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A secular view of objective morality

Burzmali
Posts: 1,310
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11/21/2014 3:52:50 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
I'm an atheist who believes that there are some objective moral truths that exist. To preface that idea, I think morality is an emergent property of human interactions. I think that moral truths about human interactions allow us to characterize the moral correctness of actions in a given situation. What makes these objective is the idea that such truths hold for all situations regardless of the individuals in each role.

As an explanatory example of moral truth, I might say that life is better than death and honesty is better than dishonesty, and these could be truths to evaluate moral correctness. With those in mind, in any situation, actions that uphold both moral truths for all involved would be more correct than those that uphold only one or neither, or that only uphold them for some people. That said, I also recognize a subjective aspect to morality in the form of which truth to value more in different situations when the realities of that situation prevent a resolution that can satisfy all truths.

With that clarification out of the way, I think one example of an actual moral truth is that life is better than death. I'm led to this idea by the recognition that human society in general couldn't exist if that weren't true. If death were better than life, then humans wouldn't be able to even form a society because they'd be killing each other or themselves without provocation. And if life was equal to death, then the simple indifference of everyone to human well being would result in humans falling prey to all manner of predators. Parents would abandon offspring immediately after birth and the need to consume nourishment would be ignored. So I see this, and possibly other moral truths, like a descriptive law about the reality of how things function. Sort of like how the "law of gravity" is a descriptive law about the reality of the attraction of bodies in space.

I'm sure that everyone has an example where life does not appear to be better than death. Perhaps you're thinking of the woman who recently committed suicide rather than die horribly from brain cancer. Or you might be thinking of an instance of self defense where an individual killed his/her attacker. I would say that each one of these is an example of valuing a different, possibly objective, moral truth: non-pain is better than pain. (For the sake of discussion, I'm defining pain as unwanted physical or mental discomfort.)

In the case of the woman who committed suicide, she made it very clear that she would prefer to live, but the fact that she was going to die horribly forced her to make such a difficult choice. If life > death and non-pain > pain are moral truths, her decision is no more or less morally correct than if she had decided to stick it out. However, if she could be easily cured without additional pain, then her decision would be less correct than if she had chosen to be cured and continue to live. So the reality of her situation forced her to make a judgment between two (possibly objective) truths: life (> death) vs non-pain (> pain).

There is one scenario I can think of that would falsify the idea of life > death as a moral truth: if someone, who is otherwise mentally and physically healthy, had a pain free life that they found satisfying and still chose to kill him/herself for no other reason than to choose death over life. That means he/she couldn't do it in the hopes of reaching some promised afterlife, either. To my knowledge, there is no such example.

With the belief that one objective moral truth exists, I have to also believe that there are probably others. The two I've already mentioned, non-pain > pain and honesty > dishonesty, both seem like they could qualify. However, I don't think those potential truths have the same support as life > death.

Personally, I find this view of morality to be much more compelling than anything that might be based in religion or theistic belief. Even if we decide that the evidence for these being objective moral truths is shakey (as many no doubt think), the ideas of life being better than death and non-pain better than pain are more easily agreed upon than any claims about any gods.
Envisage
Posts: 3,646
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11/21/2014 6:31:07 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 11/21/2014 3:52:50 PM, Burzmali wrote:
I'm an atheist who believes that there are some objective moral truths that exist. To preface that idea, I think morality is an emergent property of human interactions. I think that moral truths about human interactions allow us to characterize the moral correctness of actions in a given situation. What makes these objective is the idea that such truths hold for all situations regardless of the individuals in each role.

As an explanatory example of moral truth, I might say that life is better than death and honesty is better than dishonesty, and these could be truths to evaluate moral correctness. With those in mind, in any situation, actions that uphold both moral truths for all involved would be more correct than those that uphold only one or neither, or that only uphold them for some people. That said, I also recognize a subjective aspect to morality in the form of which truth to value more in different situations when the realities of that situation prevent a resolution that can satisfy all truths.

With that clarification out of the way, I think one example of an actual moral truth is that life is better than death. I'm led to this idea by the recognition that human society in general couldn't exist if that weren't true. If death were better than life, then humans wouldn't be able to even form a society because they'd be killing each other or themselves without provocation. And if life was equal to death, then the simple indifference of everyone to human well being would result in humans falling prey to all manner of predators. Parents would abandon offspring immediately after birth and the need to consume nourishment would be ignored. So I see this, and possibly other moral truths, like a descriptive law about the reality of how things function. Sort of like how the "law of gravity" is a descriptive law about the reality of the attraction of bodies in space.

