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October 07, 2013

Comments

But what of those people who would still hold to that view even in the face of such tragedies? When they do say, "So what?" and mean it, because tragedies like these don't seem to bother them?

You're desperately clinging to this strawman idea that nothing can be evil if nothing is objectively evil in the cosmic sense.

Really, you should stop trying to tell atheists what they think. You're really bad at it.

Can't you just explain what you think? That would be honest at least. To have a real discussion, you have to say what you think, and then ask the opponent what he thinks, and then really pause and consider it, instead of jumping to conclusions.

It's a disservice to Christianity if all you do is jump to easy conclusions about atheism. I'm sure Christianity is smarter than that.

Adding "in the cosmic sense" is an effort to trivialize the position by making it sound overwrought. Nice try. No sale.

No. Things cannot be evil unless they are in fact evil just as they cannot be green unless they are in fact green. (That is what "things are objectively evil" means you know.)

This is a fairly simple truth that, I'm sad to say, you don't seem to understand.

It's not that Greg is trying to say what atheists think. I'm sure he's well aware that their thoughts are just as muddled and incoherent as they sound.

What he is saying is that the atheist's ideas are muddled and incoherent. And muddled and incoherent ideas will eventually show themselves for what they are.

WL is correct, John Moore.

Greg himself said, "There may be subjective morality created by cultures or individuals or evolution, but there's no objective morality." So he understands there are various sources of morality, but he seems to dismiss them out of hand. Why?

I use "in the cosmic sense" to distinguish God's objective morality from evolutionary morality, which is also objective insofar as it is inescapably true for all people. Evolutionary morality is not subject to personal choice or cultural norms. It's just subjective in the sense that it applies only to living things, not to the cosmos as a whole.

Now I expect you'll jump to conclusions and start telling me what evolutionary morality is. You'll tell me it can't account for altruism, etc etc. But you should ask questions first, before you jump in. You should honestly try to understand my position.

Mo,

When they do say, "So what?" and mean it, because tragedies like these don't seem to bother them?

You'd have to gauge their reaction to see if they actually mean it. Most don't mean it, and it shows over time.

However if they can live it out consistently without it bothering them then I'd classify that person as a *potential* sociopath. I certainly wouldn't trust this person to correctly handle moral issues (expect "so what?" as a response) and I certainly wouldn't let my young children hang around them.

John:

You are being unfair to Greg here, because Greg is referring to a certain position that some atheists take. He is not building a straw man, but is referring to an actual position that has been documented by some atheists that believe what they say is true. For instance, Nietzsche did not believe that objective morals exist. That's not a straw man; it's what some people really and truly believe. This is not what you believe, but it is what some atheists believe.

Here is a definition of objective: of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers : having reality independent of the mind. This means that if we evolved a sense of morality, we either A)recognized that objective morality was there through evolution, or B) formulated morality in our minds as we evolved. If it is B, that means morality is subjective by the definition above from Merriam-Webster, and no one can claim that morality exists apart from the whims of individuals or societies. Thus, for Hitler, it was morally imperative to destroy all Jews, but if morality is subjective (formed from our minds), then who are we to criticize Hitler? He was just going where evolution was taking him.

If morality exists outside of the mind, though, then it is a constant, even if we have evolved to recognize those constants. Really, though, what I think you are saying is that morality is objective when the process you are describing (evolving so that we invent a moral system) is actually subjective. If morality is subjective, and cultures or people groups put it into place, then Nazi Germany had every right to do what it did in the twentieth century. Morality is not an objective constant, therefore ethically, at least for them, what they did is right.
Really what you are saying by cosmic morality is: objective morality. What you are saying by evolutionary morality is: subjective morality. On the other hand, if you believe that morality is outside of the mind and is a constant (and that we have evolved to recognize it), even if you believe that there is only 1 moral constant, just 1, then you must explain from where it comes.

John,
Evolutionary morality is the same as evolutionary food preferences. It's a resulting fact that nature foisted upon a species.

I'd agree that on some level they are both objective - they are real - but there is nothing about evolutionary morality that is necessarily binding to anyone - not even to YOU. That fact means that evolutionary morality isn't what people SAY it is.

