Morality is Objective
This Debate is Part of the first round of BSH1's "Ethics and Philosophy Tournament". The minimum voting Elo rating is 2500.
Morality: principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.
Objective: not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.
Feeling or opinion: preference.
Subjective: based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.
The BoP is on Pro - he must show that morality is Objective. Any failure to do so will result in Con being awarded the win.
The structure of the debate is as follows:
R2 Opening arguments (no rebuttals)
R3 Rebuttals to R2
R4 Rebuttals to R3 and conclusion
A word to my opponent: Good luck, and have fun!
I want to make clear, from the start, that, to fulfill my BOP, I must only show that whatever valid morality that exists is objective – I do not have to defend any specific system of morality or its individual tenants. If I merely show that any valid moral system has to be objective, regardless of what it is, I still win the debate.
Metaphysical and Epistemological Assumptions
I will take it to be undebatable that the following statements hold true in all circumstances: that all things have specific identities, that contradictions cannot exist in nature, and that human reason is, at least to some extent, able to find truth. The truth of these statements cannot be reasonably rejected, since doing so would undercut any merit the rejection would otherwise have. To reject reason or its foundations by the use of reason is absurd, so the truth of the previous statements is a given (unless, of course, my opponent wishes to try and argue against them – that will not be very wise, though).
We must first look at what a system of morality is in order to determine the qualities of valid moral systems. Quoting the definition given in R1, morality consists of the “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.” The search for the correct moral system, then, is a search both for what is the right and good so that it can be done, and for the wrong and bad so it that it can be avoided (to say that the bad should be done and the good should be avoided would be unreasonable, using the common definitions of the words).
Two things are clear from the outset – that life is necessary for a moral system to be held and useful, and that all must accept at least some moral system. The first is plain enough, considering that the dead don’t have much of a use for distinctions between good and bad. If those principles cannot guide action, then they become useless. The second can be seen by looking at the motivations for any action. For example, by agreeing to have this debate in the first place, my opponent has implicitly accepted that doing so was the right thing to do – otherwise he would have done something which he did not think was the right thing to do, which is absurd.
The fact that all actions are, by definition, chosen because the actor determines them to be the correct choice shows that, no matter what, all who make choices must have some kind of moral system. Even those who attempt to embrace moral nihilism are asserting that nihilism should be chosen, and, as such, their position is self-defeating. Because of this, no appeals to nihilism are tenable and I will not need to address nihilistic ideas any further. If moral systems are necessary to any living man, then, the question is not “do we need morality at all?”, but rather “what is the specific system of morality that we need?”
The answer to the asked question can be found by looking at the prerequisites for any useful moral system. If it is true that only those entities with life can choose how to act, and if it is true that morality is only useful to those who can choose how to act, then it follows that only entities with life need a system of morality. A rock cannot ethicize because it is inanimate and cannot make choices, but a man is alive and can choose.
Any valid systems of morality, then, must promote life, and, specifically, human life (for humans are the only entities that can reason, so they alone can benefit from rational principles). What promotes human life? Since man is the rational animal (i.e. man’s distinguishing characteristic and primary means of survival is the use of reason), and since things have to act in accordance with their identities regardless of any feelings or whims one may have, it follows that a moral man must follow reason over all else. Any other method of living will only lead to the negation of life, and, by extension, the negation of morality – to say that that which negates morality can be moral is self-defeating, so that which is anti-life (i.e. anti-reason) cannot be moral.
Since reason is the faculty which identifies and draws conclusions from sense-data, there is nothing which may bend it. No matter how much one hopes or feels that something should be otherwise, reason will always be unchanging and absolute – reason is only dependent on reality and nothing more, and preference plays no part in deciding what is rational.
The following syllogism captures my argument:
P.1: A valid morality is objective if it is not founded in preference.
P.2: A morality based on reason, a valid morality*, is not founded in preference.
C.: A morality based on reason is objective.
* This has been established by the arguments showing that all men must hold some moral system (it is impossible not to), and that no morality that is not pro-life and pro-reason can be valid/be a moral system that does not defeat itself. In other words, it was shown that there must be some valid system of morality, and that any such system, to be valid, must be rational.
