Objective Moral Judgements can be made in Moral Nihilism
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I have been thinking for a while how to word this resolution, which is my own position in terms of moral philosophy. I am a Nihilist, and I think it's a rational starting position for making moral judgements. For example, I will make the claim the holocaust was wrong, and I make that as an intended objective statement. The BoP is on me to demonstrate the resolution as true, and Con can either negate my arguments (so I fail to meet my BoP) or provide stronger arguments for the antithesis.
Moral Nihilism: "The meta-ethical view that nothing is intrinsically moral or immoral."
Objective: "A proposition is generally considered objectively true (to have objective truth) when its truth conditions are met and are "bias-free"; that is, existing without biases caused by, feelings, ideas, etc. of asentient subject". Or 'impartial'.
72h, 10,000 words
Round 1: Acceptance, Rules
Round 2: Arguments, Rebuttals
Round 3: Arguments, Rebuttals
Round 4: Rebuttals, No new arguments
Best of Luck!
I would like to thank Dragonfang for inadvertantly giving me the idea of how to phrase this resolution.
I accept thine challenge.
Thanks xXCrptyoXx for accepting this debate, it almost feels like I am throwing a grenade in the middle of a battlefield, with no idea of whether or not it’s going to blow up in my face. Anyway, let’s continue with the debate.
Rejection of Objective Moral Truths
By the rejection of objective moral truths, the independency of truth statements to whether or not certain actions are moral or immoral are rejected. For example the Holocaust could not be said to be objectively immoral, and very conceivably there could be a case where the holocaust would actually be a true statement. This is a form of relativism but what I will be forwarding in this debate is actually a form of egoism, which is compatible with moral nihilism as defined.
Contrary to popular opinion, the rejection of objective/inherent moral truths in no way entails that statements about morality cannot themselves be objective. Depending on how ‘morality’ is defined then the problems of actions not having any intrinsic value are no more significant than fiat money not having any intrinsic value, or a certain medicine being intrinsically good for health.
To expand on the first analogy, a wad of 1,000 dollars intrinsically is worthless, it is literally a wad of paper whether you like it or not. Absent humans and society attached to it, there is virtually nothing that fiat money actually does, or in fact ‘is’. However it is an objective fact that today, under the circumstances of people, society, and social constructs that 1,000 dollars is equal in value to say a high-end laptop purchase. It is also an objective fact that a house is generally worth more money than a laptop, despite the fact that the money itself is intrinsically worthless. It is entirely subjective depending on the circumstances.
When applied to morality, certain actions, such as rape, murder, saving someone’s life etc indeed are not inherently moral or immoral, and it is only in light of the circumstances surrounding the murder, and the full context that a moral value can be ‘computed’ for the situation. For example, murdering someone who you know is suffering from a painful, terminal disease is generally going to be better, or even a positive act when compared to murdering somebody spontaneously, for no reason. The context of the circumstances give the truth value to the moral judgement.
With morality ungrounded, it follows that humans generally act in a way which advances their own self-interest, i.e. according to egoism. First though I must establish the ‘ought’, which I deem as axiomatic.
This is rather easily defended, since if left to their own devices people will always do what they want to do, they will always do what is in their self-interest. Therefore if someone wants to accomplish something within their self-interest, then they ought to act within their self-interest.
This is impossible to challenge too, because the negation is self-refuting:
A*: People ought not to do what is in their self-interest
Here we have a case of people wanting to act how they don’t want to act, it’s a self-contradiction. To contend that “Why would anybody want to adopt this philosophy” the answer is “It is by definition, the philosophy that they want”, since it is directly tied with self-interest.
So here we have a system which is decoupled from any intrinsic values, and entirely based on the self-interest of the sentient beings involved.
“Myoptic” Egoism vs Alltruism
This philosophy does not rule out ‘altruistic behavior’, such as charitable behaviour etc, as these are easily arguable at actions that the individual wants to do, even though perhaps long-term it is not in their own self-interest. A more major consideration is society as a whole. Generally, in order to satisfy self-interest, one generally must also consider the other sentient being’s self-interests too. Adopting a desire that advances one’s own self-interest (myoptic egoism/self-interest) at the heavy expense of another (such as burglary) would result in society accepting this as moral behaviour, and hence that individual would also be subject to being burgled. It would not be a society that individual would want to life in, hence while the instinct to burgle, or kill, or rape someone was myoptically within their self-interests, on a larger scope of interest, it is actually within their self-interest to adhere to generally altruistic behaviour that we are familiar with in today’s society (“englightened” self-interest/egoism).