This point is KEY, and we can now see that equivocation is at work here. It's not moral at all.

Evolutionary morality - the resulting fact that nature foisted upon human beings - isn't a law that OUGHT to be followed by you or anyone. It's just a fact of purposeless nature that can be ignored (with consequences, yes) and there is no moral component that comes with ignoring it.

Saying that evolution has a moral component is FALSE, John. There is no particular way a species OUGHT to live out it's existence.

@ Steven K

I guess you are right, it is the over-time response that would show whether they truly mean it.

I think part of the reason why people act so nonchalant is that they've never been exposed to real evil, in a personal way.

John,

Greg himself said, "There may be subjective morality created by cultures or individuals or evolution, but there's no objective morality." So he understands there are various sources of morality

Like someone’s source of morality can come from their Aunt Betty? Greg understands that many atheists claim various sources of morality. Ultimately, they have to. Greg knows the ultimate source of correct morality, despite the fact that many atheists think it was served up to them on a silver platter by mother nature.

but he seems to dismiss them out of hand. Why?

Do you know what ‘out of hand’ means? Whether his conclusions are right or wrong, Greg spends a great deal of his time discussing and evaluating these things (he as a website). The accusation of ‘out of hand’ is downright silly. Further, I’d also say, that some supposed moral codes ought to be dismissed. This isn’t shocking news. I find myself dismissing moral codes regularly.

evolutionary morality, which is also objective

Objective till it’s not? How long does that take?

insofar as it is inescapably true for all people. Evolutionary morality is not subject to personal choice or cultural norms

It’s “true” for all people? Do you mean people have to act in the manner that “evolutionary morality” dictates? This, of course, is not true. Mother nature doesn’t judge.

My original point was that you shouldn't keep telling me what I think. Maybe you just need a little grammatical adjustment: Change "what you're saying is X" into "Are you trying to say X?" At that point, you can go ahead and explain what you think, including your ideas about what you think I think.

I apologize for my irate tone this time. I'm just frustrated because I think Christians can make an interesting argument against evolutionary morality, if you try. But you're not even trying!

John-

For starters, I think that Steve and KWM have done just fine in saying what they think evolutionary morality is (and, BTW, I think they've gotten it more or less right) and then expressing their objections.

But John, the sword of getting your opponent's view right cuts both ways. The contention that morality is objective is nothing more or less than the contention that some moral claims are true (and the rest are false).

Not true in a 'cosmic sense'. Not "TRUE" vs. "true". Not 'philosophically' true vs. 'observationally' true.

Theists seldom make such distinctions. I certainly don't. These distinctions exist solely so that one can pigeonhole one's opponent's view as possibly true the grander sense reserving for oneself the more modest sense of truth. Oddly statements true in the modest sense always have this feature: they are the logical opposites of the statements that one, with magnanimous condescension to one's opponent, allows might true in the grand sense.

This is all just a, rather transparent, way to contradict one's opponent without having to be troubled with arguing for one's position.

At any rate, the theistic position is that some moral claims are true, just plain old true, and the rest are false. It is not a terribly controversial view. But the trouble is that it is probably not compatible with the rigidly materialist world-view that an atheist is liable to adopt.

And that is the point.

Hi John,
I’d like to try.

So, are you trying to say that objective morality is based merely upon an evolutionary stage of human development?
If so, then to whom are we beholden for violating the moral law?

If you and I are the only two human beings on a tropical island in the Pacific and I decide to kill you and eat you and all of the coconuts that you’ve gathered, to whom am I indebted, assuming that your body is completely consumed?

What do you say about a guy like Jeffrey Dahmer, who actually did much worse than that?
Was he only indebted to his victims’ families?
Or also to the people of Milwaukee?
Or also to the people of the state of Wisconsin?
Or also to the people of the USA?
Or also to every human being alive from 1978 to 1991?

Did Jeffrey Dahmer pay the total sum of his moral liability?
Was it really only owed to other people?
Would it remain owed had he never been caught?
Will it still remain unpaid until our world ends or until we become like him?

