The Instigator
KRFournier
Con (against)
Winning
25 Points
The Contender
jason_hendirx
Pro (for)
Losing
24 Points

Morality is an Idea

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 10 votes the winner is...
KRFournier
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/29/2008 Category: Religion
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,324 times Debate No: 6024
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (32)
Votes (10)

 

KRFournier

Con

I want to thank jason_hendirx for participating in this debate. After my last debate (http://www.debate.org...), he and I disagreed over the nature of morality so decided to debate it here instead of in the comments. Hopefully, I can better clarify my position within this format.

I am against the resolution that morality is an idea.

When discussing the nature of morality, it's important that it be taken seriously. Evil is very real, and those that experience it firsthand are not content to reduce it to a simple academic matter. My opponent and I will make specific claims about the nature of morality, and I urge the reader to consider the ultimate truth of our claims. We are discussing the nature of reality itself and in so doing must consider the real implications of our theories. As such, I will examine my opponent's theory in two areas.

Morality, as a concept, functions on two levels: moral distinction and moral obligation. Moral distinction is the act of assessing the moral value of an action. Moral obligation is the act of holding another person or group of people to a specific moral standard. Saying murder is wrong is a moral distinction. Saying that people ought not to murder is a moral obligation. The first deals with what "is" and the second deals with what "ought" to be. I submit that any theory of morality must rationally account for both functions, since one function becomes meaningless without the other.

If morality is an idea, then it is a subjective morality. Ideas are not to be found in one place, as though science could empirically analyze them. Instead, ideas are generated, discussed, rationalized, and refuted. Some ideas become convention and others become pass´┐Ż. No matter how well reasoned a moral idea might be it nevertheless remains one idea among many. This is not a problem when making moral distinctions, since we all can have our own ideas of what is right and wrong. However, a serious logical problem is presented when applying this theory of morality to moral obligation.

As soon as one person or group obligates another person or group to adhere to their moral distinctions, they are taking an absolute, objective moral position. They are, in essence, declaring their moral ideas to be objectively true, as though it were a matter of utmost truth and reality, not merely an idea. Telling others what they ought to do contradicts the very philosophy of relative morality. The only way to be true to the notion that morality is an idea is to remain wholly within the realm of moral distinction and avoid moral obligation altogether. Yet moral distinctions are meaningless without moral obligation. What value is there in assessing the rightness or wrongness of conduct if we never require people to adhere to it? Indeed, there is none, as moral distinctions are reduced to matters of mere opinions to be taken no more seriously than one's preferred choice in pie. In order for moral obligation to be rational, subjective morality must be false. Morality as an idea is subjective. Therefore, morality as an idea is false.

Allow me to further illustrate my point though example: using the pro-life/pro-choice controversy. Pro-life groups believe abortion is wrong whereas pro-choice groups believe limiting the rights of women is wrong. So far, this is just a matter of moral distinction--two groups with two ideas about morality. Now, the pro-life group claims that potential life is so great that the pro-choice group should be obligated to adhere to the pro-life moral position. We've now engaged in moral obligation. If morality is an idea, then how does it handle this scenario? If my opponent says one idea is greater than another, then morality cannot be an idea, but something with greater authority. If my opponent says both ideas are equivalent, then moral obligation is irrational and morality becomes meaningless. The theory is self contradictory. It can only be true if morality is meaningless, ergo, morality is not an idea.

All theories must be measured against human experience, and the truth my opponent and others that share his view on morality must face is that it can't be lived out. If you truly believe morality to be subjective, then you must also believe by rational necessity that might makes right. In other words, those in power make the rules, and in a democracy, the majority represents the moral norm and can never be wrong. Let me emphasize this point clearly. If morality is relative, then the only ones that can possibly be right are the ones able to enforce their morality. For the powerless to condemn the powerful is itself proof that morality cannot be confined to an idea.

If morality cannot be relative, then the only remaining options are the morality is a big meaningless waste of time or that it is an objective, absolute reality. I argue for the latter. I submit that morality is an objective truth against which moral distinctions can be measured and to which we appeal for moral obligation. I maintain that an immoral action is immoral regardless of the states of society or individuals. By way of example, I contend that stealing has been, is, and always will be immoral whether or not humans are around to think of such things. This view of morality extends from my worldview and my belief in a transcendent, unchanging God.

In the Christian worldview, good is that which reflects God's character. God did not create morals nor is he bound to them as though morality were a greater God. God simply is. Likewise, morality simply is. In his mercy, he has revealed much of his nature to us allowing humanity to derive from it all we need for living. The unchanging laws of science, logic, and morality are reliable only because they reflect an unchanging God.

