The Instigator
motherengine
Pro (for)
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The Contender
fullofhopkins
Con (against)
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Moral belief is not rational

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/28/2015 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 627 times Debate No: 74430
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (4)
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motherengine

Pro

I am using definitions from Merriam-Webster;

Moral- concerning or relating to what is right and wrong in human behavior

Belief- a feeling of being sure that someone or something exists or that something is true

Rational- based on facts or reason and not on emotions or feelings

Argument:

The motivation of moral belief is emotional (love, compassion, sympathy, empathy, fear, anger, etc.). The emotional spectrum includes desires; the desire to fit in, to be healthy, to be perceived as right or righteous, as well the desire to express an opinion concerning the behavior of others.

Without emotional motivation one would not seek pleasure, and would only avoid pain through learned response (i.e., habit) or reflex.

And without emotional motivation one would have no need, nor could one have a desire to relate to human behavior in terms of right or wrong actions. One would simply perceive behavior as being healthy or unhealthy, and having a beneficial or adverse effect, accordingly.

The formulation of, acceptance of, and expression of moral beliefs is rooted in emotional motivation.

Emotions are not rational.

Moral belief is not rational.
fullofhopkins

Con

I'm going to argue that moral belief is rational. I will now build a case of my own and then, when pro replies, I'll address his or her comments.

First, I believe pro is confused when he says, "The motivation of moral belief is emotion..." Certainly our attitudes ABOUT morality are emotion-based; when we discuss morality ("That was absolutely horrible, I can't believe she did that," and so on), there is a lot of emotion involved, to be sure. But this does not mean moral belief ITSELF is an emotional construct. To believe in morality is to do no more than accept an empirical fact about ourselves: we are moral agents. We have concepts of right and wrong. We may have disputes about the specifics of morality, but in general everyone knows things like murder, rape, and perjury are wrong. Those who do not are rightly labeled as deviant.

But pro may argue that this empirical fact is a fact about our emotion-based beliefs - that is, morality is just an emotional construct ingrained in us over the years by society. But the problem with this is that evolutionary biology gives us a good, factual, non-emotional grounding for morality. That evolution has instilled in us certain social behaviors that we know call morality is pretty much universally accepted, but I'll just cite one example to make my point. Douglas Allchin of the University of Minnesota writes:

"As genetic behavior, moral outcomes are explained alternately by kin selection or reciprocity. As a psychological motive or intent, morality is explained by open learning systems shaped by emotion and reasoning from experience. As a social system, morality is explained by mutual accountability among individuals or by selective interaction based on social information. Processes at each level provide a context in which the others function."

In other words, our systems of morality make good evolutionary sense. We help people because we used to live in close communities and they were likely to return the favor. We don't murder because we don't want to be murdered. We don't lie because it's hard to live together as a community if everyone does - and so on. It is clear, then, that moral belief has strong grounding in evolution, and is therefore not based in emotion alone. Therefore, it is as rational to believe in morality as it is to believe in language or the survival instinct.

Pro also says, "Without emotional motivation one would not seek pleasure, and would only avoid pain through learned response (i.e., habit) or reflex." Not at all. What we call happiness is a chemical reaction occurring in the brain. This reaction helps motivate us to do things and thus helps us survive. Seeking happiness is, by definition, an emotional venture (since we categorize happiness as such), but that does not mean it is not based in reason. It is just as reasonable to pursue happiness as it is to eat: we are fulfilling a desire.

I'm out of room now, so I'll wait for pro's reply
Debate Round No. 1
motherengine

Pro

Con: "Certainly our attitudes ABOUT morality are emotion-based"But this does not mean moral belief ITSELF is an emotional construct."

Human opinions are emotion-based, and moral belief is an aspect of opinions on behavior. If moral belief is not an emotional construct, than what is it?

Con: "To believe in morality is to do no more than accept an empirical fact about ourselves: we are moral agents."

We are animals that experience emotions. Our morals are not our emotions; we must be taught to be moral. Are we born with a concept of right and wrong, or are we born with emotional aspects which such concepts, when taught to us, appeal to? If purely rational, we would have a system of rational response to what is perceived as destructive behavior, not moral beliefs concerning the nature of behavior.

