The Instigator
pastimpasse
Pro (for)
Losing
3 Points
The Contender
philochristos
Con (against)
Winning
9 Points

Objective Morality Necessitates a Higher Being

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 4 votes the winner is...
philochristos
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/15/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,774 times Debate No: 31327
Debate Rounds (2)
Comments (12)
Votes (4)

 

pastimpasse

Pro

Respond with an introductory argument in your first response, respond to specific points in mine with your second. I will do the same. Clarification: The ambiguous term "higher being" does not necessarily denote a god, but rather any being with cognitive capacity which surpasses that of a human in that it can conceive of an objective morality. This role is usually assigned to a god but does not necessarily have to be.
First, consider that humans have yet to come to to total consensus on any moral issue. Regardless of the dilemma, there will always be differing opinions. Even events and practices that seem to be clearly morally reprehensible on any grounds are supported by at least one individual. The obvious, hackneyed example is the Holocaust, which despite its seemingly apparent nefarious intent was supported by thousands. If humans had the capacity to conceive of an objective morality, it would have been implemented ubiquitously and world order would have been achieved. In this light, it is clear that moral objectivity cannot be grasped by the human mind. If it were to be understood, it would apply to all humans regardless of their inclinations and psychological disposition.
Secondly, without a mind to conceive of morality there is no morality. Subjective morality is arbitrarily assigned by each individual. Each individual can then choose to adhere to his understanding of morality or to ignore it, but this exact morality does not exist outside of the individual. Consider the case of a man who believes it is his moral duty to massacre all beet farmers because of the vast suffering these vegetables cause among children. His concept of morality does not extend to those around him unless he can convince them to alter their own concepts of morality and join in the eradication of beet farmers. Perhaps he would be able to sway some disgruntled children but he would do so by imparting his ideas and manipulating theirs, not because they transcend the confinement of the mind. Morality does not simply spread via osmosis among individuals, but is rather internally nurtured and groomed and then perhaps shared. An objective morality must follow the same rules. Without an Entity to conceive and maintain such a morality, it has no effect on any beings. It does not exist in the mind of that which conceives and for this reason it cannot be shared with any others. Without a tangible effect or a presence in the mind of some being, there is no room for objective morality to exist.
Therefore, for such a moral code to exist, an Entity of some sort must exist to delineate it. Without such an Entity, or some other greater mind in the universe, such an objective morality cannot exist. Humans cannot conceive of this morality, as defended in the first paragraph, and without a mind to inhabit morality does not exist as it cannot be found anywhere and has no effect on anything. Without any kind of presence or vestigial effect, as is the case if a higher being does not exist, objective morality does not exist.
philochristos

Con

Just to come clean, I believe there are objective morals, and I also believe that a "higher being" is necessary for the existence of objective morals. I'm going to play devil's advocate in this debate. I am going to argue that objective morals cannot be grounded in a higher being.

I. The meaning of objective and subjective morality

An objective statement is a statement about the object. For example, "My dog barks" is about my dog, and what makes it true is whether it corresponds to my dog or not. Whether the statement is true is grounded in the actions of the dog. It is not grounded in anybody's beliefs about the dog. Nor is it grounded by anybody's feelings, biases, or preferences toward the dog.

Objective statements can be true or false, and whether they are true or false does not depend on anybody's beliefs or preferences.

A subjetive statement is a statement about the person making the claim. For example, "Sausage tastes bad" is about the tastes of the person making the claim. What makes it true or false is whether the person actually likes teh way sausage tastes. The statement can be true for one person but false for another person, depending on whether each of them likes sausage or not.

Subjective statements are neither true or nor false independently of anybody's preferences. If sausage existed, but there was nobody to taste it, it would taste neither good nor bad.

With those two understandings in mind, it should be clear that objective morals cannot be grounded in any sort of personal being, whether higher or lower. If the truth of a statement of morality depended on the thoughts or preferences of an individual, then it would be subjective by definition. If it were objective, then by definition, it could not depend on any person's beliefs. So a higher being is an insufficient ground for objective morality.