How much moral liability goes unpaid in your evolutionary paradigm?
I honestly can’t see how objective morality can come from an inherently transient paradigm like evolution.
It appears to be self-contradictory to posit any objective claim from an atheistic worldview. In fact, it is illogical to claim to be an atheist because you cannot falsify God’s existence.

Thankfully, our God has written the moral law and it can never be changed.
We are indebted to Him for every trespass.
He allows no moral debt to remain outstanding.
He makes morality objective by giving the law and by requiring the payment of the debt incurred.
He sent His Son to redeem some of us from that debt. Hosanna in the highest!

OK, first of all there's a Wikipedia page about evolutionary morality, and it presents lots of good openings for attack.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_ethics

WisdomLover is right that atheists and Christians have incompatible views. So what? Let's examine each other's views and gain better understanding.

Scott Richardson asks "to whom are we beholden for violating the moral law?" I think morality isn't a matter of laws, but it's a matter of actions and results. We aren't beholden to anyone, but if we act wrong we'll suffer bad results.

Bad results means failing to achieve our one true desire. For Christians, it might be getting into heaven. See, this way of thinking might be compatible with theism after all! But for evolutionary ethics, the one true desire is to survive by passing on your genes.

I believe all living things have this one all-encompassing core desire for genetic survival, and there's no way we can ever escape it. That's the sense in which it's objective. But a lot of consequentialist thinkers might disagree with me on this.

We don't follow the law in order to get into heaven or for any other good result. If getting into heaven were a matter of following the law, we would all be lost. If you understand one thing about Christianity, that should be it.

All those non-Christians who say of 'religion' that it's all about getting people to behave morally make this mistake. Christianity doesn't promise eternal life for good behavior (unless you meet an impossible to meet standard).

Many Christians even get muddled on this point, even though it is the center of the center of the center. For it is Christ crucified. We get into heaven because Christ was crucified, not because of anything we do to merit heaven.

The reason non-Christians don't get this and even Christians get muddled over it is that we all want to be worthy of God's favor. This is a sinful desire. For even if we followed God's law perfectly we would still only be doing our duty and would not yet be worthy of God's favor (though at least we would not be worthy of God's wrath).

So why do we follow God's law? What good do we expect of it?

Well, to tell you the truth I have no idea what good will come of it.

I can't explain how it is that not stealing my neighbor's car is always best.

In fact, isn't it pretty obvious that if I steal it on the day he would otherwise have gotten into a deadly highway accident that it is best to steal it. At least it seems best to my limited perception.

Of course, if my neighbor gets into a fatal car accident the day before he would have gone on a shooting rampage, maybe its best for me not to steal his car after all.

But if he's going to shoot a room full of child molesters who would otherwise never be stopped or face justice, maybe its best for me to steal his car after all.

But if one of the products of one of their rapes ends up curing Cancer and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's maybe it's best for me not to steal his car after all.

But if...

The truth is that looking to results to justify my actions is a fool's errand for anyone but God.

We follow God's law because it is the law of God. At least, that is the only good reason to follow the moral law...because it is commanded by God. Any other reason for following God's law is chasing after the wind.

Now, to anticipate an objection, comes the 'Euthyphro Dilemma'.

Is a thing moral because God commands it? Or does God command it because it is moral?
Thus speaks man's wisdom.

Let me answer a question with a question: Is a thing lawful because the law requires it, or does the law require it because it is lawful?

You see the 'Euthyphro dilemma' isn't always such a poser. For it's pretty obvious, isn't it, that a thing is lawful because the law requires it. A thing can only be lawful in reference to some law. Things aren't first lawful and then the law is just listing the previously lawful things that there are.

As for the second half of this 'dilemma' it can only be said that a thing is first lawful and then required by the law, if the law we are talking about is a lower law that is trying to approximate or implement a higher law. In that case, we may say that a thing has a prior lawfulness because it complies to the higher law which the lower law we were asking about is trying to approximate. As such, the lower law commands it because it is first lawful (according to the higher law).

But if we were speaking of what is lawful and not what approximates lawfulness, then we must grasp the (obvious) horn of this 'dilemma' that says that a thing is lawful because the law commands it.