Of course, I have not proven God's existence in this debate, nor do I intend to. This is the worldview through which I interpret reality, and my opponent will operate within his own worldview. At the heart of this debate, as with all philosophical debates on the "big" questions, are our presuppositions regarding the nature of reality. All people make these assumptions, be it Postmodernism, Idealism, Empiricism, Rationalism, Naturalism, Solipsism, Hedonism, or what have you. My opponent will make claims about what can and cannot be, expecting the reader to take his worldview for granted. No doubt, our worldviews differ, and that is why I will challenge his assumptions about reality, especially those that affect his view of about the nature of morality.

In the final analysis, my view of morality is only of secondary importance in this debate. My burden is to show that morality cannot be an idea, and I've done so. Since the resolution leads to subjective morality, and since subjective morality cannot account for moral obligation, morality cannot be an idea.
jason_hendirx

Pro

I would like to thank KRFournier for hosting this debate. I believe that this issue is an important one to clarify and that it clearly deserves the full treatment that a 3 round debate can grant it.

I am for the resolution that morality is an idea. One can scour the entire universe, smash apart all its atoms and model the movement of all the celestial bodies within the bowels of a quantum computer the size of the sun and one will not find one ounce of morality. Morality does not exist any more than beauty or love or wonder exist. They exist within the depths of the human mind alongside angels, demons, and leprechauns. Morality is a human phenomenon, not a physical one. The life-giving sun has no more of a concept of morality than a rockslide.

I contend that by default, nothing should be assumed to exist until proof is given. Because of this, I will spend the remainder of my round refuting my opponent's points, since it is up to him to prove that morality does exist as more than an idea.

The crux of the first argument of my opponent's argument is the following statement:

>When discussing the nature of morality, it's important that it be taken seriously.

Every other statement within the first two paragraphs of the body of his argument depends on this statement. The fact that morality must be taken seriously does not grant it existence, making his point irrelevant to this debate. If morality is something other than a mere idea or concept, then morality has existence, whether physical or metaphysical. Mere necessity, however, is insufficient proof of something's existence. Humans need food, and because they need food, food is important that they have it. One would have to be insane, however, to say that the world's starving billions have food simply because it is important that they have it. Yes, it is important that morality be taken seriously, but it does not by any means imply that morality has existence outside of the human mind.

>Moral distinction is the act of assessing the moral value of an action. Moral obligation is the act of holding another person or group of people to a specific moral standard.

How is your definition of moral obligation anything other than a physical act, one that is exercised in accordance with an idea?

>As soon as one person or group obligates another person or group to adhere to their moral distinctions, they are taking an absolute, objective moral position.

No, they are merely attempting to pressure another person or group into conforming with their demands. In many ways, this is no different than, for example, exacting a monetary tribute, and indeed, many of our laws are enforced by doing just that.

What do you mean by "subjective" morality? Do you mean a relativistic morality that is selectively applicable? Ideas can very easily function as "objective" moralities, and the ideas do not have to be good ones. A whimsical insistence that everyone must wear purple hats on April 13 of every year ending in 0 is every bit as objective and universal as Kant's categorical imperative if one is to take a lack of relativism to be the definition of objectivity.

>The only way to be true to the notion that morality is an idea is to remain wholly within the realm of moral distinction and avoid moral obligation altogether.

Are you saying that morality can't be an idea because people force others to act in accordance with it? This would imply that people can't act on ideas. This is preposterous, and I would suggest that you reconsider such statements.

>If you truly believe morality to be subjective, then you must also believe by rational necessity that might makes right.

If morality is an idea conceived and held subjectively, then it is defined by an individual's thoughts and feelings and not by might. Individual thoughts and feelings are not wholly subordinate to physical might. It is, in fact, very difficult to deliberately mold people's thoughts and feelings solely through the use of might.

>This view of morality extends from my worldview and my belief in a transcendent, unchanging God.

How do you escape the idea that might makes right if your "universal" morality is guaranteed by the mightiest being in the universe? This may, in fact, push you much further into the trap.

The preceding paragraphs are more or less irrelevant, however. My opponent succeeded merely in proving that to treat morality lightly is disastrous, not that morality is more than a name for a class of ideas.

I look forward to whatever arguments he wishes to bring to this debate in the future.
Debate Round No. 1
KRFournier

Con

I'm glad jason_hendirx was able to accept this debate. Like he, I think it is a vital issue and hope our discourse can encourage future discussions on the topic. As a point of clarification, the resolution can be read "Morality is just an idea." (See the comments.)