II. The source of authority.

What differentiates the higher being from everybody else such that whatever the higher being thinks is binding on everybody else? What is meant by "higher being"?

The being, presumably, is like us in the fact that it values certain things, has certain preferences, etc. Suppose that I think killing cats is wrong because I put a great deal of value in cats, but the higher being thinks killing cats is right, and he puts a low value in cats. Why is his opinion objectively true, and my is only subjective? What gives the higher being authority such that his opinions are binding on everybody else?

It seems like there are only two things that possibly could. Either it's his "otherness," or it's his power. His "otherness" doesn't seem to work, because each individual is "other" than every other individual in all of reality. Or perhaps by "other," you mean something like radically different. After all, the higher being is presumably not just another human. But what "other" property does the being have that makes the difference? It's hard to imagine what it could possibly be.

Maybe it's his intelligence. But since when does greater intelligence give one person authority over another?

Maybe it's his power. But might does not make right.

Perhaps the higher being receives its authority from the consent of the governed the way government recieves its authority. But that would assume there's some sort of social contract between the being and humans. It obviously wouldn't apply to atheists who have agreed to no such contract.

There just doesn't seem to be any conceivable attribute the higher being could have that would give the higher being authority over everybody else such that other people are actually obligated to obey the higher being.

III. Euthyphro's dilemma

I'll bet you saw this one coming!

Is something good because the higher being prefers it, or does the higher being prefer it because it's good already?

If something is good logically prior to the higher being prefering it or imposing it on somebody else, then morality does not come from the higher being. It exists independently of the higher being, and the higher being just recognizes it.

So the only hope is that morality comes from the preference and will of the higher being. But if there is nothing but the will or preference of the higher being to ground morality, then morality is artibrary. For anything we might say is right or wrong, things could've been otherwise because the being could've prefererred or demanded otherwise. Even for things we consider moral today, the higher being could change his mind tomorrow. And how would we know that he had?

Some try to say that morality is neither the product of the higher being, nor logically prior to the higher being, but is identified with the higher being himself. Goodness is just a necessary part of the being's nature. But if that is the case, then it makes it meaningless to say that the being is "good." Good by what standard? For everything else we judge to be good or bad, we do so based on some outside standard. But if there is no standard outside of the higher being, then it's meaningless to say that the higher being is "good." At best, saying the higher being is good would be equivalent to say, "He is what he is," which is a tautology. "Good" is just an arbitrary word. We could've just as easily used the word "bad."

IV. Moral epistemology

We come to our moral beliefs in a variety of ways. The primary way we come to our moral beliefs is through instruction from other people, usually our parents, but often society. But where do they get their moral knowledge? Presumably, they got theres the same way. So it turns out this whole thing is a house of cards. Nobody gets their moral knowledge from a reliable source.

If morality is grounded in a higher being, then the only way we could know about it is if the higher being communicated it to us somehow. But how does he do it?

Perhaps he told some prophet long ago. The prophet then told his children and society. And that society passed it on to their children, all the way up to us. But that is an unreliable way of getting information because after many generations, surely the knowledge would've become distorted.

Perhaps the higher being writes it on our hearts. But how could we know that our own conscience or sense of morality comes from the higher being rather than having been shaped by our society or evolutionary pressures? Or perhaps it's just the natural result of our sense of empathy for our fellow man.

If morality were grounded in a higher being, there should be some reliable communication from that being to us. Otherwise, it's superflous. The fact that people differ so widely amongst each other on morality shows that the higher being is not communicating clearly. That raises doubts about whether there's any objective morality at all because if there were, then we should expect the higher being to communicate it clearly to us. After all, why impose moral obligations on people without telling them clearly what they're supposed to do?