Indeed this is supported by the fact that most/all large societies employ forms of law enforcement/authority which maintains the self-interests of the sentient beings involved.
“Application to moral judgements”
From what I have provided so far, we now have a device by which objective moral answers can be yielded which is divorced from objective and inherent moral values and standards. What is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are answers yielded from a subjective assessment of the sentient beings involved and beings that perceive said actions.
It may be some discomfort that multiple objective judgements arise from different considerations. Two I will consider below:
I have talked much about #1 so far, where actions that are self-serving, or societal serving but with one’s self in mind is exclusively considered for moral judgements. This yields objective answers, similarly to how there is an objective answer to ‘what is my healthy weight’ or ‘what is my favourite cereal’. The answer is objectively true or false, but it is entirely subjective of who I am, and what my interests are.
#2 Is exactly the same as #1, except it considers all members of a society, or of a ‘closed system’. All member’s self-interests are taken into account. Moral judgements made with this consideration would maximize the average overall self-interest each member of the community. This of course means that each member would trade-off their immediate self-interest in order to maximize the fulfilments of self-interest of all members of society, which may or may not lead to greater heights that would otherwise be accomplishable with only #1 considered for each person.
Such a system would be suitable for social norms, and especially ‘moral’ actions for society would be those which significantly go against Self-Centred self-interest in favour of “Communal” self-interest (such as jumping on a grenade, for example).
Both of these considerations fall back to the axiomatic statements made earlier, and very conceivably yield objectively true/false answers to actions of moral questions, which is what this debate sets out to demonstrate.
Thank you Envisage for instigating this debate. I hope it leads to a good intellectual discussion and helps us to improve as debaters.
I do not find anything wrong with the philosophy Envisage puts forth in of itself, but it would seem Envisage misses the mark in terms of applying this philosophy to the resolution. For this reason, my arguments may seem repetitive, but I find this repetition necessary in order to get the point fully across.
Moral Facts vs. Objective Moral Facts
My opponent must prove that moral nihilism can yield objective moral facts. The problem with my opponent’s entire argument is his confusion of moral facts versus objective moral facts. Moral facts can be true, but subjective. For example, the statement, “I like apples” is a true statement but may only be true in regard to my individual taste. Objective moral facts however cannot be based on the individual for then the moral fact would not be unbiased as defined, but rather wholly within bias. This flaw is given light particularly in his use of moral egoism. Moral egoism is centered entirely on the individual and their self interest and thus, their personal bias.
P1. Objective moral facts are unbiased.
P2. Moral egoism, which focuses on the self interest of the individual, is wholly within bias.
C1. Therefore moral egoism cannot yield objective moral facts.
Defense of Premise 1
This premise is justified by Pro’s definition of ‘objective’ given in round 1.
Objective - "A proposition is generally considered objectively true (to have objective truth) when its truth conditions are met and are "bias-free"; that is, existing without biases caused by, feelings, ideas, etc. of asentient subject". Or 'impartial'.
Defense of Premise 2
In moral egoism, what is moral or immoral is determined by whether or not actions fulfill the self interest of the individual. This means that actions have no inherent moral value in of themselves, but are given moral value by the individual committing the action. This of course means that morality is based on the bias of the individual committing the action, and thus is not objective since in order to be objective it must be free from bias.
The conclusion follows the premises.
P1. A is B.
P2. C contradicts B.
C1. Therefore A is not C.
On Pro’s Analogy
Pro’s analogies rely on the concept of an individual or society giving value to morality. For example, Pro’s analogy on money follows that money is only valuable because society gives money value. This can then be compared to morality. Morality is only given value because society gives it value. He then concludes that from this giving of value, objective statements can be made. This is very flawed, for perhaps true statements can be made, but it does not follow that objective statements can be made. Pro’s major flaw is that he uses ‘true’ and ‘objective’ interchangeably. For something to be objective it must exist outside of bias. The same does not necessarily apply to truth. It is true that I think apples are tasty. However, it is not an objective truth that apples are tasty since whether or not an apple is tasty is reliant on the bias of the individual tasting the apple.
Pro states, “What is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are answers yielded from a subjective assessment of the sentient beings involved and beings that perceive said actions.”
This concept of morality relies on the individual giving value to it, and it therefore cannot be objective since the value of morality relies on the bias of the individual.
Flaws in Moral Egoism in Regard to the Resolution
In moral egoism, there is either such a thing as subjective self interest or objective self interest.
