The Instigator
induced
Pro (for)
Losing
5 Points
The Contender
Stephen_Hawkins
Con (against)
Winning
9 Points

"subjective morality" is substatively no different than moral nihilism

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 4 votes the winner is...
Stephen_Hawkins
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/8/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,233 times Debate No: 30045
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (10)
Votes (4)

 

induced

Pro

moral nihilists claim that nothing is moral or immoral. subjective moralists often disagree by saying something along the lines of "objective morality doesnt exist, but things can be subjectively moral or immoral". they generally define subjective immorality as some sorts of harmful actions that people might subjectively dislike.

guess what? moral nihilists and even objective moralists also believe there are "harmful actions that people might subjectively dislike". the difference is that objective moralists and moral nihilists dont apply the word morality as loosely.

saying "rape is immoral" is like saying "coffee is good" in that it creates the impression that it is to be taken objectively. it is an objectively framed sentence since it does not have any subjective pronoun like in the claims "i like coffee" or "i dislike rape". those last statements are clear whereas the first statements can be mistaken as objective claims

my argument is that proponents of subjective morality are merely moral nihilists who use semantics to romanticize their position, perhaps because they feel more comfortable using ambiguous claims like "rape is immoral" than saying "i dislike rape, but it's not immoral"

if there is a non-semantic difference between moral nihilism and subjective moralism, please explain what it is.
Stephen_Hawkins

Con

I accept. I will go down three points for my argument:

Firstly, moral nihilism a meta-ethical position (that moral propositions have no truth value)

Secondly, moral subjectivism can be a meta-ethical position, but it is also a descriptivist position (that different cultures have different ideas on what is moral, whether it is right or wrong) and a normative position (that we ought to be tolerant as no-one is objectively right or wrong).

Finally, meta-ethical subjectivism is different to meta-ethical nihilism. Error theory for example is different to moral subjectivism because error theory claims that ethical truths are necessarily false, while subjectivism say they can be true or false if they abide by the individual's culture or emotions.
Debate Round No. 1
induced

Pro

"Firstly, moral nihilism a meta-ethical position (that moral propositions have no truth value)"

moral nihilists do not believe that moral propositions are neither true nor false, they believe that they are all false (assuming they are meant literally), like you state in your 3rd point "error theory claims that ethical truths are necessarily false".

"Secondly, moral subjectivism can be a meta-ethical position, but it is also a descriptivist position (that different cultures have different ideas on what is moral, whether it is right or wrong) and a normative position (that we ought to be tolerant as no-one is objectively right or wrong)."

i'd imagine that every moral nihilist also understands that "different cultures have different ideas on what is moral", and moral nihilists may just as easily promote tolerance, just as subjective moralists may be intolerant of others preferences like human sacrifice, abortion, the death penalty, or female circumcision

"Finally, meta-ethical subjectivism is different to meta-ethical nihilism. Error theory for example is different to moral subjectivism because error theory claims that ethical truths are necessarily false, while subjectivism say they can be true or false if they abide by the individual's culture or emotions."

there is what they say and then there is what they actually mean. when you look at the substance behind what a subjective moralist might say and what a moral nihilist might say, there is no difference between them. for instance:

example of a subjective moralist claim: "rape can subjectively be immoral". translation: rape is not objectively immoral, but people may dislike and object to rape
example of a moral nihilist claim: "rape is not immoral, but people may dislike and object to rape". translation: rape is not objectively immoral, but people may dislike and object to rape.
clearly, the two above claims mean the same exact thing. the moral nihilist is just more upfront about what they mean. instead of saying that both parties "say" different things, explain how the things that they say are substantively different.
Stephen_Hawkins

Con

My opponent claims that moral nihilism firstly does not claim that moral proposition has no truth value, but instead they have false value. The difference is that I claim moral nihilism can possibly reject outright that morality is a proposition. For example, Ayer's emotivism is nihilistic, believing that moral statements do not express propositions. Another example is error theory. Ignoring the majority of nihilism would be foolish, so we must accept that moral nihilists can claim that moral propositions are neither true nor false.

This idea is also backed up by near-every source, from wikipedia[1], where definitions are based on collective thought, to university books[2], to books by scholars on the subject[3], who writes "no proposition who makes a moral claim is compatible with moral nihilism"[3]. As such, claiming moral nihilists must claim that moral propositions exist is nonsensical and demonstrably false.

My opponent regarding my second contention simply says that they can imagine a subjectivist come to similar conclusions to a nihilist. While this may be possible, it is by no way a necessary link, nor is it even that relevant. A descriptivist subjectivist doesn't need to be a nihilist: Peter Singer or R.M.Hare are two examples of a cognitive and non-cognitivist who accept descriptive subjectivism yet are not nihilists. There are certainly many more as well. This is a major point of my argument.