Conclusion

So that's four arguments against the idea that objecive morality comes from a higher being. If there is objective morality at all, then it must be grounded some other way. If there is no other way, then there probably is no objective morality. But this isn't a debate over whether there are any objective morals. It's just a debate over whether objective morals require a higher being. It seems obvious to me that if objective morals cannot be grounded in a higher being, then a higher being is not necessary for objective morals.

Debate Round No. 1
pastimpasse

Pro

Response to I:
Definition of objective (according to dictionary.reference.com): "Not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased."
According to this definition, objective morality is morality which exists beyond each individual. It is the theoretical moral Truth. It is distinguished from subjective morality in that it is concrete, absolute, and irrefutable. Subjective morality differs with each individual and depends on his or her personal beliefs, not a comprehensive Truth which applies to all. In this light, it is apparent that objective morality is in fact beyond human comprehension. The part of this definition that seems inconsistent with my argument is that objective Truth is not personal, and therefore, would not be derived from a person. However, the higher being of which I speak is not a person. This very fact is what would allow such an Entity to conceive a morality that is objective. I apologize for ambiguity on the concept of what constitutes a "higher being" but that is another exceptionally complex issue in and of itself. Suffice to say that such a being would have an expanded understanding of morality such that it is not a person at all and can consider morality on the objective scale, beyond personal bias and inclination.

Response to II:
Again, I apologize for the ambiguity of "higher being" but the denotation of the phrase is for the time being impossible to assign. Characteristic I attribute to such a being as to which I refer for this argument"s sake are an expanded understanding of the universe and the morality which may or may not underlie it.
As higher being, it does not have personal values, but rather a perspective which allows it a comprehensive understanding of Truth. This is how it maintains inherent "otherness." Humans do not have this kind of capacity. The higher being of which I speak is not "like us." It is more, and as my argument asserts, must be for objective morality to exist. We must be careful not to anthropomorphize when considering such a being. It does not have opinions on issues as humans do, it has definitive answers. It does not think, it knows. If it knows that massacring felines is the morally correct, it is morally correct. Its authority lies in the very knowledge which grants it the power to conceive objective morality. You contend that intelligence does not yield authority. In many cases, it does not. Even if you dazzle a moronic policeman (I am not implying policemen are moronic but proposing a theoretical individual policeman) with the most intelligent, articulate argument he has heard, if you are driving above the speed limit he has the authority to punish you. However, authority only exists when circumstances provide it by placing one entity in a place of power above another entity. In this specific issue, the higher being has the absolute authority in the field of morality because it knows the theoretical Truth, which encapsulates objective morality. It understands that which humans do not. Whether or not you believe in objective morality (moral relativism considering all subjective morality as equal has its appeal), it does not make sense to deny that a being that understands a morality which is above personal beliefs, and therefore applies to all and is true to all, does not have absolute authority on the issue of morality. If the being understood such a morality, the morality could be denied by none simply by its definition as above personal beliefs. Objective morality denotes Truth above human belief, which would be accepted by all. Were it not ubiquitous and unanimously accepted, it would be subjective morality which applies to only some. In this way, the being has ultimate authority regarding morality because he knows the Truth, and the Truth applies to all.