By the same token, we grasp the horn of the Euthyprho 'dilemma' which says that a thing is moral because God commands it.

The thoughtless skeptic loves to ask:

God commanded us to love our neighbor. So it is moral to love our neighbor. But if He were to command the opposite, if He were to command us to hate our neighbor, would that then be moral?
Fool's folly.

You see the question I asked about the law is exactly the same question as the Euthyphro 'dilemma' in reference to morality, God and His commands.

To ask whether a thing is moral because God commands it just is to ask whether it is lawful (according to the highest law) because the law (the highest law) commands it.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.

God is not some separate thing from the moral law He commands or from any other word He speaks. God is His Living Word.

Jesus, God, is the Living Moral Law.

So yes, a thing is moral, it complies with the moral law, because God, the Living Moral Law, commands it.

"But for evolutionary ethics, the one true desire is to survive by passing on your genes."

So, of course you are appalled that abortion is legal in a society that tramples your evolutionary ethic...aka your one true desire?

John,

I think morality isn't a matter of laws, but it's a matter of actions and results. We aren't beholden to anyone, but if we act wrong we'll suffer bad results.

Wrong according to you - which isn't actually wrong in a moral sense, it's just undesirous to you. Bad according to you - which isn't actually bad in a moral sense, it's just undesirous to you.

This, again, is equivocation on your part. There's no moral component associated with your natural desires. By definition, moral terms are *prescriptive* terms. They attempt to describe the way things *ought* to be.

You cannot assign moral terms to natural desires unless there is some prescriptive natural reality that dictates the way things ought to be. Naturalism has no prescriptive reality, therefore "evolutionary morality" cannot and does not exist.

SteveK,

I don't think John is talking about desire, but
rather a personal sense of right and wrong (morality).
We are ultimately not accountable to anybody but ourselves, but we are still accountable to ourselves whether we like it or not.

John,

We aren't beholden to anyone, but if we act wrong we'll suffer bad results.

Depends on what you mean by, “beholden”, doesn’t it? What if you have a probation officer? What about the judge? Of course we’re not ultimately accountable to anyone. Humans prove that each and every day - we don't to ultimate anything, let alone accountability.

So why all the talk about "acting wrong"? "Bad results" you say?

This just isn’t true. People often do very bad things and reap benefits from doing them. Insurance proceeds for murder, would be one example. On the flip side, people can do very moral and noble things and suffer horribly for them. Suffering severe complications from donating a kidney, would be one example. An unsophisticated observation of human behavior would confirm this. So that’s out the window – it’s been out the window.

Jre,

We are ultimately not accountable to anybody but ourselves, but we are still accountable to ourselves whether we like it or not.

This means absolutely nothing as it relates to morality. If Bernie Madoff thought he was performing noble work, or at least working for an honest living, everything would line up in his self-accountability ledger. Accountability fully intact. Now that that's out of the way, let me tell you about my fantastic track record of investment returns.

John and Jre,

So let’s recap:

1.) We’ve established that humans aren’t accountable to anyone.

2.) We’ve established that bad things can be a direct result of moral behavior.

3.) We’ve established that good things can be a direct result of immoral behavior.

4.) We’ve established that being accountable to ourselves doesn’t help define moral behavior.

Yet, the above still feels so icky.

Like I said, humans don't do "ultimate". We desperately need help. We desperately need One to do the Ultimate.

KVM,

"This means absolutely nothing as it relates to morality. If Bernie Madoff thought he was performing noble work..."

Yes, but that is a big if, and there's the rub. Bernie Madoff didn't think he was doing noble work. He knew he was a scoundrel.

"4.) We’ve established that being accountable to ourselves doesn’t help define moral behavior."

I don't think this has been established at all.

I don't think this has been established at all.

If it's merely *possible* that an individual can be wrong about the conclusion of their accountability assessment (i.e. they are actually guilty rather than innocent, per the assessment), then it's false that the individual is accountable to themselves.

Is it possible that an individual can be wrong about the assessment of their moral condition? Yes.

There you go. Established.

"Is it possible that an individual can be wrong about the assessment of their moral condition?"

No. That's my point.

