any moral facts that ask for epistemological leaps of faith.

First, it could be possible that a moral judgment is correct, iff (if and only if) there is a societal norm that dictates it's correctness. In this system, the truth or falsehood of a moral judgment are completely determined by the speaker's society. Therefore, if a society disapproves of killing a member of the society, then the statement, "it is morally correct to kill a member of our society" is a false statement. In this system, I can both explain how I came upon the truth or falsehood of the moral statement, and I can explain how moral statements in general receive their truth or falsehood.

If this system seems inadequate or repugnant, I will offer up my preferred interpretation of moral judgments, which is non-cognitivism. A non-cognitive statement is one that has no truth value. For example, if I were to say, "ugh" in disgust to some action, it would not make sense to ask whether or not my statement was true or false. Similarly, when I make a moral judgment such as "it was wrong for Kenny to rape that little boy," what I am really saying is that I disapprove of Kenny's actions in a non-cognitive way. Therefore, a non-cognitive interpretation of this statement would be that I really meant "KENNY!!!" in a disgusted tone because I disapprove of Kenny's action, but there is no truth or falsehood inherent in my meaning. There are many other complicated arguments about why someone should accept non-cognitivism, but I will not bore the readers of this debate with such arguments unless my opponent has legitimate complaints about the position.
I look forward to an argument from my opponent that is actually on point.
JustCallMeTarzan

Con

My opponent asserts that my argument is off point, when in fact, it is absolutely (no pun intended) on topic. He simply chooses not to address my argumentation because he finds it inconvenient for his interpretation of the resolution.

*************************
Some Responses:

>> "If it cannot be shown that there is any kind of moral fact that comes about from natural properties (utilitarianism) or supersedes natural properties (intuitionism), that also is binding for all beings in situation x, then moral absolutism is incorrect. Therefore, my opponent has incorrectly categorized the debate."

That conclusion doesn't follow from the premises... Furthermore, I have already posited the moral right to rational self interest as a natural property of being human that is binding for all humans, which fulfills the obligations of my opponent's statement.

>> "Actually, utilitarianism is a naturalistic attempt at moral absolutism"

This seems to be a silly notion, considering all utilitarian analysis carries the normative weights of whoever is analyzing the system - for example, one might consider a baby to have more "value" than a criminal.

>> "Either way, the question on point, as he himself has framed it, is to provide an explanation as to how one could have knowledge of a morally absolute fact, and to presuppose that there already exists a morally absolute fact, however minimal, simply begs the question."

I believe my opponent is asserting that Con is under the obligation to prove the moral right to rational self interest is absolute.... I shall do so in a few paragraphs...

>> "First, it could be possible that a moral judgment is correct, iff (if and only if) there is a societal norm that dictates it's correctness."

This position ignores that there are some moral judgments that transcend societal norms, such as "no wanton murder."

>> "Similarly, when I make a moral judgment such as "it was wrong for Kenny to rape that little boy," what I am really saying is that I disapprove of Kenny's actions in a non-cognitive way."

This position appeals to a relativistic understanding of semantics that mucks about in the definitional and moral import of language. Not very compelling...

**********************************

On Moral Absolutes:

Moral absolutes are discoverable by asking oneself a series of questions about the nature of morality.. Consider:

1. Is morality authority independent?
>> Obviously not - if your parents, or even GOD, told you murder was right, it would still be wrong.

2. Is morality relative?
>> Obviously not - nobody seriously thinks murder is morally acceptable depending on where you are. Anybody that DOES believe this simply has an incorrect belief.

3. Is morality situational?
>> Of course, but this is not a threat. Consider the case of lying to a Nazi when he asks if you harbor a Jew. Lying is immoral, but the act of saving the poor Jew is far more MORAL than the act of lying is IMMORAL. Furthermore, it would be IMMORAL to tell the truth to the Nazi, thus, in this situation, lying must be MORAL. Moral absolutes play on motive and objectives of the actor, not the particulars of the situation.

4. Is morality created (i.e. a social construct)?
>> Obviously not, else at some point, morality would have been "created" as it were, by a society (or by evolution in some views). It is far more compelling that morality exists as a set of absolutes and that moral actors simply evolved to a high enough state to recognize these laws.

These four questions show that morality is not dependent on authority (the government can't make moral laws), not relative (murder can't be morally acceptable in France), situational, but applicable to motive (Lying to the Nazi is moral, not immoral), and last, that it is not created (society cannot make morals; moral actors simply recognize moral law).