If my opponent appeals to a subjective self interest, or an interest based upon the individual which may vary among individuals, then objective moral judgments are impossible since the morality of any given action relies wholly on the bias of the individual committing the action.
If my opponent appeals to an ultimate, objective self interest, then all moral judgments must be based on that objective self interest and therefore morality would be objective, having intrinsic value in relation to what is in the ultimate self interest of all people. Now to clarify on this, an objective self interest would have to be one that applies to all people, and is not subjective based on the individual. Something like ‘happiness’ would not be an objective self interest since although the general principle may apply to all people, its realization may differ among each individual. Of course if we were dealing with objective self interest, then we would no longer be dealing with moral nihilism since actions would have intrinsic value in regards to the ultimate self interest. Therefore, my opponent must be referring to subjective self interest, which as already shown, fails in context of the resolution since all actions must be inherently biased.
Application of Subjective Egoism
According to moral egoism, what advances one’s self interest is what is moral.
It is therefore conceivable that in situation A, agent B could rape agent C, and the situation as a whole would be moral since the situation acts within agent B’s self interest.
However, in situation A, agent B could rape agent C, and the situation as a whole would be immoral because it acts against the self interest of agent C.
Here there exists a contradiction, and certainly a flaw in the concept of objective moral facts. For in order for this situation to either be objectively moral or immoral, it must not be based on the individuals affected by the situation, but be based on unbiased principles. The morality of the situation is based entirely on the individuals within the situation, for according to agent B the action was morally sound, but according to agent C the action was immoral. If the situation were based on objective moral facts, then the situation as a whole would either be moral or immoral, but according to moral egoism the situation could be both moral and immoral depending on the agent in the situation. Therefore, this situation is devoid of objective moral judgment and moral egoism fails to yield objective moral facts.
It is conceivable that my opponent may respond that raping agent C would not be in the self interest of agent B since agent B may very well go to jail for it. Therefore, the situation as a whole would be immoral. However, this would only provide a moral fact and not an objective moral fact because it would still rely on agent B not wanting to be sent to jail. All conceivable moral facts would be reliant on the bias of the individuals within the situation, since the individual’s self interest is the basis of morality.
The main point in my arguments was to distinguish moral facts from objective moral facts. Although Pro has certainly established a basis for proving moral facts, he has failed to establish a basis for proving that moral nihilism can yield objective moral facts. It is crucial that Pro prove that moral nihilism can yield objective moral facts, and not just moral facts.
Over to you Pro.
Envisage forfeited this round.
Although Envisage appears to have forfeited his round, within minutes after his allotted time ended he was posting in the comments section explaining that he had his argument finished but had not been able to post it in time. He posted his argument in the comments section. Although I find this to be poor conduct, and of course expect conduct points to be given to me, I will accept Evisage’s argument and respond to it for the sake of a good debate.
His argument can be found here - http://sharetext.org...
To put it simply, Pro’s argument appears to be nothing more than self-contradictory gibberish. Pro continually states that these moral statements are “free of bias and impartial,” yet at no point demonstrates or proves this.
For example, “it is subjective in that each person will have their own preferences, their own perceptions of pleasure, pain, and hence differing self-interests, but what those self-interests are is an objective fact in that it is impartial, and not a matter of anyone’s opinion of whether it’s true of false.”
Pro’s statement that it is not a matter of anyone’s opinion is simply fallacious. Of course it is a matter of opinion because, as Pro states, it is subjective upon said person’s preferences. These moral facts necessarily cannot be unbiased since the truth value and determination of these moral facts relies on the preference of the individual. In response, Pro gives the contradictory argument that these moral facts are unbiased, but we have no reason to believe this simply because Pro never demonstrates that they are unbiased. Take his one of his analogies for example:
“If instead we were to determine that ‘I feel cold at temperature X’, and the temperature was <X, then we have a subjective answer (in that it depends on who I am, and what I perceive as cold), that is objective (since it is unbiased and impartial, as it’s a fact that below temperature X I ‘feel cold’).”
If we really cut the fat off of this, Pro essentially states that ‘I feel cold at temperature X’ is both a subjective and objective statement. Subjective in that the truth of the statement depends on how said person perceives coldness and objective in that the statement is unbiased and impartial. However, how is the statement unbiased and impartial if the truth of the statement relies on the biases of the person that the statement applies to? Just because a statement is true does not mean it is objective, as I argued previously.
Myoptic Moral Egoism
Here Pro appeals to a greater self interest through the use of his ‘slave’ analogy.