I'm sure that everyone has an example where life does not appear to be better than death. Perhaps you're thinking of the woman who recently committed suicide rather than die horribly from brain cancer. Or you might be thinking of an instance of self defense where an individual killed his/her attacker. I would say that each one of these is an example of valuing a different, possibly objective, moral truth: non-pain is better than pain. (For the sake of discussion, I'm defining pain as unwanted physical or mental discomfort.)

In the case of the woman who committed suicide, she made it very clear that she would prefer to live, but the fact that she was going to die horribly forced her to make such a difficult choice. If life > death and non-pain > pain are moral truths, her decision is no more or less morally correct than if she had decided to stick it out. However, if she could be easily cured without additional pain, then her decision would be less correct than if she had chosen to be cured and continue to live. So the reality of her situation forced her to make a judgment between two (possibly objective) truths: life (> death) vs non-pain (> pain).

There is one scenario I can think of that would falsify the idea of life > death as a moral truth: if someone, who is otherwise mentally and physically healthy, had a pain free life that they found satisfying and still chose to kill him/herself for no other reason than to choose death over life. That means he/she couldn't do it in the hopes of reaching some promised afterlife, either. To my knowledge, there is no such example.

With the belief that one objective moral truth exists, I have to also believe that there are probably others. The two I've already mentioned, non-pain > pain and honesty > dishonesty, both seem like they could qualify. However, I don't think those potential truths have the same support as life > death.

Personally, I find this view of morality to be much more compelling than anything that might be based in religion or theistic belief. Even if we decide that the evidence for these being objective moral truths is shakey (as many no doubt think), the ideas of life being better than death and non-pain better than pain are more easily agreed upon than any claims about any gods.

All moral systems have a subjective component to them. Simply because you can just state "I don't care", and any ought becomes meaningless.

Virtually all this post attempts to find something objective in human values (life over death, pleasure over pain), but this does not establish that these significant human values are objective, only that trhey are commonly held.

You CAN get objective moral truth statements but they are necessarily conditional or contingent. For example utilitarianism will tell you objectively what actions are right and wrong from the context of maximiing well-being. Alltruism will tell you objectively what actions are right and wrong from the context of alltruistic behavior, and egoism will objectivly tell you what actions are right and wrong from the context of maximiing self-interest.

None of these systems, theistic included, actually establish a context-less reality to moral truths. There never is a statement of ought which is not conditional and dependant. It's high time we accept this much to be true rather than deluding ourselves that values are possibly objective, they simply aren't. They by definition are subjective.

Given that most humans would value living in a society (food is easy to attain, as is water, security etc), then we need to take into account our value to remain in society when considering moral judgements, as these will override people's more myoptic values. So that is where considerations about living in a murder-free society, etc come into play. But it makes them no more objective.
POPOO5560
Posts: 2,481
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11/22/2014 3:36:39 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 11/21/2014 6:31:07 PM, Envisage wrote:
At 11/21/2014 3:52:50 PM, Burzmali wrote:
I'm an atheist who believes that there are some objective moral truths that exist. To preface that idea, I think morality is an emergent property of human interactions. I think that moral truths about human interactions allow us to characterize the moral correctness of actions in a given situation. What makes these objective is the idea that such truths hold for all situations regardless of the individuals in each role.

As an explanatory example of moral truth, I might say that life is better than death and honesty is better than dishonesty, and these could be truths to evaluate moral correctness. With those in mind, in any situation, actions that uphold both moral truths for all involved would be more correct than those that uphold only one or neither, or that only uphold them for some people. That said, I also recognize a subjective aspect to morality in the form of which truth to value more in different situations when the realities of that situation prevent a resolution that can satisfy all truths.

With that clarification out of the way, I think one example of an actual moral truth is that life is better than death. I'm led to this idea by the recognition that human society in general couldn't exist if that weren't true. If death were better than life, then humans wouldn't be able to even form a society because they'd be killing each other or themselves without provocation. And if life was equal to death, then the simple indifference of everyone to human well being would result in humans falling prey to all manner of predators. Parents would abandon offspring immediately after birth and the need to consume nourishment would be ignored. So I see this, and possibly other moral truths, like a descriptive law about the reality of how things function. Sort of like how the "law of gravity" is a descriptive law about the reality of the attraction of bodies in space.