Since I have shown that a valid and objective moral system exists and is directly based on the requirements for any proper moral system, I have fulfilled my BOP. I'm eager to hear Con's case.
Thank you bossy. Before I begin, I would like to remind voters that the BoP is on my opponent, so any propositions I make do not need to be proven, they simply need to be plausible.
With that said:
My proposition is that all the moral judgments we make are based upon preferences, and therefore, moral conclusions are purely subjective. To prove this, I will run through two examples.
The first example I'd like to use isn't even about morality, but it is analogous in the way that it allows me to set up the system for determining moral subjectivity.
You've got a red car and a blue car (same model, all other physical characteristics are the same, etc). This would be the fact of the situation. It is objectively true that one car is red and the other is blue. Now let's say you have preference towards blue. Based on this, you claim that the blue car is superior to the red car. Now, we know this is silly. We all know that red and blue are not intrinsically any better than the other, which is why we usually call this claim an opinion. This is a clear cut situation of subjectivity. It has a fact, the color of the cars, and the preference of the individual, which grants one car superiority in the eyes of the individual. The blue car is not actually, objectively any better than the red, it simply appeals to your view that blue is better. This pattern of fact and preference carries over to all questions of morality.
Next example, this'll scale things up a bit. Let's say I toss a baby into a vat of acid. So, the true, observable fact is that I tossed the baby in. The preference is our love of babies, and our aversion to pain and death. The preference we have informs our conclusion on the morality of the fact, i.e. it was bad. But, love of a baby does not make its death objectively bad. How can we know this, you ask?
The best way to tell if something is subjective is to imagine a different viewpoint, because subjectivity literally necessitates differing viewpoints. In the case of the cars, we can see this easily. One person prefers a red car, another person prefers the blue. It's possible for different preferences to exist, therefore any preference must be subjective, as it is related to a particular viewpoint. We know something is objective when the opposite is true. Everybody would agree that one car is red and the other is blue; as long as people are being honest there's no room for preferences to get in the way.
So apply that back to the baby. There is no viewpoint that could dispute that I tossed the baby in the acid, therefore it must be an objective truth. If we keep an open mind, we can see however that there could be different preferences involved. Let's say there is an alien race that has a preference towards spreading death. They want everything to die, because they feel things are better that way. They only exist to give other people the gift. Now, this may seem extraordinarily odd to us, but we must admit that this is a different perspective, even if we don't think we could encounter an alien race like this.
So, these things established, we know that the human and the alien would both agree I tossed a baby in acid, but because of their differing viewpoints (preferences), they would disagree on whether or not it was a good thing. And maybe you're thinking, "Yeah, and the alien would be wrong!" To which you should ask yourself, on what do you base that? The 'fact' that babies are precious, innocent things that deserve our protection? That justification clearly comes directly from your preference. Since the justification stems from a subjective view, the conclusion is subjective. One can try to reassert over and over again that no, killing babies is messed up, it's wrong! But at the end of the day, they'll keep coming back to the simple fact: it's wrong in your view, and you're just treating your view as if it were objective.
I will be stopping here. I could go on, but I think my point is as made as it's going to be. Thanks for reading.
My opponent fails to frame this accurately – the statement “blue cars are superior to red cars” is meaningless until a standard of value is introduced. That much is agreeable. The disconnect in my opponent’s argument, though, comes from the fact that he fails to recognize that the only valid standard by which to judge the morality of actions is reason, and reason is objective. If the interaction between the light reflected off of a car and processed by the eyeball of a human results in a pleasant feeling, this is no more subjective than to say that the Law of Gravity mandates that things fall to the earth in normal conditions. It would be absurd to say that a man who gains pleasure from the color blue can subjectively, without any basis in physical fact, decide to enjoy red. It would be equally absurd to say that the man who prefers blue is acting in a rational manner by looking exclusively at less-enjoyable red cars.
The statement “blue cars are superior to red cars” is imprecise. It would be much more accurate to say that “blue cars are superior to red cars for x”, where x is a valuer, which is an undebatable point. Even if it is the case that things like this are decided on an individual level, they are still subject to be evaluated by reason, as in the examples given in my last paragraph. The so-called “individual subjective preference” is, in fact, unchangeable, absolute, and objective because of the qualities of an unchanging outside world and the laws that govern it that are not affected by subjective whims.