OK, this is turning into a pretty good discussion. I'm glad WisdomLover reminded us that Christians don't get into heaven because they follow the law. Maybe ethical behavior should just be like an instinctive or involuntary response, if you're truly virtuous.

On the other hand, it's still possible to interpret Christian doctrine as goal-seeking behavior, even if the true Christian doesn't see it that way. You don't obey the Law in order to go to heaven, but let's say you confess your sins and ask for redemption in order to go to heaven. You worship God and have faith, and the result is that you go to heaven. So it looks like goal-seeking behavior, even if you don't think of it as such.

KWM points out that "People often do very bad things and reap benefits from doing them." I have two responses: First, you have to consider the long-term effects. Many bad things have short-term payoff, but you suffer in the long run. You don't even need to be aware of it, but you can still be suffering.

Second, if you do something "bad" like murder or something and never get any bad result from it at all, then it wasn't really bad, according to my philosophy. I just think that's pretty rare, because people don't see all the bad consequences. Just because you didn't go to jail, that doesn't mean you really got away with murder.

"We are ultimately not accountable to anybody but ourselves, but we are still accountable to ourselves whether we like it or not."

Hi jre, you're probably summarizing John here, but this solves nothing.

If men are accountable only to themselves:
Why is there even a word morality
Why then is there law? [of any kind]
Why does anyone cry foul when they believe they were wronged?
Why is it practically universally displayed and prcaticed that men are in fact held accountable to others, whether their society, family, and/or ultimately to (a) God?

In other words, if the evolutionary ethic is observed, where do you find it....not anywhere in this world you dont.

"On the other hand, it's still possible to interpret Christian doctrine as goal-seeking behavior, even if the true Christian doesn't see it that way. You don't obey the Law in order to go to heaven, but let's say you confess your sins and ask for redemption in order to go to heaven. You worship God and have faith, and the result is that you go to heaven. So it looks like goal-seeking behavior, even if you don't think of it as such."

You could, and did, interpret it any way you want[ed], doesn't make it right. btw, people aren't born again by passing a theology test either-so one can be, and many often are, mistaken about technical doctrinal issues.

The second half of the previous post was response to John Moore.

John,

If you do something "bad" like murder or something and never get any bad result from it at all, then it wasn't really bad, according to my philosophy.

So that’s your criteria? We have to wait around and see what happens to the offender? What a waste of time.

I’m typically inclined to call something immoral or moral when I see it. According to you, we need to follow up with the offender and fill out some sort of questionaire.

Question: “What potentially immoral act has you concerned today?”

Question: “Has anything negative happened to you - directly related to this potential immoral act? If yes, please describe. If no, no worries, it wasn’t immoral after all.

It would take a very basic example to show that this is false. Let’s say someone shoots and kills another person in cold blood. Five minutes later, while cleaning up the scene, the shooter has a heart attack and dies. This heart attack was coming no matter what. It wasn’t a result of shooter killing. Was the act immoral? Yes, of course it was.

This is precisely why I brought up the Bernie Madoff example. Because our judgment and self-assessment can be so skewed.

It's true we can't absolutely say whether things are bad or not, because we don't know the future and don't understand all the consequences. This is actually a strength of consequentialism, because it takes our inevitable ignorance into account.

About the murderer who died of a heart attack five minutes later: We have to look at the bigger picture. Genetic survival is different from individual survival. It's likely that the murderer's close relatives, who carry his genes, will suffer consequences from his crime.

'I believe all living things have this one all-encompassing core desire for genetic survival, and there's no way we can ever escape it. That's the sense in which it's objective.' Did you know, John, that Christian theists basically agree with this statement? God's first command to all nature in the Bible is to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. This sounds exactly like what you are talking about.

This objective moral value does seem to exist. Now, the question then becomes, where does this come from? Why is it that nature strives to self-propagate? Why does this objective moral value exist? Does it just exist from time immemorial just because? Why does this objective moral value exist? It has just always been there?

The point about Christians not believing that they get into heaven by following the law was not simply meant to correct a theological error in your prior post John.

