The Instigator
Philocat
Pro (for)
Winning
7 Points
The Contender
bossnegotiator
Con (against)
Losing
0 Points

Objective morality exists

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 2 votes the winner is...
Philocat
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/26/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 639 times Debate No: 65847
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (16)
Votes (2)

 

Philocat

Pro

First round is for acceptance.

I will be arguing that objective moral truths exist, and that morality is not a personally or culturally subjective concept. Con will be arguing that morality does not exist in an objective capacity.
bossnegotiator

Con

looking forward to a good debate
Debate Round No. 1
Philocat

Pro

Thanks for accepting! I will state my argument.

The first part of my argument states that the linguistic properties of the word 'good' make it impossible for it to be subjective.
Morality is loosely defined as what is 'good' and bad'. But what is good?
This may seem like a good question, but really it is not appropriate. Good is a fundamental linguistic building block and irreducible concept. Good requires no definition in the same way that the word 'not' has no definition. It is an unavoidable fact that some words, like not, are fundamental and cannot be defined further. Let us suppose that I pick up a dictionary and look up a word; the definition of this word is the same meaning expressed in simpler word(s). If I then flick through to define those simpler words I would get a definition formed of even simpler words. This cannot go on to infinity as there are a finite number of words, nor can it be a circular definition because then they would not be definitions. Therefore, I am correct in stating that some words are fundamental and are defined by themselves and themselves alone. These are called 'semantic primes' and good is one of them (1). The reason why it is a semantic prime is that attempting to define it leads to circular reasoning or absurdities, as I will explain in the second part of my argument.
Why does this property of 'good' mean that it is not subjective? Because something can only be subjective insofar as it is defined by the individual or the society. As I have already verified that 'good' cannot be defined, it is hence impossible for society or an individual to define it. Therefore what is good (morality) is not subjective, and as subjectivity and objectivity are dichotomous, morality must therefore be objective.

The second part of my argument explains why morality is not subjective in a metaethical sense.
Defining 'good' in terms of subjectivity will always fail when scrutinised. Let me illustrate this. If I say that what is good is what is socially approved then this forms the equation:
Good = What is socially approved
But if this were true then the statement 'whatever is socially approved is necessarily good' would be true. This is clearly not the case because it would mean that it would be impossible to disagree with society's morality. Furthermore, the holocaust would be good because it was socially approved under the society in which it occurred. This is absurd and shows that the above definition of morality is false. So morality cannot be socially subjective.
Equally, I could say:
Good = What I like
Again, this fails because it would mean that 'whatever I like is necessarily good' and this is clearly false, as it would say that if I like raping children it is good to do so.
This same consequence crops up whenever we try to define 'good' in terms other than itself. David Hume deduced that it is illogical to move from an 'is' to an 'ought' insofar as we try to define moral terms (what ought to be) using naturalistic terms (what is). The two above examples show that subjective morality is false.

The third part of my argument examines the normative reasons behind the veracity of an objective morality.
The illusion of subjective morality is based on reasonable disagreements on specific moral issues. For example, one can argue both rationally for or against euthanasia which would suggest that morality is subjective. However, if we keep questioning why someone holds a particular moral view then it becomes clear that morality is objective.
Let us postulate a classic euthanasia debate:

John: I am for euthanasia
Jack: I am against euthanasia

Both moral views can be seen to be rational despite being opposing, which would suggest that morality is subjective. However if I keep questioning John on his stance, we get something like this:

John: Euthanasia is good
Philocat: Why is it good?
John: It eases needless suffering
Philocat: Why is that good?
John: Needless suffering is bad

Right, so the basic premise is 'suffering is bad'. Yet watch as I question Jack, who has the opposite view to John:

Jack: Euthanasia is bad
Philocat: Why is it bad?
Jack: It threatens the intrinsic value of life
Philocat: Why is that bad?
Jack: It can make people fear that they won't be valued when they are ill
Philocat: Why is that bad?
Jack: Because fear causes needless suffering
Philocat: Why is that bad?
Jack: Needless suffering is bad

See what we have? These are two opposite moral views that would initially suggest that morality is subjective. Yet when we scrutinise their claims we see that their disagreement does not come from contention over moral values, but over interpretation of what leads towards and away from these values. They both have the same fundamental moral values. I would be willing to bet that if you boil down all rational moral disagreements you will find that they have the same moral values.
To conclude, I haven't deductively proved that morality is objective but I have shown that there is significant indication that moral values are objective.

Conclusion: Subjectivity and objectivity are dichotomous; something can either be one or the other. I have asserted in this round that morality is not subjective, so it follows that morality is objective. I have also shown that even in cases of moral disagreements, fundamental moral truths are not disputed, which insinuates the existence of objective morality.