My opponent makes a fine case up and until the point that he claims that there is no objective justification for believing that the alien race acts immorally. Simply from the fact that they believe that killing babies is moral, there is no reason to believe that they are right in this. In fact, given the arguments I made in Round 1, I have shown that to say that people like the aliens, who think that x is moral, and people like most humans, who think that x is immoral, can both be simulatiously right violates the basic axioms of reason. If morality necessarily rests on reason, and if it is unreasonable to assume that two contradictory views are both right (2 + 2 cannot equal both 4 and 20 at the same time), then one side must be objectively right (since reason has no place for subjective whims).
I want to make it clear, once again, that I do not need to show which side is right and the reasoning for that conclusion – I just need to show that one side must be objectively right and the other objectively wrong. Since all morality must come from reason, and since reason is, in itself, not open to preferences, then all morality must be rooted in objective truths.
I'll just be doing some quote and respond.
"For example, by agreeing to have this debate in the first place, my opponent has implicitly accepted that doing so was the right thing to do – otherwise he would have done something which he did not think was the right thing to do, which is absurd."
Not necessarily. Maybe I thought it was wrong to accept this debate, but I wanted to so I did. People do things that they consider to be wrong all the time. But anywho, this doesn't really matter in the big picture.
"Even those who attempt to embrace moral nihilism are asserting that nihilism should be chosen, and, as such, their position is self-defeating."
This is another example of conflation. Embracing moral nihilism is not asserting that nihilism should be chosen, because nihilism says that it doesn't matter. Taking up the position of nihilism can't be self-defeating when nihilism claims there is no standard for victory or defeat.
"Any valid systems of morality, then, must promote life, and, specifically, human life (for humans are the only entities that can reason, so they alone can benefit from rational principles). What promotes human life? Since man is the rational animal (i.e. man’s distinguishing characteristic and primary means of survival is the use of reason), and since things have to act in accordance with their identities regardless of any feelings or whims one may have, it follows that a moral man must follow reason over all else."
There's a major leap in logic here. Basically what we've got is:
P1 Only living beings have morals
P2 Living beings use reason to stay alive
C1 Objective morals are founded on reason
The problem with this is that the morality is still not objective. While it is true that without life there is no morality, there is nothing inherently morally wrong with a discontinuation of life, and therein, morals. Let's bring this over to the system I used in my first round of argumentation.
The fact is that morality is dependent on life to exist, and life is dependent on reason to exist. If we're all being honest with ourselves, we know that this is true. Nobody could dispute this. However, the conclusion that we make based upon this is founded on a subjective preference towards the continuation of morality. There is no objective reason for why moral systems must remain in existence. The only reason to want moral systems to remain in existence is because you either have a bias towards it, or you have a bias towards what it gives us, which is life.
My opponent also states that, "...to say that that which negates morality can be moral is self-defeating, so that which is anti-life (i.e. anti-reason) cannot be moral."
The fact is that by destroying life you destroy the morality that it held, but that does not automatically prove that destroying morality is immoral. There needs to be an objective reason for why morality existing is better than morality not existing. You might say life is the reason, because morality allows life to continue, but there is no objective reason to want life over no life. The value placed on life has to do with the bias of the living towards it, not the actual objective fact of what living is. Living is the act of being alive. Dead is being dead. We place the value on one over the other, a value which is derived from our subjective viewpoint of things (i.e. the viewpoint of life).
This is directly analogous to morality existing or not existing. The objective truth is that morality can exist or not exist. Nothing about the objective truth lends superiority to one over the other. Morality provides us a way to act, the lack of morality does not. The reason we value morality over no morality is that we exist with morality, we have a bias towards its existence. In our viewpoint, morality is central. We want it around. At the end of the day, that's from our perspective.
I agree that destroying morality is morality-destroying, that much is obvious, that's the fact in the situation. Notice that the fact does not sound anything like my opponent's conclusion that ending morality would be immoral. That is because my opponent had to use something other than fact to get to that conclusion. He had to use his preference towards continuation of morality.