Response to III:
Trying to impose time and chronology on such a higher being is a classic instance of human audacity compelling the belief that even a being recognized as above ourselves is constrained by the same laws we are. The being may be omniscient and exist apart from time itself. It, as well as objective morality, may just exist; just be, unconstrained by time. Therefore, neither would come before the other. They would both just exist. It is impossible for our minds to fully understand that which does not exist in the physical world which is all we have known, but if something transcends such a world, it makes sense that we would not be able to understand it or the laws under which it operates, just like we cannot fully understand what existence beyond time would resemble.
However, the point of arguments such as this to me is not to simply disarm the opponent but rather to fortify intellect, broaden perspective, and develop mutual understanding. Therefore (and of course because it is a compelling argument), I will follow your train of thought. You ask, "Is something good because the higher being prefers it, or does the higher being prefer it because it's good already?" I say, objective morality exists simultaneously to the higher being. It is dependent upon the existence of the being, but the being cannot exist without it. Consider this simplified example: the laws of physics. Laws of physics do not exist independently of physical matter. Without a subject to govern, both objective morality and the laws of physics are nonexistent. However, these subjects do not exist without that which governs them. Physical matter does not exist independently of the laws of physics which governs it. This is not because physical matter "prefers" these laws and conceives them, but because they are factual realities. Likewise, a higher being which understands the Truth does not exist apart from objective morality or "prefer" it, it simply exists hand in hand with the being. This also explains that such an objective morality is not an arbitrary moral code or a preference but rather ubiquitous and inherent fact.
Now for my response to the final paragraph of III. Objective morality stems from the being. Objective morality dictates what is "right" and what is "wrong." You argue that if the being is inherently good that there is in fact no "right" or "wrong" because the being is uniquely right and therefore there is nothing to which he can be compared, if I read the paragraph as you intended it. However, I never contended that the being is good or bad, just that he understands the difference.
Response to IV:
It seems quite apparent to me that objective morality has not been communicated to humanity, at least not in its entirety. If it had, its inherent, objective truth, which by denotation transcends our personal inclinations and beliefs, would be so alluring and irrefutable to all to the point that it could not be denied. It is the characteristic of applying to everything that makes such morality objective.
You assert that because objective morality does not seem to appear in humanity means that it does not originate from a higher being, otherwise there would be a means of communicating this knowledge. You also claim that if such communication does not exist, the morality which would be communicated is superfluous. However, this is a flawed assumption on several levels. First of all, consider that the morality may not be superfluous if it cannot be communicated to humanity because humanity may be, in the broader scheme of things, irrelevant. If the "higher being" does not really care about humanity, and there is more reason to assume this is the case than that he does (this is another wonderfully complex argument that I do not have time to pursue), then why would it care to communicate the intricacies of morality to us?

I would love to keep going but I'm out of characters. This doesn't leave much room for a conclusion, but hopefully these responses supplemented by my introductory remarks create a sufficiently compelling argument. Thank you very much for participating with me in this debate.
philochristos

Con

This has been a short debate, but I have gotten to where I like short debates. They're not as tiring, and they get more votes.

When Pro initiated this debate, he said, "Respond with an introductory argument in your first response, respond to specific points in mine with your second. I will do the same." So them's are the rules. I'm guessing he meant that I'm not supposed to respond to his response, but only to his opening. I'm just pointing that out so none of the voters will say, "Hey, philochristos ignored everything Pro said in the second round, dropping all his arguments!"

Pro made two arguments for why objective morality necessitates a higher being.

I. Because humans cannot conceive of an objective morality

Pro argues that because humans cannot reach any agreement on morality that they therefore cannot conceive of an objective morality. And since they can't conceive of an objective morality, it follows that objective morality must be grounded in a higher being.

I don't think it follows that because humans can't agree on every moral issue that they therefore can't conceive of an objective morality. After all, "objective morality" does not mean "universally agreed upon morality." Most humans, in fact, do conceive of morality as being objective. A moral claim does not have to be true to be objective. A person can hold some moral point of view to be objective and yet be wrong about it.

Supposing universal agreement is necessary for objective morals, Pro does not solve the problem by appealing to a higher being. Since that being differs with everybody else on morality, it would still follow that there are no objective morals. The same argument pro uses for why morality cannot be grounded in humans applies to the higher being as well since it would exist right along with everybody else.

II. Because an individual's sense of morality does not extend to others

Pro begins with the premise that morality cannot be conceived without a mind, which I agree with. Then he goes on to argue that unless one person's concept of morality is shared by everybody else, it can't be objective.

First of all, that is a misunderstanding of what it means for morality to be objective. If morality is objective, it doesn't depend on any individuals beliefs about it. So universal agreement would not make morality objective, and disagreement doesn't make it subjective.

