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March 25, 2013

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While I agree with Mr. Koukls assessment that the relative differences between morality in different cultures are probably smaller then often thought, I don't think his answer quite nails the spot. The issue is that, the way I understand it, that Christianity assumes that all humans are created with a singular moral conscience and singular source of moral values. Now, if moral consciousness and values vary significantly, it would mark as evidence against this assumption. I obviously does not prove moral relativism is "correct" or desirable, but it does seem to indicate that morality is personal and intra-social rather then universal. The comparison to science doesn't really work because scientific knowledge is only descriptive and does not assume any singular source of "scienceness".

Erkki,

I don’t think Christianity assumes what you’ve put forth. Rather, innate to Christianity is the recognition of a specific moral code that is the only correct and righteous moral code as it relates to human behavior. I don’t think any Christian would view as evidence against this claim the existence, of say, a sociopath.

The existence of sociopaths leading to “personal” and “intra-social” morality really doesn’t really move the needle on the discussion of objective morality. What it does allow us to do, is to say that certain behavior, separate and apart from the cause of such behavior, is undesirable and wrong.

Erkki,

Unfortunately I am unable to listen to Greg's original post at this time, so I may not have the full story in mind. However, in responding to your comment:

"Christianity assumes that all humans are created with a singular moral conscience and singular source of moral values"

I would not say that is the case at all, nor would anyone I know say that. Christianity does say there is one sole source of goodness/morality, but it has nothing to do with humans living by it or even recognizing it.

It's the difference between moral ontology and moral epistimology.

Darth Dutch

"The comparison to science doesn't really work because scientific knowledge is only descriptive and does not assume any singular source of "scienceness"."

This.

I've never seen a list of these so called objective moral truths. Can anyone point me to the list that everyone in the world agrees on?

Read The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis.

BTW. How is that list of universally agreed upon scientific truths going?

@MikeyT:

"I've never seen a list of these so called objective moral truths. Can anyone point me to the list that everyone in the world agrees on?"

Perhaps you should take a look at the book Greg wrote on that very subject since he bothered to mention it.

@Erkki S.

'The comparison to science doesn't really work because scientific knowledge is only descriptive and does not assume any singular source of "scienceness".'

a) The category of "descriptive" would indeed apply to ethics if ethics were objective.

b) I don't know what you mean by "scienceness" because you haven't provided a common frame of reference. Likewise, we can't share scientific, ethical, or any other kind of knowledge without a common frame of reference. That's a big indicator that claiming moral relativism to be true is incoherent. If morality were purely relative, we wouldn't be able to know it because we would have no basis for comparison. We wouldn't be able to know if something were a question of morality or not. If there were one iota of objectivity to identify something as falling in that category, then we have everything we need to make objective claims on everything that has a moral value.

@Jim Pemberton @Wisdom Lover

How about you list them rather so that we can open out the discussion rather than refer me elsewhere.

@Wisdom Lover

Is that what you think scientists do using science? Look for truth? Or does it try to form accurate models of what is observed?

a) The category of "descriptive" would indeed apply to ethics if ethics were objective.

b) I don't know what you mean by "scienceness" because you haven't provided a common frame of reference. Likewise, we can't share scientific, ethical, or any other kind of knowledge without a common frame of reference. That's a big indicator that claiming moral relativism to be true is incoherent. If morality were purely relative, we wouldn't be able to know it because we would have no basis for comparison.

I agree with that purely relative morality would not make any sense, as we would not be able to discuss morality at all were it completely subjective to our own experience. Still, the exact nature of values seems to be yet pretty much undetermined. I also don't see how fully descriptive moral values would work: even if I did find that "out there" exists some set of values described as "objective", why would I have the need to follow these values as true source of morality, or trade my subjective values for them? The question seems very much catch-22 because "I prefer objective moral values" is still subjective opinion on ethics. There has to some common, shared "oughtness" for human values: merely describing your values as "objective" is not really enough.

Hmm, I was pretty sure I put tags on the reply I was answering, but now they don't seem to work. Anyway, the above was response to J. Pemberton.

@Erkki S.

I guess I would just want to say that indeed, morals are personal in the sense that each person deals with morality in a personal way, but if you were going to argue that morality is relative, then I would have to ask what standard of measurement one would use to judge what morality is.

In other words, morality itself deals with absolutes. If I say evil or I say good, I don't have to explain to anyone what I mean by that, they already understand that I am giving an absolute, objective description to what I am assigning those terms to. It's not a matter of preference, otherwise, while you could argue that you would prefer I not murder your family members, you couldn't argue that it was wrong or evil or even unjust if morals were relative.

CS Lewis said that he would not know what a crooked line was if he didn't already have some idea of what a straight line was. You can't judge between good and evil unless you have an objective standard with which to compare. So, for example is someone said they thought the Hindu moral system was a better system than say the Islamic system of morality, they still have an issue because how would they even know that unless their were an absolute moral standard by which to compare?