****************************
Short Arguments for Moral Absolutism:

1. The "Aim" of Morality is Absolute.

The objective of moral consideration is to discover what is "right." This objective cannot be met my moral relativism because what is "right" depends on who you ask. The meaning of "right" is completely lost on moral relativism. The language of morality ("That is RIGHT; This is REPREHENSIBLE") further indicates that relativistic considerations of morality would not yield any answers.

2. Moral Relativism is a Contradiction in Terms.

When moral relativists make a claim, they assert that X is right. However, by the same token, they must also accept that X is wrong, given someone with a normative moral theory that suggests so. Thus, all the relativists have accomplished is to argue over whose normative moral theory agrees with absolute moral law. Moral relativism does not deliver a sense of morality qua morality - it simply provides a convenient excuse for the differences in normative theories...

*****************************

On the Right to Rational Self-Interest and its Moral Import.

My opponent seems to be confused as to what a basic right is. The fact of a right's existence is completely different from the fact of its moral import. This debate concerns the moral import of these rights, NOT their existence. However, the two notions are somewhat interdependent. For example, it is perfectly logical to say that it is a basic right to have freedom of opinion and that this carries no moral import. Opinions cannot be forcibly changed, and thus the statement carries no moral import because it is not wrong to attempt to change (remember, you cannot FORCE) one's opinion. On the other hand, the assertion that one has a rational right to self interest carries the moral import of non-interference in others' right to the same. If it did not carry that moral import, it would not be wrong to violate another's right to self-determination, and thus, the concept would not be a RIGHT. All violable rights carry moral import by virtue of being rights in a similar fashion to how the term bachelor carries the values of "unmarried" and "male" by virtue of one's being a bachelor.

**************************

Thus, it is clear that if one has a rational right to self-determination, this would include a normative moral theory that explains all moral judgments. The resolution is negated.

**************************

Furthermore, I have given arguments (and counterarguments) that show the nature of morality itself is not relative. Morality is authority independent, works at the level of motive and objective, is not relative, and is not "created." This delivers the notion that morality transcends all attempts to confine it to the anthropomorphic particulars of one's life, time, and location. Differences in moral opinion represent differences in considerations of absolute moral law. For example, the notion that murder is morally acceptable in France is simply incorrect reasoning, not relative morality. The resolution is negated.

**************************

While I recognize that the two versions of absolute morality above are mutually exclusive, if the reader finds either of them compelling, they are sufficient to negate the resolution. Both of the above systems incorporate absolute moral law, and both are obviously capable of explaining both the fact that moral judgments are made, as well as differences in judgment concerning the same moral situation.

NEGATED.
Debate Round No. 2
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by InquireTruth 8 years ago
InquireTruth
"God, the ultimate authority, make wanton murder morally permissible? Absolutely not!"

How do you know this?
Posted by dtclark2188 8 years ago
dtclark2188
You know full well that it is not objective. It is a fact about humanity, but it is not an independent fact that can be observed by any adequate observer, i.e. a rational being. They are "culture transcending" but not because we observe that it is true that killing is wrong in the same we say that observe that my watch is on my desk! There is a distinct difference between these "facts." One is about the nature of external reality, and the other is about nature of human psychology.

Oh, and by the way, mahsha, brrrbbufjt, umm, kermlin... compatibilism
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
>> "it merely makes it a fact about human nature to disapprove of violence."

As though human nature is not objective? If it were not objective, we would call it "Sally's Nature" or "Dave's Nature"...

>> "such as merely asserting that certain moral norms appear to be authority independent and culture transcending."

Simple logic seems to dictate my point here... could God, the ultimate authority, make wanton murder morally permissible? Absolutely not! Ergo, morality is authority independent. Do certain themes like "no wanton murder" appear in every culture? So far, yes - ergo, some pieces of morality transcend culture.

>> "It is very disappointing to see such an intelligent mind stoop to such base rhetoric."

That's your opinion Clark ;) Besides... mmshshmm msms mayrr mamm.... determinism....
Posted by dtclark2188 8 years ago
dtclark2188
My opponent has relied on simple arguments from introductory ethics that truly aren't that convincing such as merely asserting that certain moral norms appear to be authority independent and culture transcending. The first is explained by Nichol's in "Sentimental Rules" as an affective mechanism that innately fires when one witnesses distress and violence. The second can be explained in a similar fashion, but just because they appear to be present in every culture, does not make them an objective fact, rather, it merely makes it a fact about human nature to disapprove of violence. I personally know my opponent, and I know that he knows all of these things. It is very disappointing to see such an intelligent mind stoop to such base rhetoric.
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