Second, postulating a higher being doesn't solve the problem. If universal agreement is necessary for one mind's concept of morality to extend to everybody else, and if the higher being's concept of morality does not extend to everybody else, then by Pro's reasoning, the higher being's concept of morality is not objective. The only way it could be objective, by Pro's reasoning, is if everybody else shared the higher being's concept of morality.

Conclusion

I think Pro's biggest problem is in not understanding the subjective/objective distinction, which I clearly explained in the first round. The very meaning of a subjective truth is that it depends on subjects. The very meaning of objective truth is that it does not depend on subjects. Yet Pro thinks that whether a moral claim is objectively true or not depends on whether everybody agrees with it or not.

If everybody agreed on some point of morality, that would not make it objective. At best, you could arrive at cultural relativism, in which the entire culture agrees on morality. But it wouldn't be objectively true.

And if some moral claim was objectively true, it wouldn't become less so just because not everybody agreed with it.

After all, the earth was round even when people thought it was flat. And when people disagreed about the shape of the earth, it was not for that reason shapeless. Human belief, whether universally agreed upon or not, has no affect whatsoever on the shape of the earth because whatever the shape of the earth is, it is objectively so.

Thank you for coming to tonight's debate. And thanks to Pro for initiating the debate.

Debate Round No. 2
12 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Solomon_Grim 3 years ago
Solomon_Grim
To roylatham, it is not god which set us up to go against good morales. God gave us freedom in the beginning, we accepted sin. If god had intervened, we wouldn't have freedom any more.

Also, the founders were majority Christians and one the first acts done after the signing was buying 2000 bibles to be put in schools. The paper used to sign for the bibles still exist in a museum along with several of the bibles.

Plus, 29 signers had theology degrees and several were preachers.
Posted by wiploc 3 years ago
wiploc
Pro had the burden of proof. Pro was unclear and self-contradictory. Con made some good points. Victory: Con.

Pro conflated objective and universal. According to Pro's argument, since people don't all agree, there is no objective morality. But he doesn't explain what higher beings have to do with this.

Pro said a "higher" being is the only one who can understand objective morality. He gives no justification for this claim. (Morality has to be difficult to be objective?) The "higher" authority doesn't rule over objective morality, but just appreciates its entirety. (Taking one horn of the unspellable dilemma.) But then Pro said that objective morality couldn't exist without somebody to rule over it. (The other horn of the dilemma.) Either that's a contradiction, or Pro posits a higher and a lower being, one to passively appreciate and one to ignorantly control. But, clearly, if the lower being created objective morality, then it would exist regardless of whether the higher being appreciated it.

It would have been nice if Con had destroyed more of Pro's arguments. But Con did bring up the dilemma, forced Pro to contradict himself by taking both sides of it. Con pointed out that higherness is undefined, forcing Con to create a definition, which definition defeated Con's argument by having the "higher" being only appreciate the pre-existing morality, which means the morality would exist regardless of whether the "higher" being appreciated it or not.
Posted by Daktoria 3 years ago
Daktoria
Also, I don't think Roy understands what "agree" means. This goes back to what I was saying about universals, particulars, singulars, and plurals. Con succeed in brainwashing Roy (which is what devil's advocates are supposed to try to do!) into believing objective morality isn't universal. Roy's interpretation of "agree" is a subjective interpretation that depends on morals coming from within people, not beyond people.

To give a non-moral example of the subject-object dichotomy, we can disagree on what the best flavor ice cream is to sell to a target market based on sale forecasts. We can't disagree on what 2+2 equals. The first is a matter of disagreed opinion. The second is a matter of misunderstood fact.
Posted by Daktoria 3 years ago
Daktoria
I just wanted to say this is hands down the best debate I've seen on the site so far. Also, I can understand how Con had difficulty playing devil's advocate here. Actually, I thought Pro was playing devil's advocate as well. He didn't seem to be someone who actually believes in objective morality, but only wanted to say it requires a "higher being".