Finally, my opponent's point to rebut the difference of meta-ethical subjectivism and nihilism is irrelevant. Yes, again, they can both affirm for example emotivism. A nihilist and subjectivist can both also affirm vegetarianism and join the Labour Party and wear Green on Labour day: it doesn't matter. The way they get to their conclusions makes a massive difference and is important.

Moreover, my opponent admits that a subjectivist can claim rape is immoral - maybe just for them, or just in their culture, but nevertheless, this is very distinct to neither moral nor immoral for everyone. The means and argumentation to their conclusion is what is important, and just arguing that you can get similar conclusions is irrelevant and does not touch the resolution proper.

To summarise, my opponent firstly mischaracterises moral nihilism: moral nihilists can say that moral statements are not propositions, while a subjectivist can. This is a massive distinction in itself. Then my opponent points out how subjectivists can claim something is immoral while a nihilist cannot: this again is an important distinction. Finally, I point out how descriptive subjectivists are certainly massively different to moral nihilists, which are an impotrant field of philosophy and thus show subjective morality as being substantially different to moral nihilism.


1 - http://en.wikipedia.org...
2 - http://tinyurl.com...
3 - http://tinyurl.com...
Debate Round No. 2
induced

Pro

i dont know where my opponent has gotten these assumptions about what moral nihilism entails. all this talk about theories and writings related to moral nihilism doesnt change the fact that moral nihilism is not necessarily any more or any less than "the view that nothing is intrinsically moral or immoral" as defined on wikipedia, the very source my opponent referenced. even subjective moralists admit that "nothing is intrinsically moral or immoral", so by definition, they are moral nihilists.
Stephen_Hawkins

Con

Firstly my opponent ignores the existence of descriptive moral subjectivists, which do not claim nothing is intrinsically moral or immoral as I have pointed out. Secondly my opponent ignores that moral nihilists day nothing is extrinsically immoral, while subjectivists claim things are extrinsically immoral. Finally, as I've pointed out, subjectivists in meta-ethics claim that there exists morality, while nihilists claim it does not. Each of these disprove my opponents position.

Also, regarding whether Wikipedia is right or not, I shall point out two things: firstly, Wikipedia doesn't take trump over two scholarly works on the subject. For another, Wikipedia claims on moral nihilism:

Moral nihilism is distinct from moral relativism, which does allow for moral statements to be true or false in a non-objective sense, but does not assign any static truth-values to moral statements.

The fact of the matter is moral subjectivism can still condemn, and as such is sufficiently different from moral nihilism.
Debate Round No. 3
induced

Pro

"my opponent ignores the existence of descriptive moral subjectivists, which do not claim nothing is intrinsically moral or immoral"
-if you believe in intrinsic morality, you are not a subjective moralist, you're an objective moralist

"subjectivists claim things are extrinsically immoral"
-translation: subjectivists claim actions may be disliked. is this in opposition to what moral nihilists believe?
consider an analogy:
1. Bob doesnt believe in a deity
2. Bob defines the universe to be God, and therefore claims "god exists"
3. Ian doesnt believe in a deity
4. Ian claims "i dont believe in God, but the universe does exist"
both Bob and Ian believe in the universe, and not a deity. they have no differences in position based on those premises. saying subjectivists believe things can be moral/immoral is like saying Bob believes in God. it is just a semantic mindgame

"subjectivists in meta-ethics claim that there exists morality, while nihilists claim it does not"
-again, this is just more talk about what both parties say and no admission or denial of the fact that they mean the same things, but apply different definitions to their terms.

"Wikipedia doesn't take trump over two scholarly works on the subject"
i was pointing out that moral nihilism doesnt necessarily entail anything more than it is defined to be. just as you cant accurately claim that atheists are those who believe in evolution because those are separate issues. Con has made all sorts of assertions about what it means to be a moral nihilist, while ignoring what the definition actually is.

if the definition of a "mother" is "a woman who has a child", and Jessi is a woman with a child, then she is a mother, by definition, right? just as subjective moralists are moral nihilists by the definition of moral nihilism: "the view that nothing is intrinsically moral or immoral"

do moral nihilists and moral relativists make different claims about morality? yes, the wording they use is different, but the claims they make mean the same things if you understand the definitions they are applying
Stephen_Hawkins

Con

Again, my opponent ignores descriptivist moral subjectivism, a distinct branch of moral subjectivism claiming a positive fact that people have different morality through and through. Some dispute whether this is true, such as Seen claiming all cultures have an underpinning moral structure. However, it is certainly a branch of moral subjectivism, and denying its existence does not strengthen an argument, it is just dropping the issue.