Con: "We may have disputes about the specifics of morality, but in general everyone knows things like murder, rape, and perjury are wrong."

Define wrong. What does that word mean? A belief of some absolute based on commonality or appeal to majority? Things can be healthy or unhealthy and beneficial to, and adverse to, health. But "wrong"? That word is emotion-based, not reason-based.

Con: ""evolutionary biology gives us a good, factual, non-emotional grounding for morality. That evolution has instilled in us certain social behaviors that we know call morality is pretty much universally accepted""

Evolutionary biology has given us emotional grounding with which we have developed moral belief. And social behaviors are not called morality. Morality is not a behavior but a belief concerning behavior.

Con: "In other words, our systems of morality make good evolutionary sense"It is clear, then, that moral belief has strong grounding in evolution, and is therefore not based in emotion alone. Therefore, it is as rational to believe in morality as it is to believe in language or the survival instinct."

The evolution of human social habits and behavior, and subsequently the formation of governmental rules and laws stems directly from the impact of our collective desires and emotion-based beliefs. It is rational to follow a rule or law if one wants to remain socially functional, but this does not make the belief in doing so a rational thing; the desire to remain socially functional is not rational, and the belief that one "should" do so is irrational.

I think that Con is incorrectly equating moral belief with social behavior.

Con: "It is just as reasonable to pursue happiness as it is to eat: we are fulfilling a desire."

I think Con is misunderstanding the fact that humans can use reason to articulate arguments concerning emotional positions and formulate systems that govern behavior according to emotional motivations, while the motivations are not rational, nor are beliefs concerning behavior.

Human ethical systems have been rationally developed, but this does not make the beliefs associated with those systems rational.
fullofhopkins

Con

I'd like to draw readers' attention to the fact that pro's entire argument begs the question. He says I equate social behavior with morality - that's exactly right. That's what morality IS. The definition pro provided actually works in my favor: what is right or wrong in human behavior. We have good evolutionary evidence to suppose that what we call morality is ultimately just social behavior that human beings have learned in order to survive. But for pro to say, "I'm talking about morality, not social behavior" assumes that morality is something other than social behavior, which is to assume what he is setting out to prove (that morality is emotion-based as opposed to e.g. sociologically-based). If he wants to avoid begging the question he must either agree that morality is a social behavior or give us a positive argument for why that is not the case. Unless and until he does, his argument is circular and can be easily dismissed.

Still, I'll touch on some finer points.

"Human opinions are emotion-based, and moral belief is an aspect of opinions on behavior. If moral belief is not an emotional construct, than what is it?"
Opinions are emotion-based? All of them? In my opinion the the universe had a beginning at the Big Bang. This can't be proven with certainty - I've formed an opinion based on the best scientific evidence. Is this emotion-based? Opinions can, of course, be based on fact and reason.
As I've already said, moral beliefs are evolutionary social behaviors, not emotions.

"Our morals are not our emotions; we must be taught to be moral"
This is an extraordinary claim. One of the biggest debates in modern psychology is the nature-nurture argument. Pro provides no evidence whatever for believing that we must be taught to be moral. We know of no society that believes e.g. killing children for fun is morally right. How can it be that every society has come to the same basic conclusions about what is generally right and wrong if they all had to be taught? Who taught the first one?

"Define wrong. What does that word mean? A belief of some absolute based on commonality or appeal to majority? Things can be healthy or unhealthy and beneficial to, and adverse to, health. But "wrong"? That word is emotion-based, not reason-based."
"Wrong" means whatever we define it to mean. We define certainly socially disadvantageous behaviors as wrong - that's what it means.
I'd ask pro to define 'health' and tell us how we know health is a good thing. It can't be reason-based - we only value health because we value our survival. But isn't that an emotional appeal? How can pure reason justify wanting to survive?