This is similar to how liberals will criticize libertarians in real life over a priori reason in the non-aggression principle. Liberals will claim that morality is relative, so "a priori reason" is just libertarians opinion. That is without religion, libertarians can't prove the inviolability of property rights.

Again, very good debate.
Posted by RoyLatham 3 years ago
RoyLatham
The Declaration of Independence was written by Deists, who believed morality came from God, but that the only way to know what is moral is to study human nature. Thus, "We hold these truths to be self-evident ..." The basic elements of morality like a right to self-defense, the immorality of child abuse, theft, and murder are not universal but they are so close to universal. The "self-evident" approach works for atheists as well as Deists.

Pro argued that if morality were objective there would be universal agreement. We all know that mathematics is objective, yet people still make math errors. In fact, we know from Godel's Theorem that there are math problems that have no provable solution. Similarly, morality may be objective and yet pose problems that have no solution. Morality demands moral commitments to self, to family, and to society. This may pose unresolvable moral conflicts.

Let's suppose that objective morality is dictated by God. If so, the either that morality is in conflict with human nature or it is not in conflict. If it is in conflict then God is evil for having made human nature inherently in conflict with morality. If it is not in conflict, then morality can be determined by studying human nature.
Posted by Apeiron 3 years ago
Apeiron
I see I see, I'll PM ya-
Posted by philochristos 3 years ago
philochristos
Apeiron, I would like to hear your thoughts on it, though. I'm not going to argue in the comment section as long as the voting is going on, though.
Posted by philochristos 3 years ago
philochristos
Apeiron, if you reading my opening, I said I was playing devil's advocate.
Posted by Apeiron 3 years ago
Apeiron
Philo, we should debate Euthyphro's dilemma at some point if you actually believe it.
Posted by pastimpasse 3 years ago
pastimpasse
That is a very difficult question. For use in this argument, I define it as morality which transcends personal beliefs and biases and is based in moral fact, if there is such a thing. I have not solidified my opinion on whether or not it even exists.
4 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Vote Placed by Nur-Ab-Sal 3 years ago
Nur-Ab-Sal
pastimpassephilochristosTied
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Reasons for voting decision: Though I agree with Pro, Con made a slightly more convincing case. Pro never quite overcame Con's central points, concerning Euthyphro's dilemma and such. Pro's posts were also hard to follow, as they were generally just a large block of text (but I'm not going to take away points or anything for that). Some of Pro's responses were adequate, such as his 'simultaneous' response to III (which is the view that I hold; goodness is an artifact of God's essence) but I think Con's larger case held throughout the debate.
Vote Placed by wiploc 3 years ago
wiploc
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Reasons for voting decision: RFD in comments.
Vote Placed by Daktoria 3 years ago
Daktoria
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro emphasizes the ideal-real dimension of the subject-object dichotomy which Con mistakes for the particular-universal dimension. That is Con never realizes that Pro doesn't recognize a "higher being" as "God". This is confirmed by Con's obsession with "any". He doesn't understand that Pro is talking about "ubiquitous" implementation. That is Pro's depiction of objective morality is dependent upon each (universally singular) person, not any (particularly singular) person. Instead, Con seems to try to carry on a tangent about morality coming from (particularly plural) people themselves in the real world rather than bestowed (universally plural) morality from a higher being. In fact, Pro calls Con out over this ideal-real confusion when referring to simultaneous time over the Euthyphro dilemma. His example is the laws of physics depending on physical matter and vice versa. (Con doesn't even respond to this. He could have said laws depend on how matter interacts for example.)
Vote Placed by RoyLatham 3 years ago
RoyLatham
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro has the burden of proof. His argument is that if morality were objective, then everyone would agree on what it is. Con correctly rebutted that universal agreement is not required for objective morality to exist, because people may still be mistaken in their understanding.