Jason opens his first round by explaining his position, and while I agree with its premise, I do not agree with its conclusion. I stand beside my opponent in asserting that morality cannot be found in the physical universe. However, my opponent comes to the conclusion that since it cannot be found in matter, then it must be a product of human thought. His reasoning is that "by default, nothing should be assumed to exist until proof is given." What "nothings" are assumed not to exist and what constitutes enough "proof" to accept their existence? Given the ambiguity of the statement, my opponent has licensed himself to claim that anything he disagrees with does not exist. This is question begging. My opponent must prove his position, not merely say "it is so."

My opening round predicted the worldview nature of this debate. My opponent wants to simply dismiss metaphysics, but fails to explain why we all should take his assumptions for granted. In his worldview, metaphysical entities do not exist because--according to his aforementioned axiom--metaphysical entities have not been proven to exist. Proof, however, will always fall short because his view on epistemology will always reject the evidence. Ultimately, in a worldview that is only matter and motion, morality must either be made of matter or a result of natural forces, such as the brain patterns of a person. All this is to say, my opponent should explain why his assumptions about reality should be accepted over all others before using them as irrefutable proof.

I will now answer my opponent's rebuttals to my opening arguments.

My point about the seriousness of evil was not meant as singular proof. No single sentence in my argument stands alone as proof. I ask the readers to reread my opening paragraph. In it I state that "We are discussing the nature of reality itself and in so doing must consider the real implications of our theories." We must ask which theory works in practice and makes sense of human experience. In order to accomplish this, I made two observations about morality which I called moral distinctions and moral obligation. This should answer my opponent's question, "How is your definition of moral obligation anything other than a physical act, one that is exercised in accordance with an idea?" In laying out my case, I am making a distinction between the act of determining the rightness or wrongness of an action (moral distinction) and the act of holding someone accountable to good conduct (moral obligation). I am merely giving names to two observable actions.

I argue that the act of moral obligation assumes--consciously or unconsciously--absolute morality whereas my opponent attributes the act to an attempt at persuasion. Pressuring someone to conform to one's ideals is no proof that morality is just an idea, since the idea being offered might be based on adherence to an absolute moral law. Indeed, the only reason one would want to press their ideas on another is if they feel they are unequivocally correct about their idea--that it were more than opinion. In this way, any attempt at moral obligation is an absolute stance on the position, as though the idea were correct regardless of society or circumstances, an idea which flies in the face of subjective morality.

To clarify for my opponent, a subjective morality is one in which there are no moral absolutes. If morality is an idea, then it is subjective since all ideas generate from many subjective human minds. An objective morality is one in which there are moral absolutes. If morality is a set of absolute moral laws (for instance), then man's opinion on the matter is irrelevant. If subjective morality can be shown to be irrational then morality cannot be just an idea. That's what I intend to show.

My opponent argues that "ideas can very easily function as 'objective' moralities." He goes on to say, "A whimsical insistence that everyone must wear purple hats on April 13 of every year ending in 0 is every bit as objective and universal as Kant's categorical imperative if one is to take a lack of relativism to be the definition of objectivity." The statement itself is a logical contradiction. He says relativism (whimsical insistence) equals objectivity (objective and universal), and in the same sentence he says objectivity could be taken to mean the lack of relativism. My opponent cannot have it both ways. Either relativism and objectivity are opposing notions or they are equal. He must select just one of these definitions if his argument is to be taken seriously.

In my opening remarks I said, "The only way to be TRUE to the notion that morality is an idea is to remain wholly within the realm of moral distinction and avoid moral obligation altogether," (emphasis added) to which my opponent responded, "Are you saying that morality can't be an idea because people force others to act in accordance with it? This would imply that people can't act on ideas." Once again my opponent refutes a single sentence out of context. In the preceding sentence I say, "Telling others what they ought to do contradicts the very philosophy of relative morality." My argument is not that people CAN'T act on ideas. My argument is that people who insist their ideas are correct DENY the premise that morality is relative. Since this theory of morality leads to irrationality in practice, it ought to be rejected.

My opponent says that "individual thoughts and feelings are not wholly subordinate to physical might." Again, my opponent is not reading my debate. My very next statement says, "In other words, those in power make the rules." Physical might is not necessary. Might-makes-right can be understood that those able to enforce their ethics are the ones whose ethics are correct. In a relativistic moral system, this must be the case. If morals are just ideas, then the only ideas that matter are the ones enforced. Of course, my opponent rejects this as would most of us. My argument is that subjective morality leads to might-makes-right thinking, which is evidence of the theory's flaws.