Moreover, again, my opponent confuses emotivism with the theories. Subjectivists can claim something is immoral FOR ANY REASON and not just a dislike of an action. They might argue an act is moral if it follows what the sovereign says, making morality subjective yet not based on the self, yet alone your emotion.

And finally, there clearly is difference with my opponent's analogy. Bob will worship the universe, Ian probably will not. This is substantial difference straight away.

My opponent is caught up in ignoring my case and digging themselves into a hole. I urge a vote CON, thank you for reading.
Debate Round No. 4
10 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by wrichcirw 4 years ago
wrichcirw
As nice as your explanation is, it was not present in the debate. :D
Posted by likespeace 4 years ago
likespeace
> I think PRO's entire argument dealt with the praxis of "subjective morality" and "moral nihilism", and concluded there was no difference in practice, and thus no substantive difference.

There is a difference in practice. If one believes encouraging someone to smoke is objectively wrong, one might judge a 1940s man who encouraged two women to smoke as bad. If one believes encouraging someone to smoke is wrong only relative to modern society--where its harmful effects are known well--one might judge that same 1940s person as good. The judgement of whether a man is good or bad has repercussions as to if and how their life and works are presented to future generations.
Posted by wrichcirw 4 years ago
wrichcirw
After yet more thought on this and some looking into some tangential topic, a term I remember from a course on Marxism came to mind - praxis.

CON's argument was missing praxis. I think PRO's entire argument dealt with the praxis of "subjective morality" and "moral nihilism", and concluded there was no difference in practice, and thus no substantive difference. That's how I interpreted the argument, at least.
Posted by wrichcirw 4 years ago
wrichcirw
One more comment:

US politics is a subject matter that is widely known. Most people even outside the US are familiar with presidential candidates and the two-party system, and some basic knowledge of the positions of the two parties.

Most people are less familiar with corporate America. They may know of corporations, but may have little knowledge of capital structures and the significance of margins, or that sales do not automatically equal profits.

Similarly, most people are less familiar with the philosophy behind morality. They may know of morality, but may have little knowledge of the various categorizations that CON proffered.
Posted by wrichcirw 4 years ago
wrichcirw
There's also the issue where CON lost PRO as well through the terms CON proffered. That IMHO should have been an indication that CON needed to prioritize somehow linking the definitions he proffered to the actual matter at hand (substantive differences).
Posted by wrichcirw 4 years ago
wrichcirw
About politics, yes, I would expect a debate about US politics to frame it as such, and to ensure that readers unfamiliar with the US political system be able to at least follow that the US primarily consists of a two-party system, Democrats and Republicans.

At this point, I would not throw out names like John McCain and Barack Obama without some sort of elaboration. Doing so would more than likely lose an uninitiated audience.
Posted by wrichcirw 4 years ago
wrichcirw
First of all, I do not contest your knowledge of the subject. I contest the readability of your argument. I consider S&G to be primarily about readability, and I found your argument to be exceptionally difficult to follow. Contrast:

PRO: "moral nihilists claim that nothing is moral or immoral. subjective moralists often disagree by saying something along the lines of "objective morality doesnt exist, but things can be subjectively moral or immoral". they generally define subjective immorality as some sorts of harmful actions that people might subjectively dislike."

"my argument is that proponents of subjective morality are merely moral nihilists who use semantics to romanticize their position, perhaps because they feel more comfortable using ambiguous claims like "rape is immoral" than saying "i dislike rape, but it's not immoral""

CON's counter-argument: "Firstly, moral nihilism a meta-ethical position (that moral propositions have no truth value) Secondly, moral subjectivism can be a meta-ethical position, but it is also a descriptivist position (that different cultures have different ideas on what is moral, whether it is right or wrong) and a normative position (that we ought to be tolerant as no-one is objectively right or wrong).

---

OK, so CON addressed PRO's point about semantics being the primary difference of moral nihilism vs subjective morality by...using semantics. Did CON at any point ever attempt to address morality beyond the definitional terms he proffered? From what I could tell, no, except for the four examples that had little to no elaboration - error theory, emotivism, Peter Singer, and R.M. Hare. I do not understand the significance of these four examples.

Therefore, from what I could tell, the differences are indeed purely semantic, which is exactly what PRO stated in round #1.
Posted by Stephen_Hawkins 4 years ago
Stephen_Hawkins
Please, list the "dense terminology". Meta-ethics, normative ethics, and descriptive ethics are all common terms in the topic. In all seriousness, not knowing meta-ethics in a debate on meta-ethics (which this is) is like not knowing what politics is in a political debate. Or not what a Republican Party is in a policy debate.