Another entity could observe the same facts, and with a different preference (the opposite preference), conclude that it'd be neither moral nor immoral if morality ended. That being's preference would actually be a lack of a preference. Now, we might have trouble imagining such an entity. It probably wouldn't be any physical being; perhaps some sort of metaphysical being above our plane of existence, unconcerned with our concerns in such a way that seems totally alien. That might be hard to fathom, and such a thing might not exist, but the point is, the different perspective is there whether or not anything holds it, which makes the common perspective, the one my opponent holds, subjective. Any argument that the entity without preference is wrong would have to come from the perspective that morality ending would be wrong, which, again, is a subjective view, meaning the arguments are baseless as objective facts.
My opponent is attacking this topic from a completely subjective point of view. He is assuming that life and morality are objectively worth pursuing. He fails to realize that the fact that we have life and morality is what motivates us to pursue it; we have a bias towards these things, we place value on them because they appeal to us on a subjective level.
I won't be able to defend this particular round of arguments, so just remember that the BoP is on my opponent. If between my arguments and his arguments you're unsure, you're supposed to vote for me.
Thanks for reading.
“Basically what we've got is:
That’s an accurate representation of the specific portion of my argument highlighted, sure.
“The problem with this is that the morality is still not objective. While it is true that without life there is no morality, there is nothing inherently morally wrong with a discontinuation of life, and therein, morals. Let's bring this over to the system I used in my first round of argumentation.”
My opponent accepts that morality is dependent on reason (“The fact is that morality is dependent on life to exist, and life is dependent on reason to exist.”), but attacks my argument on the basis that “[t]here is no objective reason for why moral systems must remain in existence.” He argues that any arguments in favor of objective morality are, at the outset, based on subjective whims, since there is no objective reason to favor morality over a-morality. Since my opponent’s rebuttals are reliant on the subjectivity of the initial choice to live/hold a moral system, if I can so that this choice is not subjective my case will be unscathed.
In my first round, I included a short protection against these types of arguments that I will now expand on. I wrote: “Why should life be valued/pursued at all? Why should morality be followed? These questions undercut themselves - the asker has, by necessity, already chosen to value life. Every action and every reasoning must take place within the framework that life is to be desired for its own sake.” To rephrase this, by even being in a position to ask “is life worth living?”, you have already chosen the answer. Choosing to live or to die is a pre-moral decision – in that sense, my opponent is right in calling it non-objective. This does not mean, however, that it is a subjective choice.
The very notion of subjectivity relies on a man having some system of values to base actions on. In choosing to do anything, one is stating that that thing was the most appropriate thing to do in that situation. My opponent offered the argument that “[e]mbracing moral nihilism is not asserting that nihilism should be chosen, because nihilism says that it doesn't matter” in order to counter the point that valueless systems are self-defeating, but this fails because the argument shows that nihilism cannot actually be followed, and, by extension, nihilistic moral theories are pointless and unreasonable, since no action (including the acceptance or justification of nihilism) can be taken to be better than another. It is impossible to justify nihilism via reason, since nihilism posits that reason cannot be used as a moral guide and that anything can be done for any reason – the theory places no value on reason, so, if reason is taken as a given (which must be the case, or else this debate is meaningless), nihilism is untenable.
If a man is not able to justify his actions based on a system of values, then he is unable to act subjectively. If he has no way of comparing or ranking his desires or preferences, he has no way to translate them into action. He would be unable to make any decisions, and, if this is the case, he wouldn’t be able to decide whether to value life or not. The very idea that a man can make a pre-moral choice based on values such as desires is absurd – the choice to live or die sets the aim of any moral system, and, since values cannot exist without moral systems and moral systems cannot exist without one having already decided to value life, it cannot be that a man can decide to value life based on subjective morality.
The pre-moral choice to value life or death cannot be evaluated in the way my opponent is proposing. It is made before any notion of subjectivity or objectivity would become applicable, so it cannot be said to be anything other than that which it is – a choice. This does not mean that anything built off of that choice cannot be said to be subjective or objective, just that it’s nonsensical to apply those designations to the thing which precedes them.
If I have shown that morality, not pre-morality, is based in objective fact, then I have fulfilled my BOP. Nothing else is relevant to the debate. I’ve done this by way of the argument captured in the syllogism I posted in my first round (keeping in mind the presupposition that asking this question in the first place implies that all people must have morality/that the question only makes sense when that’s taken as a given):
P.1: A valid morality is objective if it is not founded in preference.