I also pointed out why Christians do follow the law. And it is not "an instinctive or involuntary response". That might play nicely into your view, for then you could say that the response is evolved. But it is actually rather obvious that such behavior actually has no moral worth whatsoever. A 'good-natured' person is surely more pleasant to be around that an 'ill-tempered' person. But there is not any reason to think that the one is more moral than another. Instinctive and involuntary behavior is more like breathing or flinching than it is like virtue.**

What I explicitly said is that the only reason to be moral that 'counts' is to be moral because God commands it. It is only when the fact that God commands a thing is a sufficient reason for you to do that thing that you've even met the minimum standard of duty. Everything else is sin.

----------------------
** - We may, of course, distinguish trained behavior from instinctive and involuntary behavior. Trained behavior is, in fact, the result of behavior contrary to instinct that is consistently and repeatedly chosen over instinct. That may be as close to virtue as humans can get.

KWM,

"This is precisely why I brought up the Bernie Madoff example. Because our judgment and self-assessment can be so skewed."

So, you are saying that you make moral judgments you know are wrong because you can't trust your own judgement?

jre,

So, you are saying that you make moral judgments you know are wrong because you can't trust your own judgement?

I (we) take actions we know are wrong, because we are sinful. I can take an action I know is wrong, but my moral assessment of the action can still be correct.

What I’m saying, is that one can also take an action believed to be moral when one is terribly mistaken (i.e. the action is immoral).

All the moral beliefs I hold, I hold because I believe they are correct. But that doesn’t mean we’re all in the clear.

So to your question – I trust my own judgment, but I don’t necessarily trust my neighbor's judgment. And just because my neighbor trusts his own judgment, it doesn’t mean he’s correct in his moral distinctions.

Which, to come full circle, is why being accountable to ourselves isn’t really helpful as it relates to make moral distinctions.

"Is it possible that an individual can be wrong about the assessment of their moral condition?"

No. That's my point.

Really? If an individual assesses their condition and concludes that their behavior was morally good when they committed rape, then you're saying it's not possible they can be wrong about.

You might want to rethink that.

This objective moral value does seem to exist. Now, the question then becomes, where does this come from?

I'm glad you're thinking it through this way. It seems pretty clear to me that morality can't come from from something that lacks morality. You cannot mix matter and energy together in just the right way and create objective morality.

So that leaves you with two options, (a) the human mind created objective morality much like it creates new ideas, or (b) objective morality has always existed.

Option (a) isn't objective morality at all as we understand it. We've been discussing that here.

Option (b) makes the most sense but then it leads to other difficulties.

SteveK,

Let me respond in two ways.

1. If a person commits rape and they are ok with it, they are a sociopath. Rape is not in a moral grey zone. Since the very beginning of their socialization, that person would have heard the message that rape is wrong, and internalized it. I'm not saying our personal moralities exist in a vacuum. They are a reflection of our culture, society, and personal experience.

2. To your larger question, I stand by my 'no'.
You judging as immoral, an action that I think is moral, is not going to change my assessment. I'm just going to think your judgement lacks moral legitimacy. You may think I'm wrong, but I'm not going to think I'm wrong. Of course, I can go against my own personal morality (the rape you mention) but I would be the first to judge that transgression as wrong.

BTW, I don't think I'm describing anarchy here. I think society functions , because you, me and our neighbors share so much in the way of biology and sociology that we are going to agree on "right" behavior almost all of the time. This general agreement leads to what we loosely define as moral laws. But, when we don't agree, I'm certainly not going to judge my actions by your moral standards, I'm going to judge them by mine.

"If a person commits rape and they are ok with it, they are a sociopath."

This is simply false as a matter of fact. History is filledaccepted and expected by the societies they lived in.

But they were always wrong.

Our society has made moral progress in that area since we've come to recognize that. Something that is literally impossible under your formula, jre.

Oooh. Bad html. Here's how it should have gone:

"If a person commits rape and they are ok with it, they are a sociopath."

This is simply false as a matter of fact. History is filled with men who were fully socially integrated who believed that, for example, it was ok to force themselves upon a defeated enemies woman, a serf's bride, an unwilling wife, an unattached woman whom they wanted to force into marriage, etc. These behaviors were actually accepted and expected by the societies they lived in.