And wrichcirw, with the claim I never made clear whether morality being subjcetive or not would make it different to nihilism wasn't too difficult:

"moral nihilists cant say that moral statements are not propositions, while a subjectivist can"
"my opponent admits that a subjectivist can claim rape is immoral - maybe just for them, or just in their culture, but nevertheless, this is very distinct to neither moral nor immoral for everyone."

As well as elucidating in the first round that moral nihilism is a meta-ethical theory, while moral subjectivism can be normative (tell us what to do), descriptive (tell us how the world is) and meta-ethical (what moral statements mean), is a clear distinction. Each point I made in the debate, explicitly in the first round.

I am mostly bugging on this, however, because you've docked spelling and grammar marks, for reasons other than spelling and grammar. That makes no sense, except making one side win over someone else.
Posted by wrichcirw 4 years ago
wrichcirw
Basically, I wanted CON to say WHY morality, subjective or not, objective or not, would make such a difference. His definitions did nothing to further this end.
Posted by wrichcirw 4 years ago
wrichcirw
This was an exceptionally difficult debate to follow, because one side preferred a common-sense approach to the resolution, whereas the other side preferred exceptionally dense terminology to counter-argue.

I believe PRO is making the case that without moral objectivity, "subjective" versions of morality are nothing more than rhetorical justifications for a position, similar to the preferences for certain things that a moral nihilist would have. This makes a lot of sense to me.

Most of what CON wrote was not elaborated upon. What exactly is error theory or emotivism? What are the positions of Peter Singer and R.M. Hare? Each and every one of these people and concepts could have been framed with a one sentence elaboration.

CON also sought to go by a strictly definitional argument to assert his case, however the resolution is pretty clear that the SUBSTANCE is what is at issue here. CON's case, outside of some technical definitions that strictly define various forms of morality, did not delve into any substance.

---

The real question I wanted to see CON tackle was what SUBSTANTIVE difference was there between a subjectively moral/immoral position and an amoral position. CON's definitions in my mind did not answer this question.

PRO did proffer this substance: "example of a subjective moralist claim: "rape can subjectively be immoral". translation: rape is not objectively immoral, but people may dislike and object to rape"

CON's rebuttal to this left a lot to be desired: "Moreover, my opponent admits that a subjectivist can claim rape is immoral - maybe just for them, or just in their culture, but nevertheless, this is very distinct to neither moral nor immoral for everyone. The means and argumentation to their conclusion is what is important, and just arguing that you can get similar conclusions is irrelevant and does not touch the resolution proper."

What is the distinction? What is the SUBSTANTIVE difference outside of a textbook definition?
4 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Vote Placed by likespeace 4 years ago
likespeace
inducedStephen_HawkinsTied
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Total points awarded:13 
Reasons for voting decision: A moral relativist might say it is wrong in modern America to encourage a woman to smoke her first cigarette, but it was not wrong to do so in 1940s America. This is not to say either is a preference with no moral value. It is to say that modern America has different facts than 1940s America and that one's morality is relative to the society one belongs to. It's also notable that many moral relativists recognize that some core morals are independent of the society one belongs to. As Con points out, that nihilism and relativism are the same in some instances, does not mean the positions are the same. Republicans and Democrats, similarly, agree at times. Note: Con's case hit the key points, but wasn't always easy to follow, as he didn't define terms such as "error theory". Arguments to Con, S&G to Pro.
Vote Placed by rross 4 years ago
rross
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Reasons for voting decision: I totally agree with wrichcirw that Pro's argument was more likeable and more readable than Con's. I also congratulate Pro for putting up this really interesting debate topic. However, I do think that Con explained how the difference between moral nihilism and subjective morality is substantial. Also, Pro did include those philosophical terms in the resolution and so Con is justified in approaching the topic the way he did.
Vote Placed by wrichcirw 4 years ago
wrichcirw
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Reasons for voting decision: see comments. Arguments to PRO, and S&G to PRO because CON left a LOT of terms undefined, making his argument exceptionally dense for the uninitiated. Furthermore, he did not elaborate on how his definitions actually added any SUBSTANTIVE difference to the conclusion, a key point in the resolution.
Vote Placed by Deadlykris 4 years ago
Deadlykris
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro seemed to be caught up in the semantics of the issue, and convinced that his view of moral nihilism was the only true and correct view. Con pointed out that he was incorrect. Arguments to Con.