Again I'm out of room but this should be enough for now.
Debate Round No. 2
motherengine

Pro

Con: "I'd like to draw readers' attention to the fact that pro's entire argument begs the question. He says I equate social behavior with morality - that's exactly right. That's what morality IS."

How is social behavior rational?

"We have good evolutionary evidence to suppose that what we call morality is ultimately just social behavior that human beings have learned in order to survive."

Do we? To suppose, or prove? Is Pro suggesting that learned behavior is intrinsically rational?

Con: "If he wants to avoid begging the question he must either agree that morality is a social behavior or give us a positive argument for why that is not the case. Unless and until he does, his argument is circular and can be easily dismissed."

Where does social behavior come from? In asserting that social behavior IS morality I would ask for evidence that societal behavior itself is reason-based.

"Opinions are emotion-based? All of them?"

Semantic distraction: I did not express that all opinions are emotion based (even though I will attest to poor phrasing).

Con: "As I've already said, moral beliefs are evolutionary social behaviors, not emotions."

Con quoting Pro: ""Our morals are not our emotions; we must be taught to be moral""

Con"s statement is implying that I have expressed the idea that moral beliefs are emotions, which I have clearly not done. I would also suggest that Con provide evidence supporting the implication that if "moral beliefs are evolutionary social behavior" they are somehow rational.

Con: "Pro provides no evidence whatever for believing that we must be taught to be moral."

How does one require evidence for a belief?

More to the point: How could we become moral without learning to be; through language or social evolution?

Con: "We know of no society that believes e.g. killing children for fun is morally right. How can it be that every society has come to the same basic conclusions about what is generally right and wrong if they all had to be taught? Who taught the first one?"

Con is appealing to majority by suggesting that societal belief makes something right or wrong. I would argue that, unless an objective arbitrator of "right and wrong" can be appealed to, only one individual can contest all such beliefs, as they are non-rational.

Con: "Wrong" means whatever we define it to mean. We define certainly socially disadvantageous behaviors as wrong - that's what it means."

If wrong means whatever "we" define it to mean than what makes one person"s (or even the majority of people"s) definition accurate over even one which may contest it? Unless Pro wishes to bring a universal arbitrator into the debate, I will argue that "wrong" is simply a non-rational aspect of social belief.

Belief in right and wrong is not rational; it is an appeal to some form of absolute.

Con: "I'd ask pro to define 'health' and tell us how we know health is a good thing. It can't be reason-based - we only value health because we value our survival. But isn't that an emotional appeal? How can pure reason justify wanting to survive?"

I never stated that health [Merriam-Webster: the condition of being well or free from disease] was a "good thing", or that people value it rationally. I am using it as a rational factual term conserving the human condition as opposed to the term "wrong" which I is nor reason-based.

Con is confusing the argument by concentrating almost exclusively on semantic aspects as opposed to addressing the actual claim concerning reason and moral belief.
fullofhopkins

Con

Pro does no even attempt to address his question-begging, and I would draw readers' attention to that. If his argument begs the question we have no reason to accept it.

"How is social behavior rational?" It's unclear exactly what pro WOULD consider rational at this point. Social behavior is rational because we are social animals and learning how to behave as such is conducive to survival. If pro does not consider this rational, I'm at a loss as to what would be.

" Is Pro suggesting that learned behavior is intrinsically rational?"
No. I'm suggesting that learned behavior is rational in the context of human beings being social creatures. Insofar as it helps us achieve the end of living together and thriving, it is rational. Insofar as Newtonian Physics give us a good approximation of how bodies fall to the ground, it is rational in the context of physics.

"How does one require evidence for a belief?" You asserted it to be true. Regardless, here's how: I believe that black holes exist. No one has ever directly observed one so I cannot know it to be certain. But I can offer you evidence that they exist in the form of mathematical equations, implications of relativity, gravitational lensing, et cetera.

"Con is appealing to majority by suggesting that societal belief makes something right or wrong." Pro misunderstands the argument. I have not appealed to a majority. I have pointed out that con's argument would result in an infinite regress. Moral behavior cannot just be taught as someone would have to be the first teacher. But how did they know how to be moral?