My opponent wraps up by saying that I've "succeeded merely in proving that to treat morality lightly is disastrous." I will reiterate my argument since my opponent does not wish to read it in full. I am arguing that morality cannot be just an idea because of the impossibility of it. It leads to relativistic morality. Relative morality fails since engaging in moral obligation contradicts the premise. To say morality is subjective but insist that others follow it is irrational UNLESS one believes their idea to be based on something with greater authority. To insist that others adhere to your ideas is to assume your ideas represent truth and not mere opinion or fantasy.

In conclusion, my opponent struggles to rationalize his position. First, he argues that morality is an idea based on a vague assumption of what can't exist. Second, he argues that relative morality equals objective morality without making a case as to why these two notions should be considered synonymous. Third, he attempts to refute my argument out of context--a straw man defense. I have shown that relative morality cannot be rationally used in practice. Relative moralists behave like objective moralists. They cannot walk the talk. Only objective morality is rational both logically and in practice. Morality, if it is just an idea, cannot be objective. Therefore, morality is not just an idea.

I look forward to his second response, which is sure to keep this debate engaging and interesting.
jason_hendirx

Pro

>What "nothings" are assumed not to exist and what constitutes enough "proof" to accept their existence?

I am saying that the burden of proof lies with those that make positive claims, nothing more. Please do not misunderstand me.

>This is question begging. My opponent must prove his position, not merely say "it is so."

I did not say this. What I said was that all I must do is prove "it is not so". A different proposition altogether.

>Proof, however, will always fall short because his view on epistemology will always reject the evidence.

What evidence have you given me aside from appeals to custom and popular opinion? You have shown me no physical evidence, nor have you put forth anything resembling a formal logical proof.

>My point about the seriousness of evil was not meant as singular proof. No single sentence in my argument stands alone as proof.

What I did to criticize your opening paragraph was dismiss it as irrelevant, not attack its validity. There is a difference.

>We must ask which theory works in practice and makes sense of human experience.

You mean human ACTION. Humans do not act solely on rational laws of reality. They act also on thoughts, emotions, and shared beliefs in ghosts. Subjective "experience" is based on very similar things. If you are basing your proof primarily on human experience and actions, then how does your belief in the existence of morality as more than an idea have any more validity than a belief in ghosts?

>In order to accomplish this, I made two observations about morality which I called moral distinctions and moral obligation. This should answer my opponent's question, "How is your definition of moral obligation anything other than a physical act, one that is exercised in accordance with an idea?" In laying out my case, I am making a distinction between the act of determining the rightness or wrongness of an action (moral distinction) and the act of holding someone accountable to good conduct (moral obligation). I am merely giving names to two observable actions.

Exactly. Your idea of moral obligation is simply an action based on an idea we haphazardly call morality. How does this make morality something other than simply an idea?

>I argue that the act of moral obligation assumes--consciously or unconsciously--absolute morality whereas my opponent attributes the act to an attempt at persuasion.

False. I call your concept of moral obligation an ACTION in accordance with an IDEA. It has two parts, and it is very loose and imprecise concept that is poorly named.

>To clarify for my opponent, a subjective morality is one in which there are no moral absolutes. If morality is an idea, then it is subjective since all ideas generate from many subjective human minds. An objective morality is one in which there are moral absolutes.

If even a categorically imperative, perfectly rational, non-relativistic idea of morality is subjective by virtue of it being conceived by a human mind, then what kind of morality isn't? A code of ethics generated by God wouldn't escape this trap, either. God is simply another entity. Even if he was omniscient, he wouldn't qualify as "objective", since he is simply another entity.

>He says relativism (whimsical insistence) equals objectivity (objective and universal), and in the same sentence he says objectivity could be taken to mean the lack of relativism. My opponent cannot have it both ways.

I was attacking the idea that all humanly conceived moralities must by nature be selectively applicable. What I implied was that humans can create moralities that are universally applicable.

>My argument is that people who insist their ideas are correct DENY the premise that morality is relative. Since this theory of morality leads to irrationality in practice, it ought to be rejected.

Morality isn't granted objectivity by virtue of people being willing to coercively invoke it just as the idea of Aryan supremacy isn't granted truth by virtue of the Nazis carrying out the Holocaust. Even if people deny the premise that morality is relative doesn't mean it's untrue. People deny many things that are true and assert many things that are patently false.

>My very next statement says, "In other words, those in power make the rules." Physical might is not necessary. Might-makes-right can be understood that those able to enforce their ethics are the ones whose ethics are correct.