The problem with this analogy is that if he is not appealing to an objective self interest, then whatever this greater self interest may be is still not objective (obviously) since it relies on the bias of the individual. In particular, the preference to be free as opposed to being a slave inherently relies on personal mental biases. “To prefer” essentially means to have a bias towards, and therefore it is not objective that these slaves would want to be free.
Appeal to Objective Moral Egoism
Pro takes his slave analogy further with his ‘ideal health’ analogy, which appeals to objective moral egoism.
“However, if we change the person, and hence their height, weight, genders, species even. Clearly there is an objective ‘best’ body fat quantity, but this will not be the same as the person before, because the circumstances have changed. The determination of the ‘ideal fat content’ is indeed objective, and free of bias, however the statement ‘X amount of fat is healthy’ is entirely subjective depending on the other variables.”
First off, Pro’s analogy is flawed in regards to what he must argue. As shown in my opening argument under ‘Flaws in Moral Egoism in Regard to the Resolution,’ he must be arguing for subjective moral egoism and not objective moral egoism since objective moral egoism would appeal to actions possessing inherent moral value which is in direct contradiction with moral nihilism.
This analogy appeals to objective moral egoism, and therefore contradicts what Pro must argue in order to win. This analogy does not rely on changeable preferences, but rather on variables that possess no bias. It is comparable to the following:
2 + 3 = 5
2 + 2 = 4
Different variables hold different answers, but these variables have no bias. They are objective because they simply are and cannot be anything else. These facts do not rely on preferences which are changeable, but rather they rely on unchangeable and objective variables.
What Pro must argue for is subjective moral egoism, which is comparable to this:
Each person has different preferences, and these preferences yield facts, but not objective facts since the truth value relies on the preferences of the individual. Objective facts do not rely on the preference of the individual. 2 + 2 cannot potentially equal 5. It must necessarily equal 4. Given the same individual, a preference could at one time be true and at another time be false. These are subjective preferences, and this is what my opponent must argue in favor of. This being said, my syllogism still stands, for my opponent must argue that subjective moral statements can be objective, but my opponent cannot since they are inherently contradictory which affirms my defense of premise 2.
If objective morality exists, all acts X must inherently be moral or immoral. This is because to be objective means to not adhere to preference, and therefore cannot be subject to change.
Pro’s response is a confusing, seemingly contradictory mess. I think this may due both to his failure to explain how these moral facts are impartial and free of bias, and due to his obvious rush to finish writing his argument and submit it.
Over to you Pro.
First I really want to thank xXCryptoXx for accepting and following through on this debate, I am somewhat disappointed it has come down to something of a misnomer on one of our parts, and perhaps a more thorough topic can be debated next time.
I also thank xXCrpytoXx for not be an arse and running with the FF, which was due to stupidity of letting the timer run to the last second on my part, in any case time to conclude this debate.
‘Bias’ can be Objective
The most serious objection Pro raised is that I need to affirm objective moral egoism (and hence objective values which contradicts Moral Nihilism), but this is false. I demonstrated how self-interest becomes axiomatic in my opening, despite it being intrinsically subjective. Since it is logically absurd to make the following statement:
“I do not necessarily want what I want”
If we accept what ‘we want’ is indeed entirely within bias, and is the epitome of subjectivism, then there is no sensible way for an individual contradict this as it cannot fulfil its own conditions for satisfying the truth of the statement, it becomes essentially the same problem as attempting to state:
“This sentence is false”
Since such a statement is incoherent, hence the antithesis must entail:
“This sentence is true”
“I necessarily want what I want”
Hence any purely subjective moral system necessarily has a foundation that is itself objectively true, and self-attesting. I do not need to submit that this entails objective moral egoism, and that self-interest is an objective moral value, I only assert that such a (subjective) moral value is one that cannot be sensibly denied. Upon which a moral system can be built on (moral egoism).
Recall the definition of ‘objective’ I have provided:
“"A proposition is generally considered objectively true (to have objective truth) when its truth conditions are met and are "bias-free"; that is, existing without biases caused by, feelings, ideas, etc. of asentient subject"
The truth conditions are met in an objective manner in assessing exactly what an individual, or community’s self-interest is, they vary from individual, but are impartially determined to be true or false. Con seems to confuse that because the truth conditions ARE the feelings, ideas and biases of sentient subject, that these facts are objectively true regardless of the biases, feelings etc in assessing them.
There are many different forms of egoism which Con affirms, and I proposed in my opening that a ‘communal’ form of egoism would be the type of moral system that gives an overall maximal average fulfilment of self-interest for all members of a society. If you take society as a whole, and make an assessment of people’s desires, their most desired state of self (even if that supersedes what they think is their most desired state), then we have a solid grounds for making objective moral judgements.