"Belief in right and wrong is not rational; it is an appeal to some form of absolute."
But take note: I have not suggested an absolute or even implied it. I've said that morality is social behavior. What's absolute about that?

"Con is confusing the argument by concentrating almost exclusively on semantic aspects as opposed to addressing the actual claim concerning reason and moral belief."
Pro seems hopelessly confused about his own resolution. This debate is largely one about language: what IS morality? Morality is X (definition). What IS rationality? Rationality is Y (definition). I have provided a good definition of morality. I have shown reasonably why it rational. Pro's argument begs the question and makes the criteria for rationality vague and overly broad (it's not clear what would be rational on pro's view).

I'm out of room again, but I think I have successfully shown that moral belief is rational.
Debate Round No. 3
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by motherengine 2 years ago
motherengine
Espera:

Really? Please do explain.

He did not challenge my definitions, but instead claimed that I begged the question.

And how did I beg the question?

Moral- concerning or relating to what is right and wrong in human behavior

Belief- a feeling of being sure that someone or something exists or that something is true

Rational- based on facts or reason and not on emotions or feelings

According to the definitions provided: How is a feeling of being sure that human behavior is right or wrong, based on facts and not on feelings or emotions? How can it be?

I made the claim that moral belief is not rational. My basis for this was not that "moral belief is not rational because it is not rational", but that moral belief is not rational because it is based on emotional factors and not facts. To claim that humans formulate moral beliefs based on facts and not emotions is ridiculous. Even if information (such as the evolution of social behavior) was used to formulate an idea of morality, such an idea could not even develop into a belief without emotional bias. At best, moral language services a vague and redundant interpretation of such things as legality and health, and so is critically inept.

Con: "This debate is largely one about language: what IS morality? Morality is X (definition). What IS rationality? Rationality is Y (definition). I have provided a good definition of morality. I have shown reasonably why it rational. Pro's argument begs the question and makes the criteria for rationality vague and overly broad (it's not clear what would be rational on pro's view)."

The debate was not about language, but concerned terms we use to describe psychological and philosophical concepts (e.g., belief in right and wrong and systems of logic and critical thinking). And the definition of "rational" that used was not broad at all, but very specific (i.e., based on fact and NOT on emotion).
Posted by Espera 2 years ago
Espera
Wish I could have voted on this because Con made a masterful argument.
Posted by motherengine 2 years ago
motherengine
Mike_10-4 :

Speaking of blossoms: Technology has evolved to such a degree that humans now live on the brink of self-extinction. Civilization has also allowed human animals to hone aggressive tendencies into sadistic (generally considered to be immoral) impulses and actions.

You are using words that reveal an emotional, and therefore non-rational, perspective on the subject. Rationally speaking, nature is not "awesome", though you may experience it to be impressive emotionally. I am not saying that reason (and specifically, critical thinking) is a pipeline to any absolute truth; only that it is a system which can be diluted and corrupted by emotional/non-rational appeals.

Personally I believe that unalienable or inalienable rights are conceptual, not actual. But that"s me.
Posted by Mike_10-4 2 years ago
Mike_10-4
An important subject. I would take this debate, but very busy at the moment.

First paragraph in Stanford's Encyclopedia states it nicely, relative to a "universal morality."
http://plato.stanford.edu...

A recent scientific view on morality:
http://www.scientificamerican.com...

Scientific American and Stanford's take on morality, relative to "non-human animals," are weak for they lack the Constructal Law connection.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov...

Morality is an outgrowth of life's Unalienable Rights, which are an outgrowth of the Constructal Law, which is an outgrowth of the Laws of Thermodynamics, a part of the physical Laws of Nature; not metaphysical. Overview on "The Science of Rights"

When morally following the physical Laws of Nature, blossoms into the fruits of technology, food production, and medicine, the stables of human existence throughout the world today. A compelling example when our Unalienable Rights are free to morally operate within the awesome machinery of Nature. When the masses understand morality being part of the Laws of Nature via life's Unalienable Rights, will advance the evolution of a civil society.
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