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org...
bossnegotiator

Con

My opponent defined morality very loosely as "What is good and bad". I would like to redefine it according to what the oxford learners dictionary says:

1 [only before noun] concerned with principles of right and wrong behaviour
  • a moral issue/dilemma/question
  • traditional moral values
  • a decline in moral standards
  • moral philosophy
  • a deeply religious man with a highly developed moral sense
  • The newspapers were full of moral outrage at the weakness of other countries.
2 [only before noun] based on your own sense of what is right and fair, not on legal rights or duties
  • synonym ethical
  • moral responsibility/duty
  • Governments have at least a moral obligation to answer these questions.
  • (British English) The job was to call on all her diplomatic skills and moral courage(= the courage to do what you think is right).
http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com...


As the definition says that morality refers to your own sense of rights and wrong, I would like to say that it indicates that morality cannot but be subjective. As morality is based on your own view or "traditional values" it would seem that morality can be influenced by quite a lot of things. Your upbringing our past experiences would define what you think of as right or wrong. What is traditionally accepted as right or wrong in your community would also play a role.

I would also like to use the example of the holocaust. My opponent said that the fact that society under which it occurred thought it to be right does not make it morally right. This clearly proves my point as it is my opponent's westernised moral sense that is telling them that killing 6 million Jews is wrong. However the Nazis did not think it morally wrong as according to their morals they were not killing people but degenerate, evil beings. I think this is clear evidence that morality is subjective to upbringing and societal beliefs.

My opponent also did a mock interview with himself which I do not think should hold any weighting in this debate as the answers were scripted in my opponents example and the chance of the people giving those replies are minimal. However, in my example hard evidence was used as I could not have scripted history.

I would also like to point out that my opponent used wikipedia as a source and that the use of that website has never been acceptable debating practice.
Debate Round No. 2
Philocat

Pro

My opponent starts his rebuttals with the attempt to redefine morality to that which suits his argument. However, Con picks the secondary definition of morality to counter my argument instead of the primary definition of it, the one which does not insinuate at all that it is inherently subjective.
Even if the secondary definition states or implies that morality is subjective, this does not mean that it is. It is a logical fallacy to point at a dictionary and say that something is correct because a certain dictionary said so. (1) The definition in a dictionary is only what the writers agreed a word meant at the time of writing. Their definitions are not immune to logical deconstruction; as I have done in round 1.

'However the Nazis did not think it morally wrong as according to their morals they were not killing people but degenerate, evil beings.'
My opponent here is not actually highlighting actual difference in morality here, but difference in perception in regards to moral truths. Their morals did not dictate that they were killing 'degenerate, evil beings' because one's morality cannot change what things actually are. The reason that they thought Jews were degenerate, evil beings was down to ignorance and emotion, not morality.
Con also solidifies my point here by accentuating that the Nazi's only justified the holocaust by convincing themselves that Jews were not people. This would suggest that killing people is an objective moral truth as one can only justify breaking it if they convince themselves that they are NOT breaking it. The Nazis did this by dehumanising Jews.

My opponent then goes on to take objection to my 'mock interview' for two reasons:
1. It is scripted
2. There is little chance that people would give the answers I wrote
The fact that my interview is scripted is correct, but I could easily go out and interview people participating in the euthanasia debate and get similar answers. The only problem that would arise from my scripting of the interview would be if was not a realistic portrayal of an authentic conversation, however, it is realistic that people would answer the way I predicted they would. I have debated euthanasia a lot and so am familiar with the common arguments people make.
Even if my opponent retained his disdain for my imaginary conversation, it is irrelevant because the interview was only a illustrative tool I used to better explain my premise that people share the same fundamental moral values. I could remove the interview and still have a valid point, albeit one harder to understand. Therefore, my opponent has tried to refute my argument by criticising my explanatory methods, not the actual logic.

(1) http://www.logicallyfallacious.com...
bossnegotiator

Con

Seeing that my opponent likes using 'real' life examples so much(however scripted and misguided they may be) I will use one as well. If you ask a group of off duty soldiers whether they think killing human beings is wrong, most of them would say that it is. However, lets say you had asked the same group of soldiers whether they thought killing the enemy is wrong, most of them would say no as the enemy is also trying to kill them. See how moral views change depending on the situation? It is not objective at all.

Pro also said that the dictionary definition can't be used due to it being a logical falasy. I understand that dictionary definitions are simply what the majority think the word means, but if we don't use that definition and call it invalid then quite frankly we would be free to make up the definitions of words as we went along so my opponent calling the dictionary definition a logical fallacy is in itself a logical fallacy.

Also my opponent said that he is familiar with the common arguments people make and that gives him the right to say his explanatory interview is correct. However by that argument I can say that I am a mind reader and that it gives me the right to say that morality is subjective as I can see what people think. Obviously my argument can hold no ground as there is no proof that I can read minds. In the same way my opponents argument is invalid.