P.2: A morality based on reason, a valid morality, is not founded in preference.
C.: A morality based on reason is objective.
If these premisses hold and if the conclusion follows, then nothing else matters.
Thanks for the debate!
This round is devoted to responding to my opponent's round 3 arguments.
"If the interaction between the light reflected off of a car and processed by the eyeball of a human results in a pleasant feeling, this is no more subjective than to say that the Law of Gravity mandates that things fall to the earth in normal conditions."
While it is true that one person may be inclined to enjoy the color blue more over the color red, that does not make this objective, because it is subject to that one person's view. That person's view may be inborn/biologically hardwired, but that does not change the fact that it is of that person's particular perspective.
"The statement “blue cars are superior to red cars” is imprecise. It would be much more accurate to say that “blue cars are superior to red cars for x”.."
Alright, this is the crux of the analogy. If you add a standard of value, you can reach an objective observation. For example, it is objectively true that retributive moralities will be better at killing more people for their crimes than rehabilitative moralities. So one morality can be better at x, but does that make one morality better because of x? No, because the x is a subjective preference. Retribution or rehabilitation? It is a matter of preference. Retributive moralities are obviously better at securing retribution, while rehabilitative moralities are better at securing rehabilitation. So they each have an x that they're better at, but which is better inherently? Which is better because of x? The answer is neither. Whichever x someone subscribes to is because of their subjective preference towards the x.
When someone says the red car is better, their standard is its redness. When someone backs the blue car, it's because of their standard of blueness. Without these standards of values, there is no conclusion, just an observation. And without subjectivity, there is no value. Therefore, the very reasoning behind moralities is subjective. So when my opponent says, "The statement “blue cars are superior to red cars” is imprecise." he is inadvertently admitting that morality is subjective, because that is what objective morality would attempt to do: promote one way of acting as correct, when really, the only standards of judgment are subjective.
"It would be much more accurate to say that “blue cars are superior to red cars for x”, where x is a valuer, which is an undebatable point."
I didn't include this in the above analysis because I figured it'd get in the way of the real important stuff. The idea that something is 'valuer' (I'm assuming he means one value being superior to another) was not at all supported by my opponent. The insinuation that something can be valuer is there, sure. But there is not actual reasoning given for why it could be. If we look at values, it's hard to see how one could be objectively better than the other, because any points made in favor of one over the other is simply using the preference for the value being advocated.
This gets back to red versus blue. If someone is really bent on proving red is better than blue, what can they really do? "Oh, the redness is just so much more red, can't you see that?"
It's like honor killing. On one hand you've got people who say the value of honor has been violated, and so we must kill this person. On the other, you've got people who say that honor is less important than the person's life. How will either side prove they are 'valuer'? "Honor is the basis for all morality!" vs "No, protection of innocents is the primary basis for morality!" Two different subjective standards, trying to prove the other wrong with their own standard. No real conclusion will come of it, and there is no evidence that one will show the other they're 'valuer', and therefore there is no reason for us to believe that one value can be greater than another.
"If morality necessarily rests on reason, and if it is unreasonable to assume that two contradictory views are both right (2 + 2 cannot equal both 4 and 20 at the same time), then one side must be objectively right (since reason has no place for subjective whims)."
The key to that is: if morality rests on reason. As I have shown in the previous paragraphs and in previous rounds, it does not. It rests on subjective standards (e.g. retribution vs rehabilitation/blueness vs redness/honor killing vs no, just no).
I would also like to note that it is not a help to my opponent that he does not tell us which of the two said contradictory views is right. He merely says that reason necessitates that one of the two be right, however, he does not use that reason to figure out which is right. It is something of an appeal to the unknown. He says that reason will provide an answer, but cannot tell us what the answer is. If he can't show us the answer, how can he prove* that logic is giving us one?
Well that's all for me. Bossy, thanks for the good debate. It certainly stretched my mind out a ton.
Not to be a broken record, but, voters: if you're not sure if logic is the basis for morality, or if subjective values are, based on BoP requirements*, you're supposed to vote for me.
Thanks for reading. Happy voting.
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