I'm sure that everyone has an example where life does not appear to be better than death. Perhaps you're thinking of the woman who recently committed suicide rather than die horribly from brain cancer. Or you might be thinking of an instance of self defense where an individual killed his/her attacker. I would say that each one of these is an example of valuing a different, possibly objective, moral truth: non-pain is better than pain. (For the sake of discussion, I'm defining pain as unwanted physical or mental discomfort.)

In the case of the woman who committed suicide, she made it very clear that she would prefer to live, but the fact that she was going to die horribly forced her to make such a difficult choice. If life > death and non-pain > pain are moral truths, her decision is no more or less morally correct than if she had decided to stick it out. However, if she could be easily cured without additional pain, then her decision would be less correct than if she had chosen to be cured and continue to live. So the reality of her situation forced her to make a judgment between two (possibly objective) truths: life (> death) vs non-pain (> pain).

There is one scenario I can think of that would falsify the idea of life > death as a moral truth: if someone, who is otherwise mentally and physically healthy, had a pain free life that they found satisfying and still chose to kill him/herself for no other reason than to choose death over life. That means he/she couldn't do it in the hopes of reaching some promised afterlife, either. To my knowledge, there is no such example.

With the belief that one objective moral truth exists, I have to also believe that there are probably others. The two I've already mentioned, non-pain > pain and honesty > dishonesty, both seem like they could qualify. However, I don't think those potential truths have the same support as life > death.

Personally, I find this view of morality to be much more compelling than anything that might be based in religion or theistic belief. Even if we decide that the evidence for these being objective moral truths is shakey (as many no doubt think), the ideas of life being better than death and non-pain better than pain are more easily agreed upon than any claims about any gods.

All moral systems have a subjective component to them. Simply because you can just state "I don't care", and any ought becomes meaningless.

Virtually all this post attempts to find something objective in human values (life over death, pleasure over pain), but this does not establish that these significant human values are objective, only that trhey are commonly held.

You CAN get objective moral truth statements but they are necessarily conditional or contingent. For example utilitarianism will tell you objectively what actions are right and wrong from the context of maximiing well-being. Alltruism will tell you objectively what actions are right and wrong from the context of alltruistic behavior, and egoism will objectivly tell you what actions are right and wrong from the context of maximiing self-interest.

None of these systems, theistic included, actually establish a context-less reality to moral truths. There never is a statement of ought which is not conditional and dependant. It's high time we accept this much to be true rather than deluding ourselves that values are possibly objective, they simply aren't. They by definition are subjective.

Given that most humans would value living in a society (food is easy to attain, as is water, security etc), then we need to take into account our value to remain in society when considering moral judgements, as these will override people's more myoptic values. So that is where considerations about living in a murder-free society, etc come into play. But it makes them no more objective.

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ethang5
Posts: 4,084
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11/24/2014 11:37:14 AM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 11/21/2014 3:52:50 PM, Burzmali wrote:
I'm an atheist who believes that there are some objective moral truths that exist. To preface that idea, I think morality is an emergent property of human interactions. I think that moral truths about human interactions allow us to characterize the moral correctness of actions in a given situation. What makes these objective is the idea that such truths hold for all situations regardless of the individuals in each role.

As an explanatory example of moral truth, I might say that life is better than death and honesty is better than dishonesty, and these could be truths to evaluate moral correctness. With those in mind, in any situation, actions that uphold both moral truths for all involved would be more correct than those that uphold only one or neither, or that only uphold them for some people. That said, I also recognize a subjective aspect to morality in the form of which truth to value more in different situations when the realities of that situation prevent a resolution that can satisfy all truths.

With that clarification out of the way, I think one example of an actual moral truth is that life is better than death. I'm led to this idea by the recognition that human society in general couldn't exist if that weren't true. If death were better than life, then humans wouldn't be able to even form a society because they'd be killing each other or themselves without provocation.

But you aren't referring to the actual moral truth but rather to people's response to it. For example, if people starting to behave as if death were better than life, would the truth still hold? Obviously you have a different definition of "objective" than that which is normally used in this context.

And if life was equal to death, then the simple indifference of everyone to human well being would result in humans falling prey to all manner of predators. Parents would abandon offspring immediately after birth and the need to consume nourishment would be ignored. So I see this, and possibly other moral truths, like a descriptive law about the reality of how things function. Sort of like how the "law of gravity" is a descriptive law about the reality of the attraction of bodies in space.

But individual people can behave as if death is better then life. Are you saying that human societies always follow the higher moral truth? I don't think that is necessarily true.