Looking forward to your reply
Debate Round No. 3
Philocat

Pro

My opponent brings up three rebuttals.

" If you ask a group of off duty soldiers whether they think killing human beings is wrong, most of them would say that it is. However, lets say you had asked the same group of soldiers whether they thought killing the enemy is wrong, most of them would say no as the enemy is also trying to kill them. See how moral views change depending on the situation? It is not objective at all."

The pertinent point is that morals are actually not changing subjectively. Objective morality does not mean that morality is the same over all situations, but that in a given situation the morality is objective.
Moral truths are constant within the same circumstances but the circumstances in your example are different, and so the moral truths are different.
My opponent presents the two situations:

-The morality of whether it is immoral to kill someone who is trying to kill me.
-The morality of whether it is bad to kill someone who is not trying to kill me

These situations are different and so have different moral truths applicable to them. These moral truths can still be objective, they are just only relevant to certain situations. For example, 'do not kill' is not relevant in a situation of theft.
Con appears to reason that different situations require different moral reasoning and this refutes the existence of objective morality. This is not the case; instead it highlights objective moral truths that are false. Con's example would only show that 'do not kill' is not an objective moral truth, it would not show that objective moral truths do not exist.
To maintain the existence of correct objective moral truths, I would simply reason that I was mistaken that 'do not kill' is a moral truth. Instead, my reviewed reason would reveal these previously-unrealised objective moral truths:
- It is not immoral for one to kill those who are attempting to kill him.
- It is immoral for one to kill those who are not attempting to kill him.
Thus objective morality is compatible.

In his second rebuttal, Con misunderstands my objection to his argument. I am not saying that it is fallacious to use dictionary definitions, they can be actually be very useful for clarification of understanding. What IS fallacious is to base a whole argument upon a dictionary definition, as it takes a dictionary to be an unquestionable authority. It may not be fallacious for univocal terms such as 'shirt' because such words are not contested in any way. However it is a fallacy when used for equivocal terms such as 'love' (or 'morality' in this case). For example, it would not be a sound argument in a debate on 'what is love?' to simply point at a dictionary definition and thus conclude what love is.

My opponent's third rebuttal is not valid, because the relevance of my mock interview is not dependent on the quality of reasoning given by my imaginary interviewees. Their reasoning behind their support/opposition of euthanasia does not need to be particularly veridical to illustrate my point.
In contrast, you would only be able to prove that morality is subjective by reading peoples' minds if everyone had a correct but different view of morality. But this is not the case.
To illustrate this, people have very different ideas of science and specific scientific concepts. By reading peoples' minds you would see this disparity. However, you would not then conclude that science is subjective. Instead you would conclude that some people have the correct knowledge of scientific concepts and the others are mistaken.
It is the same with morality; reading peoples' minds would show a huge disparity in morality, but this would be because some people have true knowledge of moral truths and others are mistaken.
Also, my knowledge of peoples' views on euthanasia are not based on mind-reading. Multiple people have simply told me what they believe about the issue; no mind-reading is required I assure you!
bossnegotiator

Con

my opponent went of on a whole tangent regarding killing of other human beings. Pro said that their are various morals concerning killing,each of which relates to a different situation(in this case defending your life or just plain killing someone innocent) and that these morals are are objective in their different situations. However, this contradicts the statement that morals are objective as the base morals are changing it in each situation. It is absolutely ridiculous to say that their are different objective morals that apply to killing. The base moral is that killing is bad and it is subjective,that is why people react differently depending on the situation, not because they are apply a different objective moral.

My opponent then also use the question "what is love" to try and prove the point that a dictionary definition of moral is not valid in this debate. The reason that the word "love" can't be defined by the dictionary is because it relates to emotions and that makes it too difficult to accurately put into words. The word moral can however be defined as it is the word we use to say whether something is right or wrong. It doesn't have multiple connotative meanings and thus it is very accurate to use a dictionary.

My opponent then brings up the very good point of science and how it can't be subjective , it has to be either right or wrong. However, science is based on fixed rules from which to reason whereas morals do not(as they are subjective). You can't compare something as concrete as science to morality which changes constantly.

I would like to motion that we forfeit round 5 and let the voters decide who wins
Debate Round No. 4
Philocat

Pro

I agree that we should forfeit round 5 together, because both our arguments have been made as clear as possible.

I thank my opponent for a very interesting debate. I do not believe that he has proved that morality is subjective, but he makes a strong defence of subjective morality.

Take this round as forfeit with a message alongside it, for all intents and purposes it is a forfeit based on mutual agreement with my opponent.
bossnegotiator

Con

I thank my opponent for this debate.

I don't believe he has proved morality to be objective but he does make an interesting argument.