If there isn't a metaphysically existent entity called "morality", then how can the mighty be ethically correct or incorrect in a cosmic sense? They can still be in violation of rules drawn up in private or held within the hearts of those they oppress. In fact, this is the case no matter what the historical epoch.

>In a relativistic moral system, this must be the case. If morals are just ideas, then the only ideas that matter are the ones enforced.

No. Like I said, if morals are ideas, then they exist as ideas whether they are implemented, trampled upon, or ignored. Outside of final solutions, might has little to do with this.

>My opponent wraps up by saying that I've "succeeded merely in proving that to treat morality lightly is disastrous." I will reiterate my argument since my opponent does not wish to read it in full. I am arguing that morality cannot be just an idea because of the impossibility of it. It leads to relativistic morality. Relative morality fails since engaging in moral obligation contradicts the premise.

To reiterate, engaging in acts motivated by ideas does not legitimize or validate those ideas in any way, shape, or form.

>To say morality is subjective but insist that others follow it is irrational UNLESS one believes their idea to be based on something with greater authority.

Believing that you act in accordance with a higher power does not make ANY idea more rational. If this was the case, then the Crusades and the Salem Witch Trials were perfectly rational.

>To insist that others adhere to your ideas is to assume your ideas represent truth and not mere opinion or fantasy.

Assume, but not prove.

>In conclusion, my opponent struggles to rationalize his position. First, he argues that morality is an idea based on a vague assumption of what can't exist.

Invoking the burden of proof is not a vague assumption of what can exist. It is simply stating the objectives that we must achieve in order to claim victory in this debate, and that said objectives are asymmetric. You have to prove something, and I merely have to refute you.

>Second, he argues that relative morality equals objective morality without making a case as to why these two notions should be considered synonymous.

I was attacking your assertion that since moralities can be universally applicable, they must be guaranteed by some metaphysical reality that is more than an idea. I did not equate objective morality and subjective morality. If you were not making such an assertion, then please tell me so.

>Third, he attempts to refute my argument out of context--a straw man defense. I have shown that relative morality cannot be rationally used in practice. Relative moralists behave like objective moralists. They cannot walk the talk. Only objective morality is rational both logically and in practice. Morality, if it is just an idea, cannot be objective.

This statement assumes that the actions of moralists must by necessity be rationalized by the canonization of morality. No one but you would argue that philosophical approval of one's actions is a human right.
Debate Round No. 2
KRFournier

Con

Thanks again to jason_hendirx for taking time to deliberate this issue. I hope the readers have been edified the interaction.

According to my opponent, I have "shown [him] no physical evidence, nor have [I] put forth anything resembling a formal logical proof." This is simply untrue. Dismissing my arguments does not make them nonexistent. I have argued quite plainly why morality cannot be just an idea. Let me outline it:

1. Any theory of morality ought to rationally account for both moral distinctions and moral obligations.

Anyone can simply observe the existence of moral distinctions and moral obligations. As I argued in my first round, morality is meaningless without both, so any theory of morality ought to justify both.

2. The resolution is a relative moral system.

If morality is just an idea then it must be a relative morality, i.e., a morality consisting of subjective opinion rather absolute moral laws. In this theory, morality is a convention and not a reality.

3. Relative moral systems cannot rationally account for moral obligations.

While a relative moral system can account for moral distinctions, it cannot account for moral obligations. This does not mean people are unable to hold others accountable to their morality, it simply means that in so doing, they unintentionally and temporarily adopt an objective morality. I am not appealing to popular opinion. I am using a transcendental argument. Objective morality is the necessary precondition for the act of moral obligation.

Take for example the post modern moral theory which essentially dictates that so long as one's actions do not harm other people, those actions are permissible. Adherents to this philosophy are happy until someone passes judgment (moral obligation). If judging others does not create harm, one should be permitted to do so. But judgment is deemed as objectively evil in the post modern worldview. In other words, they adhere to a relative morality on the surface, but fall back on an objective morality in practice. Thus, the moral theory is irrational.

Now take for example the naturalist moral theory which claims morality to be a necessary evolutionary advancement, meant to advance the human species. Morality, as a result, is a product of advanced human thought which is in turn a product of natural selection. Yet adherents reject the notion of one "Fit" committing genocide against an Unfit" culture, as though human life is more sacred than other animals. When injustice hits too close to home, the naturalist no longer considers survival of the fit to be adequate in justifying any atrocity. Naturalists speak of evil even though evolution is impersonal; again, an irrational position.

These examples are meant to show how a relative moral system fails to justify moral obligation. Adherents to relative moral theories are indeed capable of moral obligation, but it does not mean the theory is rational. In fact, it is the inability to remain wholly within the theory that disproves it.