But they were always wrong.

Our society has made moral progress in that area since we've come to recognize that. Something that is literally impossible under your formula, jre.

Yes – and to add to WisdomLover’s point: What about societies that punish rape victims by stoning them or imprisoning them? It's happening right now. This is not only accepted and expected, but it’s considered the right thing to do. What about the 30+ countries that practice female genital mutilation?

1. These people are not sociopaths.
2. They would think you’re the one with the problem.

I'm just going to think your judgement lacks moral legitimacy. You may think I'm wrong, but I'm not going to think I'm wrong.

Here's the problem, jre. Ask yourself on what basis would my judgement (or yours) be wrong? There can be no rational basis. You've admitted that already with your "no" reply in response to my question, can a person be wrong?

Since there's no rational basis for either person's judgement, in what sense is it *actually* a judgement? It's not based on my understanding of your position.

So you didn't come to the conclusion that rape is immoral by weighing a set of facts. If you did, it's possible that you could be wrong - but we've dismissed that possibility. What's left? Well, what's left is that you came to that conclusion based on a sensation or a feeling.

Which means this: Laws on the books were written because a lot of people in a society had the same sensations. They weren't written for rational reasons like "murder is immoral because it takes an innocent life therefore we should pass a law against murder".

Hi WL and KWM,

"This is simply false as a matter of fact. History..."

I was referencing here and now. I apologize for not clearly stating that. I should have said "if you commit rape and are ok with it in the USA in 2013 you are a sociopath". My bad.
Just like had I could have written "if you perform human sacrifice in the USA in 2013 you are a deranged nut" but if you did so in ancient Polynesia you were going along with moral imperatives of the time.
Were people who raped and pillaged in Medieval Europe wrong? Were those who sacrificed virgins to Pele in ancient Hawaii wrong? Well, from a 2013 American moral perspective, of course. From 1000 AD European or Hawaiian moral perspective, not at all.
You say "But they were always wrong". You are make an objective judgement. But, you are not being objective, because you are using your time and place as a guide. 1000 years from now, that which you hold as moral will most likely be deemed immoral, too. As you say, society will have made more moral progress.
"Something that is literally impossible under your formula."
A) Not at all. I'm saying that morality is dependent on what the individuals in a society feel is right or wrong. As new ideas, or contact with other groups happen, morals shift. Morality shifts right along with it.
B) What's your mechanism for "moral progress". If the true objective morals are out there, how come people in medieval Europe or ancient Hawaii were so oblivious to them (or a million other places vis a vis 2013 America)? Do cell phones, internet connections, plasma tvs and bbqs facilitate moral
correctness?

SteveK,

First off, and this goes out to KWM and WL as well, thanks for the discussion. I'm not sure we are going to find very much middle ground, but I do appreciate your thought provoking responses!

Second off, I'm not sure you can say that morality is (always) rational, or that which you can rationally justify is moral.
Were laws in the 19th Century forcing people
to return runaway slaves rational (I suppose
if you believed slaves were in fact property).
Because you can make a very rational case that
gay people are in loving relationships and make
great parents, would you say that gay marriage is a moral imperative [I would make that case, but I'm guessing other people reading this might not]

jre,

I was referencing here and now. I apologize for not clearly stating that. I should have said "if you commit rape and are ok with it in the USA in 2013 you are a sociopath". My bad.

Only in the USA in 2013? So stepping on airplane and flying to the Middle East or North Africa changes the morality of certain actions? What about on the plane? What would classify as immoral at 30,000 feet?

Were people who raped and pillaged in Medieval Europe wrong?

Why don’t you define rape for yourself and answer this question? What is rape? What’s involved? What does it look like?

1000 years from now, that which you hold as moral will most likely be deemed immoral, too. As you say, society will have made more moral progress.

1,000 years or 10,000 from now years circles will not be squares. Love will remain love, hate will remain hate. Rightness and wrongness will endure despite man’s proclivities. Moral progress, to the extent the term even has meaning, only signifies man’s move from barbarism to righteousness.

Progress – moving toward a goal. Improvement. Advance toward a higher better stage. Satisfactory development. Etc.