Let the voting begin
Debate Round No. 5
16 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by dhardage 2 years ago
dhardage
Mathematics are unchanged from the first hominid counting the berries he or she had to see if it matched the amount to be fed. Five was five, even when it was not so expressed. Numbers, the concept of amounts, does not change over time and with culture. It is a description of the way the world works. That is objective since it describes what is already extant. Morality does not fit into that category, since it does not describe but prescribes. Any comparison with mathematics is a false analogy. Your argument was flawed at the outset.
Posted by missmedic 2 years ago
missmedic
morality is objective when based in reason
Posted by Philocat 2 years ago
Philocat
As I said, morality is irrelevant to my refutation of your point. You said that objectivity requires a source, I postulated mathematics as a counter-example. I did not even mention morality.
Posted by dhardage 2 years ago
dhardage
Mathematics is descriptive of the way things work. It is a symbolic language that describes the physical universe. It is objective because it does not change and is not affected by culture or time. 1+1=2 no matter what culture you live in. Morality changes drastically over time and culture. People are killed in some countries for not believing in the same god as the ruling elite and that's considered just and correct. In this country it is abhorrent and against the law. Morality is not descriptive, it is prescriptive, telling individuals and societies what is right and wrong. The compare the two is a false analogy.
Posted by Philocat 2 years ago
Philocat
You know it's a good debate when it continues in the comments ;)

You say that it is a bad comparison because morality is a subjective state of mind, but you're just begging the question here. You've taken for granted that morality is subjective in order to disprove that it is objective.
dhardage made an assumption that objectivity requires a source, I pointed out that this is not the case, because mathematics is objective and has no source. Technically I wasn't really referring to the morality debate.
Posted by bossnegotiator 2 years ago
bossnegotiator
mathematics has to do with things which can be presented in the physical while morality is a subjective state of mind so just as with science this is not a valid comparison
Posted by Philocat 2 years ago
Philocat
Mathematics is objective; could you please tell me what the source of its objectivity is then? :)
Posted by bossnegotiator 2 years ago
bossnegotiator
good comment. could you vote on this debate pls :)
Posted by dhardage 2 years ago
dhardage
Morality cannot be objective since there is no source EXTERNAL TO THE PERSON for individual morality. There are generally accepted moral codes in most societies and much of this is codified in laws that were originally meant to protect people from other people who violate that code. These violations in and of themselves are evidence that morality is both subjective and fluid, changing with the person and the circumstance. Claiming it is objective demands a source and there is none that is not based in the opinions of another human being or group of human beings. Morality is totally subjective.
Posted by Philocat 2 years ago
Philocat
@Soul.Purge
I will answer your concerns just this once, as I don't see why I should have to be having a parallel debate in the comments. Please message me if you want to respond to my responses.

I agree with your assertion that we cannot learn a language by being given meanings for words in words that you don't understand (because you don't speak that language). However, what I am saying is that all words are defined in terms of semantic primes. You cannot deny the existence of them unless you manage to define a word such as 'this' in simpler terms. You seem to think that you can define these words by observing them in context. However, contextual uses are not definitions, only examples at which language speakers can refer to to improve their understanding of a particular word. Ultimately, you cannot deny the existence of semantic primes until you manage to define such words as 'more' in terms simpler than itself. Demonstration =/= definition.

"whatever is socially approved is necessarily good for THOSE who socially accept it. If we believed that action X is wrong, we wouldnt socially accept it as being right. Raw fact that society decided that action X is morally right proves that this society believes that action X is morally right. If you are not part of society which accepted action X as morally right, then from your perspective action X is not morally right. Morals are subjective."

You are suggesting that morality is contingent on society insofar as a member of society agrees with it. But then society is not contingent on society, it is contingent on the individual person. However I have proved in round 1 that this cannot be the case. You are also make the false assumption that people collectively make the same decisions.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by NoMagic 1 year ago
NoMagic
PhilocatbossnegotiatorTied
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro's arguments were better.
Vote Placed by Jzyehoshua 2 years ago
Jzyehoshua
PhilocatbossnegotiatorTied
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Total points awarded:40 
Reasons for voting decision: Absolutely phenomenal arguments, logic, and rebuttals by Pro. Their arguments just by the 3rd round had the debate won as far as I was concerned, and they really broke down the distinctions excellently. Some excellent arguments: "Con also solidifies my point here by accentuating that the Nazi's only justified the holocaust by convincing themselves that Jews were not people. This would suggest that killing people is an objective moral truth as one can only justify breaking it if they convince themselves that they are NOT breaking it. The Nazis did this by dehumanising Jews." "These situations are different and so have different moral truths applicable to them. These moral truths can still be objective, they are just only relevant to certain situations. For example, 'do not kill' is not relevant in a situation of theft."