4. Therefore, morality cannot be just an idea.

My conclusion is that morality must be more than just an idea. It might be an idea based on something of greater authority, but it is certainly not just an idea. This is my formal logical argument which I have repeated each round. The resolution is in the form of a falsifiable statement, and my argument falsifies it. My opponent cannot simply expect to get away without a formal logical argument of his own. He cannot insist, by default, that his position is true until proven false. Indeed, those arguing for the existence of God are not granted such privileges.

My opponent asks, "If you are basing your proof primarily on human experience and actions, then how does your belief in the existence of morality as more than an idea have any more validity than a belief in ghosts?" My response is that my proof lies in the transcendental argument. Ghosts are not a necessary precondition for objective morality, but absolute moral entities are. To show that morality is objective, I have to show relative morality to be irrational. Any theory on morality must justify its use in practice. If I say morality is based on the color of my pants, but I do not follow my theory in practice, then it must be rejected. Since relative morality fails this test, it too should be rejected in favor of an absolute morality.

What I call human experience, my opponent calls human action. He insists that moral obligation is simply one person acting on an idea. He says, "Humans do not act solely on rational laws of reality. They act also on thoughts, emotions, and shared beliefs in ghosts." I would argue that humans act on only on belief, whether the belief is in a truth or lie. This is how reason works. When one acts on a thought, it is a thought based on a belief. If I think crackers are in the pantry, my acting on it shows my belief that the thought is in fact true. When one acts on emotions, they are acting on what they believe to be true, though emotion may distort that truth. When I choose to get revenge in anger, I do so in the belief that I deserve justice. Belief drives all action. Ergo, action reveals one's belief. Thus, when someone takes the action of moral obligation, they reveal a belief that their morality is undeniably true. Therefore, a relative moralist abandons the belief in morality as mere opinion when obligating another party to his/her moral standard, taking on instead a belief--albeit temporarily--that morality is objectively true. Adherents to an objective moral theory do not commit this fallacy.

The rest of my opponent's objections all reflect the general nature of this conflict. This is a battle of worldviews. Everyone makes assumptions about reality, specifically in the area of epistemology. My opponent asks for physical evidence or formal logic. He equates the possibility of abstract moral entities to ghosts, as though such things are not possible simply because they cannot be evaluated by scientific means. In other words, my opponent presupposes that only empirical evidence brings knowledge--an axiom which cannot itself be empirically proven. I have presuppositions about reality and knowledge as well. So do the readers. So which worldview wins? The one that can be lived out without contradiction. Since metaphysical entities are impossible in my opponent's worldview and morals are not physical objects, he has no choice but to believe they are mere thoughts. In my worldview, a third option is possible: an objective morality based on a transcendent and immutable God. By showing the irrationality of subjective morality, I have made the possibility of absolute moral laws more likely. Even if I cannot convince the reader that my worldview is correct, I can still win on the basis of proving the resolution impossible.

I have laid out my case as plainly as possible. I used transcendental argumentation to make my case. Morality cannot be just an idea. There must be a fixed truth behind them in order that they may be reliable. If it is just an idea then this debate and others like it are rendered entirely meaningless and we should all do what our hearts desire. Relative morality's ultimate end is no morality. Therefore, by necessity, morality must be objective and can therefore not be just an idea.

I extend my thanks to my opponent for donating time to writing this debate and to the readers for taking the time read and evaluate it.
jason_hendirx

Pro

>1. Any theory of morality ought to rationally account for both moral distinctions and moral obligations.

I would like to reiterate, your idea of "moral obligations" consists of people convincing others to follow their brand of morality. This is an action, and philosophies are under absolutely no obligation to rationally account for the actions of others. Not every action has a rational basis, and it is silly to assume that one must prescribe one to them.

>2. The resolution is a relative moral system.

>If morality is just an idea then it must be a relative morality, i.e., a morality consisting of subjective opinion rather absolute moral laws. In this theory, morality is a convention and not a reality.

Yes, this is true. I have not found your arguments for why it is otherwise to be convincing. The major reason is what I stated above.

>3. Relative moral systems cannot rationally account for moral obligations.

Like I said, no human action is necessarily entitled to philosophical and logical rationalization. One must account for natural phenomena, but not for human actions. Human actions are products of free will, hormones, and often a small dose of insanity, nothing more.

>Take for example the post modern moral theory which essentially dictates that so long as one's actions do not harm other people, those actions are permissible. Adherents to this philosophy are happy until someone passes judgment (moral obligation). If judging others does not create harm, one should be permitted to do so. But judgment is deemed as objectively evil in the post modern worldview. In other words, they adhere to a relative morality on the surface, but fall back on an objective morality in practice. Thus, the moral theory is irrational.