Even the word progress is devoid of meaning without objectivity. One man’s progress can be another man’s prison.

"Not at all. I'm saying that morality is dependent on what the individuals in a society feel is right or wrong. As new ideas, or contact with other groups happen, morals shift. Morality shifts right along with it."

So jre, can societies revert back morally--admit mistake? Is every innovation permanent and better/good, never to be revisited or overturned if revisited? Who gets to say so, a majority or does it just happen organically?

Also,

"If the true objective morals are out there, how come people in medieval Europe or ancient Hawaii were so oblivious to them (or a million other places vis a vis 2013 America)?"
First, I dont think anyone has suggested that 2013 America has set the standard for morality. Second, how do you know these people groups were oblivious to them. I bet if an ancient Hawaiian had his stuff stolen, he'd not sit idly by and wonder if he'd been wronged or not. Same with having his fellow Hawiians angry toward him if he stole their stuff, or killed/raped. The fact that the immoral treatment others got in the context of warring tribes doesn't negate the fact that an objective morality exists.

That people treat others in hostile ways means that they dont value the others---their understanding of common human rights is skewed, not that they dont have and demand moral treatment amonst their fellows. I think history demonstrates a universal disdain for stealing and murder, etc...amonst peaceful peoples. It has not developed over time, that stealing from and/or unjustified killing of your neighbor is unacceptable, it has been that for all time.

Second off, I'm not sure you can say that morality is (always) rational, or that which you can rationally justify is moral.

I don't need "always". I only need one case to show that your "no" reply is wrong, and then your entire view of morality falls apart.

Can you think of one instance - just one - where a moral conclusion is reached on the basis of a sound logical argument rather than sensations and/or emotions?

Were laws in the 19th Century forcing people to return runaway slaves rational (I suppose if you believed slaves were in fact property).

They were rational laws because they were argued, in part, on the basis of facts that everyone had access to.

Was their conclusion wrong, or possibly wrong? For our purposes here, it doesn't matter which because just the *possibility* that they were wrong means your view of morality is false.


"Was their conclusion wrong, or possibly wrong? For our purposes here, it doesn't matter which because just the *possibility* that they were wrong means your view of morality is false."

Hmm, I've got to disagree. You are talking about
effectively about data (facts, arguments, etc).
I'm talking about process. Of course the data can change. But, the process doesn't.

Hi KWM,

I think you make some really good points.
And, I actually don't think we are that far off in
terms of agreement.
I'm going to take some time to reflect and contemplate a bit more.
Thanks again for the discussion.

Thanks, jre.

The last string of posts (from jre's 6:29 post on)reminded me of some of the opening lines in the Roman historian Sallust, in his recollection of Catiline's conspiracy. In his introduction, before examining the moral character of Catiline, he devoted some paragraphs to the notion of moral degeneracy of a nation. Rome, founded on the instruction of morals and virtue, declined with the expansion of the Republic, caving in to the influences of ambition and avarice. The historian stated: "When wealth was once considered an honor, and glory, authority, and power attended on it, virtue lost her influence, poverty was thought a disgrace, and a life of innocence was regarded as a life of ill-nature. From the influence of riches, accordingly, luxury, avarice, and pride prevailed among the youth; they grew at once rapacious and prodigal; they undervalued what was their own, and coveted what was another's; they set at naught modesty and continence; they lost all distinction between sacred and profane, and threw off all consideration and self-restraint."

If moral decline is detectable, what is its ultimate standard? Why is it detrimental, and how can we be sure morality is advancing under evolutionary processes? Why not credit it all to some degree of moral oscillating if it is merely an acceptance or rejection of some "gilded age"?

JRE-

The only thing that is possible under your formula is moral change. Societies cannot make progress because there is no society-independent way to define progress. Societies cannot undergo moral decay because there is no society-independent way to define decadence.

Each society can, of course, define itself as the pinnacle and measure all societies by how well they measure up to that standard. Each person can, of course, count the ideal he prefers as the pinnacle and do similar.

Is that really what you wanted to say?

If so, I think we're back to just defining our own preferences as right.

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