These judgements are plastic, and change according to characteristics and desires of a population. A population which experiences utmost discomfort from hearing high pitched noises for instance, it would be immoral to play said high pitched noises to that population, and the opposite would be true if hearing high pitched noises was one of the utmost pleasure inducing stimuli for a population.
Such judgements would be impartial, and with answers that are not subject to any one’s say-so, whilst being adaptable, a significant advantage over purely objectivist moral systems where certain actions are rules moral and immoral whilst being ultimately divorced from the desires of the participants of the population.
To roll with Con’s math-type objections, it seems appropriate to use these in kind to give an illustration, take the two following equations:
1.) 10x +9 = y
2.) 10 + 9 = y
The latter equation is closest o my opponent’s interpretation of what an objective answer, these is one answer to 10 + 9 = y, and only one answer (19), and it is not subject to bias of any external factors. The answer is an objective fact, and that is that.
The former equation, 10x + 9 = y, does not have a single answer, which is analogous to what I am proposing, the answer y is subjective depending on what the value of ‘x’ is, similarly the moral values of a subjective system such as moral egoism has a multitude of answers, Pro is very right to assert that different perspectives can lead to wildly opposing answers, I never contested this.
However, once you have a value for ‘x’, the answer that follows is itself an objective fact, since it cannot be anything else once you have settled for a value. Similarly once you have a full understanding of someone’s self-interest, then what is moral that follows is itself an objective fact. If ‘x’ is known to be the number ‘2’ for example, then the answer is objectively ‘29’. There is no bias involved in finding that answer, it is not a matter of opinion of what the answer is once the background factors are known.
That’s precisely the point I have been trying to get across in this debate.
I thank Crypto for a civil debate, and for showing excellent sportsmanship by allowing my second round through, and wish him luck in the voting!
Back to Con!
Thank you for your response.
My opponent does not need to affirm objective moral egoism; he needs to affirm the resolution. What I am arguing is that my opponent’s effort to affirm the resolution has, in certain cases, caused him to argue in favor of objective moral egoism which contradicts the notion of moral nihilism.
Whether Bias Can be Objective
On the contrary, it is logically absurd for bias to be objective, for objectivity by definition lacks bias. Therefore bias cannot be objective.
The statement “I do not necessarily want what I want” is sound in the sense that at one point I could like apples but at another point not like apples. If I necessarily wanted apples, there could never be a time where I didn’t want apples. However since there could be a time where I didn’t want apples (say I was sick), then it is not necessary that I want what I want.
Now since I have shown that the statement “I do not necessarily want what I want” is not self-contradicting, the antithesis is not necessarily true, and therefore the statement “I necessarily want what I want” is not affirmed.
There is also another way to view the statement “I do not necessarily want what I want.”
If during circumstances X I desire Y, then it is necessary that I desire Y during circumstances X, lest there be a contradiction. Therefore, it is necessary to want what I want (during circumstances X specifically). However, although this is constantly true since circumstances X must yield desire Y, it is not objectively true since it still relies on the bias of the individual that desires Y.
It is important to note that I do not argue against moral egoism, for both of my responses yield that the individual acts (and should act) within their self interest; it is simply the acting upon an individual’s self interest that necessarily cannot be objective since self interest in of itself exists within bias.
Here Pro subscribes to the kind of gibberish I was arguing against last round. Once again, Pro asserts that moral facts based on the self interest of individuals are unbiased and impartial, yet gives no proper explanation on how this is. At first thought it certainly wouldn’t appear so, for something that is subjective upon an individual or community cannot be unbiased or impartial in respect to the fact that such definitions are necessarily opposed to one another.
On the contrary, 10x + 9 = Y is subjective and cannot yield objective answers.
In respect to the fact that variable X can be changed and therefore yield different answers, the equation is subjective. It can yield true statements, but not objective statements since the answer to the equation is changeable and depends on the variable used. It is correct that once you have settled for certain value X, you must necessarily be granted a true answer. However, this answer is not objective, since the answer depends on the value of variable X within the equation.
Burden of Proof
As Pro has the full BOP, he must prove beyond doubt that objective moral judgments can be made in moral nihilism. At the very least, I have called into doubt whether such moral judgments are objective or not, and therefore Pro cannot win this debate.
Sorry Pro if this debate was not as substantial as you would have like it to be. I had a fun time and I hope you did too. This debate certainly brought into question certain points I had never considered before. May the better debater win.
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