The assumption Christians make isn't just based on a proof text or a priori but on the logical conclusions they cannot escape based on observation that without a standard, you couldn't judge what morality was at all and yet if you want to know whether or not morality is objective, all you would need to do is steal from someone or murder their loved ones and morality suddenly intrudes upon their lives and it is not a relative idea any longer but an absolute imperative.

Mikey-

Yes, I think scientists are trying to discover true things, or truths.

What, after all, makes an accurate model accurate? "Accuracy" is a term for closeness to the truth.

As for the list, you don't appear really to be interested in an answer. If you were, you might have given some evidence of actually having wrestled with the question. As such, I'm not inclined to put out the effort necessary to reproduce something like Lewis' book (which is short BTW).

I will say that Lewis' point is that in many of the cases where we think we have a difference of moral opinion, we really have a difference in factual opinion. For example, it's universally accepted that it is morally wrong to kill someone just for fun. Where we see people killing other people just for fun, we almost always find that the killer does not regard the victim as a full person.

Wisdom Lover

"I think scientists are trying to discover true things, or truths."

Well it depends what you mean by true. All that science can do is form accurate models. Accuracy is simply a measure of how well it fits observational reality. Its observational reality because that's all we have access to - which is why science is neutral on the supernatural.

"Real reality" (as opposed to observational reality) might well have an element to it that we call supernatural - but we aint ever gonna be able to access that because we are limited by senses.

As to the list of objective morals - you claim that there is a list so stump it up. Its a bit rude to refer me elsewehere. Your claim, your burden.

    I guess I would just want to say that indeed, morals are personal in the sense that each person deals with morality in a personal way, but if you were going to argue that morality is relative, then I would have to ask what standard of measurement one would use to judge what morality is.

I have personally no interest to defend the idea that morality is relative, although I also do not think it is quite objective in the same meaning as I assume many Christians do. I was merely pointing out that the original video response kinda misses the mark on defeating relativism, because while descriptive relativism does not exactly prove anything about morality, it does seem like a very big hint about the exact nature of morality being little more "fluid", so to speak.


    In other words, morality itself deals with absolutes. If I say evil or I say good, I don't have to explain to anyone what I mean by that, they already understand that I am giving an absolute, objective description to what I am assigning those terms to. It's not a matter of preference, otherwise, while you could argue that you would prefer I not murder your family members, you couldn't argue that it was wrong or evil or even unjust if morals were relative.

Well, there has been historically and still does exist a very large number of people who would see murdering my family very much within moral norms, although usually not in quite so blunt terms. Even in Christian worldview there was not so long ago a time when hereticism carried death penalty and many arguments were made to support it. I think obviously good and evil have to more then just words.

I am little surprised of the idea that there does not need to be universal "moral conciousness", I have always understood the C.S Lewis "if somebody cuts you in the line, you know some wrongness has been committed to you" -style of argument as referring to exactly this sort of thing.

Erkki,

I have personally no interest to defend the idea that morality is relative, although I also do not think it is quite objective…”

I’m unclear what you mean. In your view, can something be sort of objective? If so, what does that look like? You then proceed, against your stated intension, to defend the idea that morality is relative – so just a couple of thoughts.

Even in Christian worldview there was not so long ago a time when hereticism carried death penalty and many arguments were made to support it

This seems to say: Some people, even Christians, can be immoral and find justification for immorality.

No one disagrees with this. I think that it would be unreasonable to think that all Christians everywhere acted morally all the time.

There are non-Christians who claim to be “good ol' decent folks” who do lots of wicked things and justify their immoral behavior too. Very early on in life I learned people do very bad things. In fact, just the other day, I saw a driver flip another driver off. The flipper most likely thought the other guy deserved it for cutting him off. Justification always finds a way in. Even in the quiet time of driving to work!

I think justification comes in, because the justifier needs it. Without objectivity, no justification needed.

    I’m unclear what you mean. In your view, can something be sort of objective? If so, what does that look like? You then proceed, against your stated intension, to defend the idea that morality is relative – so just a couple of thoughts.

In short answer yes, things can be objective in the sense "they exist and are true or false" even when they are not objective in the sense "exists outside your mind." Let's think about the time. My clock now shows it is 22.23 GMT +2. Is this an objective fact? No, in a sense that 22.23 GMT + 2 does not exist in any sort of objective sense outside my or anyones mind as some sort of universal clock, and yes, because for all de facto considerations and definitions, the clock is indeed now 22.23 regardless of my personal feelings on what time it is, and this statement is easy to prove.

Likewise 1+1 equals 2 is not true because someone found an object "1" which put together with another object "1" became object "2", rather then it is simple way of recognizing non-logical thoughts from logical. In similar sense we can recognize rational and irrational thoughts about ethics and their relationship with human suffering and how to best bring about the more optimal and satisfying conditions of human existence.

This is not an perfect analogy, and writing what exactly makes some states of human existence desirable would require a much, much more longer post.

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