Not all postmodernists believe judging is evil, they simply think it is superfluous and narrow-minded. If they think judgment is evil, it may simply be because so many of those judgments (homosexuality is bad, loud music is bad, sexuality outside the confines of marriage is bad) are backed up by actions that DO end up hurting people (firings, lynching, police intervention). If social judgment never entailed negative consequences, then postmodernists would most likely brush them off completely. Until then, people will protest Proposition 8 and the Rodney King beatings until the authorities give in or they die of exhaustion.

>Now take for example the naturalist moral theory which claims morality to be a necessary evolutionary advancement, meant to advance the human species. Morality, as a result, is a product of advanced human thought which is in turn a product of natural selection. Yet adherents reject the notion of one "Fit" committing genocide against an Unfit" culture, as though human life is more sacred than other animals. When injustice hits too close to home, the naturalist no longer considers survival of the fit to be adequate in justifying any atrocity. Naturalists speak of evil even though evolution is impersonal; again, an irrational position.

If you're referring to World War II as a grand act of human altruism, I would have to disagree that there was much more than simple self-interest at play in the decision to oppose them. Until 1941, the U.S. was content to isolate itself from the world at large. In fact, up until that point, the U.S. praised Hitler and Mussolini and invested heavily in their industries. It wasn't until the U.S. was a target of Axis military aggression (Pearl Harbor) that it decided to step in. As for feelings of attachment, it is far too coincidental that they are generally held for those who ensure people's Darwinian fitness (relatives, mates, friends, allies, etc). Any grand moral pronouncements regarding the necessity of human evil are artifacts of the human imagination or the perfectly rationally self-interested desire of university professors and affirmative action coordinators to keep their cushy, well-paid jobs. That's why today we allow millions of Africans to starve even though saving them would be a thousand times easier now than fighting both the Nazis and the Japanese was back in 1945.

>Ghosts are not a necessary precondition for objective morality, but absolute moral entities are.

Again, you fail to give me a reason to think that this is even an issue. People act based on ideas of "objective morality," and they also act based on tribal affiliation and schizophrenia. Actions speak louder than words, but not necessarily more convincingly.

>Any theory on morality must justify its use in practice.

Again, no action necessarily deserves justification. Why are acts forcing others to comply with one's morality any different?

>What I call human experience, my opponent calls human action. He insists that moral obligation is simply one person acting on an idea.

Yes, I do. This is because your definition of moral obligation

>Moral obligation is the act of holding another person or group of people to a specific moral standard.

is described by YOU YOURSELF as an action. Why must this necessarily prove that the motivations are just? I act, therefore I am right? That is silly.

>I would argue that humans act on only on belief, whether the belief is in a truth or lie.

Exactly. We agree that people aren't necessarily right when they act.

>Thus, when someone takes the action of moral obligation, they reveal a belief that their morality is undeniably true. Therefore, a relative moralist abandons the belief in morality as mere opinion when obligating another party to his/her moral standard, taking on instead a belief--albeit temporarily--that morality is objectively true. Adherents to an objective moral theory do not commit this fallacy.

Actually, believers in relative morality do no such thing. When they act on their own wishes by eating an apple, are they contradicting themselves? Why would acting on their wishes while performing a moral intervention be any different? They, their subjective self, are performing an action that will please their subjective self or at least allow their subjective self to gaze into the mirror without shame. Whim and desire are simple emotions, and shame is no different.

>In other words, my opponent presupposes that only empirical evidence brings knowledge--an axiom which cannot itself be empirically proven.

No, I am simply saying that if something does not exist literally, then it does not exist except as an abstraction. If you wish to prove the opposite, that an abstract, moral Plato-space exists beyond the walls of sleep, then that is an entirely different discussion.

>By showing the irrationality of subjective morality, I have made the possibility of absolute moral laws more likely.

Like I said, there is nothing novel or amiss about human action essentially being devoid of reason.

>There must be a fixed truth behind them in order that they may be reliable.

You have never defined reliable. If by reliable you mean logically consistent, then all one must do is conceive a logically consistent idea of morality. Ideas don't have to be real to be logically consistent.

>If it is just an idea then this debate and others like it are rendered entirely meaningless and we should all do what our hearts desire.

If one wishes, then one may do so. Unless you're poor or in prison, in which case it is physical, rather than metaphysical, reality that is preventing you.

>Relative morality's ultimate end is no morality.