I'm sure that everyone has an example where life does not appear to be better than death. Perhaps you're thinking of the woman who recently committed suicide rather than die horribly from brain cancer. Or you might be thinking of an instance of self defense where an individual killed his/her attacker. I would say that each one of these is an example of valuing a different, possibly objective, moral truth: non-pain is better than pain. (For the sake of discussion, I'm defining pain as unwanted physical or mental discomfort.)

In the case of the woman who committed suicide, she made it very clear that she would prefer to live, but the fact that she was going to die horribly forced her to make such a difficult choice. If life > death and non-pain > pain are moral truths, her decision is no more or less morally correct than if she had decided to stick it out. However, if she could be easily cured without additional pain, then her decision would be less correct than if she had chosen to be cured and continue to live. So the reality of her situation forced her to make a judgment between two (possibly objective) truths: life (> death) vs non-pain (> pain).

There is one scenario I can think of that would falsify the idea of life > death as a moral truth: if someone, who is otherwise mentally and physically healthy, had a pain free life that they found satisfying and still chose to kill him/herself for no other reason than to choose death over life. That means he/she couldn't do it in the hopes of reaching some promised afterlife, either. To my knowledge, there is no such example.

With the belief that one objective moral truth exists, I have to also believe that there are probably others. The two I've already mentioned, non-pain > pain and honesty > dishonesty, both seem like they could qualify. However, I don't think those potential truths have the same support as life > death.

But what makes them objective? You haven't really said. That everyone agrees that they are? That societies agree?

Personally, I find this view of morality to be much more compelling than anything that might be based in religion or theistic belief. Even if we decide that the evidence for these being objective moral truths is shakey (as many no doubt think), the ideas of life being better than death and non-pain better than pain are more easily agreed upon than any claims about any gods.

But claims about the existence of God are different from claims about morality in that religion. For example, I don't believe in Allah, but I do think respect of legitimate authority is good.

And our moral issues aren't that we disagree much about what is right and wrong, but that we don't follow what we claim to believe. So even cultures that have near 100% agreement that adultery is wrong, still have rampant adultery. Better agreement on what is wrong and right will not significantly decrease incidents of immorality.
Burzmali
Posts: 1,310
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11/24/2014 1:25:16 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
At 11/21/2014 6:31:07 PM, Envisage wrote:
All moral systems have a subjective component to them. Simply because you can just state "I don't care", and any ought becomes meaningless.

Virtually all this post attempts to find something objective in human values (life over death, pleasure over pain), but this does not establish that these significant human values are objective, only that trhey are commonly held.

I recognize the subjective component to morality in the form of each individual deciding which moral truth has more value than another. My argument is about these moral truths existing as an objective component of morality. If you want to argue that any subjective component in a system makes an entire system subjective, though, I don't know that I can disagree.

Also, that these truths are commonly held is just a side effect of their existence. I'm not using that as my evidence for their existing. My evidence for their existence, at least for the life > death truth, is that that any human interaction/society in which that is not true results in the end of that human interaction/society. And since I previously defined morality as an emergent property of human interaction, life > death is a necessary component of morality.

You CAN get objective moral truth statements but they are necessarily conditional or contingent. For example utilitarianism will tell you objectively what actions are right and wrong from the context of maximiing well-being. Alltruism will tell you objectively what actions are right and wrong from the context of alltruistic behavior, and egoism will objectivly tell you what actions are right and wrong from the context of maximiing self-interest.

None of these systems, theistic included, actually establish a context-less reality to moral truths. There never is a statement of ought which is not conditional and dependant. It's high time we accept this much to be true rather than deluding ourselves that values are possibly objective, they simply aren't. They by definition are subjective.

I'm not arguing that life ought to be better than death. I'm arguing from a position of necessity. Morality, coming from human interactions, can't exist without the moral truth that life is better than death. So this isn't an "ought" statement. It's a "must" or "is" statement.

Given that most humans would value living in a society (food is easy to attain, as is water, security etc), then we need to take into account our value to remain in society when considering moral judgements, as these will override people's more myoptic values. So that is where considerations about living in a murder-free society, etc come into play. But it makes them no more objective.

The murder-free society, I think, isn't a judgment about life over death. It's a judgment of life over fulfillment of desire. Whether that desire is for what another person has, or a desire to keep what is ours, or a desire to satisfy an internal need to do harm to others, choosing to murder is a judgment that fulfilling the desire is more important than upholding the necessary moral truth that allows for morality to exist.