And why is this necessarily untrue? Because it would be unpleasant if it were?

>Therefore, by necessity, morality must be objective and can therefore not be just an idea.

Whose necessity? Reason's, or yours?

I thank my opponent for engaging in this debate. This was entertaining and (somewhat) fruitful.
Debate Round No. 3
32 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by KRFournier 8 years ago
KRFournier
Tarzan, I know your position on morality and the Bible quite well, and I'm not about to debate you here in the comments. I was merely trying to correct your interpretation of my arguments. You said that I said that God creates or thinks up morality, and I do not hold to that view. Instead, I hold to the view that morality is based on God's character.

Jason, I'm not sure how you interpret the term dogma. If you mean that I hold to the notion of absolute truths in regards to morality, then so be it. But my argument, philosophically, is transcendental. It is not dogmatic to logically determine the necessary precondition of something.
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
>> "Rather, God IS good and that which is morally right is determined from his revealed character. Since the Christian God is unchanging, then morality is objective and reliable."

That would deliver a strange brand of "morality" since the Christian God is contradictory on moral tenets.

Absolute moral entities being a necessary cause for morality indicates they affect morality in some way. Thus, the result of their affection is necessarily consistent with the entity's normative theory of morality.
Posted by jason_hendirx 8 years ago
jason_hendirx
In fact, proving the existence of something by saying the results implied by it proves its existence is pretty much the philosophical definition of dogma.

From the Principia Mathematica:

We have, however, avoided both controversy and general philosophy, and made our statements dogmatic in form. The justification for this is that the chief reason in favour of any theory of mathematics must always be inductive, i.e. it must lie in the fact that the theory in question enables us to deduce ordinary mathematics.

This works for Bertrand Russell because mathematics is pretty much unquestionable. Human action does not necessarily have the same kind of clout.
Posted by jason_hendirx 8 years ago
jason_hendirx
>Instead, I showed how the Christian Worldview better accounts for moral obligation given it's approach to ethics versus the resolution at hand.

In other words, it justifies human action, a phenomenon that is obviously not inherently rational.
Posted by KRFournier 8 years ago
KRFournier
Okay, now I understand what you were saying, Tarzan. However, I did not assume a god that "created" or "thought up" morality. As I stated in my first round, the Christian Worldview postulates that "God did not create morals nor is he bound to them as though morality were a greater God." Rather, God IS good and that which is morally right is determined from his revealed character. Since the Christian God is unchanging, then morality is objective and reliable.

I know you disagree with the worldview, but my burden was not to prove God's existence and absolute character. Instead, I showed how the Christian Worldview better accounts for moral obligation given it's approach to ethics versus the resolution at hand.
Posted by jason_hendirx 8 years ago
jason_hendirx
If you assume the absolute moral entity is sentient, then morality is arbitrary. If you assume the absolute moral entity isn't sentient, then you assume some sort of Kabbalistic Systema Sephiroth-like org chart of virtue that extends throughout creation in the form of an invisible energy matrix or some new-age crap like that.
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
If we suppose absolute moral entities are a prerequisite for morality ("...necessary precondition for objective morality, but absolute moral entities are.") Then we have the problem of how the entity affects morality. If the entity created morality, then morality is the entity's idea of morality. If the entity affects morality, then the method of its affect is based on its idea of morality...

Long story short, if there is an entity, it has a normative moral theory - a normative moral theory is an idea.
Posted by KRFournier 8 years ago
KRFournier
"Con's position regarding the necessity of absolute moral entities for objective morality undermines his position completely as morality would simply be this entity's idea..."

Tarzan, can you elaborate on this? I'm not quite sure what you mean by "this entity's idea."
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
Whoops - got confuzzled - I always do when Con is on the left side - lol...

Ok - so the logically inconsistent position is that morality is indeed a mere idea, but only if you hold it to have moral import and give you a moral obligation. Con's position regarding the necessity of absolute moral entities for objective morality undermines his position completely as morality would simply be this entity's idea...

Pro's argument concerning the evidence for morality's existence outside the mind was somewhat of a red herring empirically, but does place a burden on Con of showing a logically consistent model concerning where morality comes from - a burden he didn't fulfill.

Morality is simply a normative theory for how one should act. There are some appeals to biology that argue for an objective type of morality, but Con did not appeal to them.

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

Retract my previous comment - I misread Con's rhetorical explanation...
Posted by KRFournier 8 years ago
KRFournier
Tarzan, I'm confused. I'm Con. I argued against an idea-based subjective morality. If you voted Pro, then you voted in favor of the resolution that morality is an idea.
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