September 2016

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30  

Subscribe

« The Ex-Slave Abolitionist | Main | Don’t Assume We Should Change the Body to Match the Mind »

November 13, 2014

Comments

Actually, I'm not so sure that atheists can know moral truths.

They can, of course, have true, but unjustified, belief about morality. And it is only true belief about morality that is necessary to behave morally.

How is it you can come to have a justified belief in a moral truth (or any truth for that matter) if you don't also know what makes that truth true?

I suppose, if you want to be a thoroughgoing intuitionist about morality, then you may have the basis for saying that atheists can know morality.

If you have the sense of sight, then you know what red is. If you have a moral sense, then you know what right is. In that case, though, what it is is literally constituted by the sensation of it. Red is nothing else but a particular sensation of color (that may or may not be predictable based on other sensations). In the same way, right would be nothing more than a sensation of approbation (that may or may not be predictable based on other sensations).

In that case, it would still be the case that you can't know moral truth without knowing what makes moral truth true, but atheists would know both morality and what makes moral truth true, because they have a moral sense.

Perhaps they would not know that they have a moral sense because God gave it to them, but that is not a particularly moral truth anyway.

I think if you take the full intuitionist path, though, you may end up on the wrong side of the Euthyphro question.

It makes perfect sense to me to say that to be red is to be perceived as red. And it makes very little sense to say that a thing is perceived as red because it is red apart from perception.

But with right, the case seems to be different. Is a thing right because I have a sensation of approbation when I contemplate it? Or do I have the sense of approbation because it is right? I think we want to say it's the later. In that case we can talk about a distinction between moral appearance and moral reality, about whether an individual's moral sense is veridical, and so on.

And in that case, we may say that atheists in fact have a moral sense, but since they have no way of knowing that their moral sense is veridical, they have know way of knowing that their moral beliefs are true.

Bottom-line, I don't think you can divorce the epistemological question from the metaphysical question. I think atheists either know both moral truths and what makes them true, or they know neither. (And if you say they know both, then you are going to be biting a fairly big bullet vis-a-vis the Euthyphro question).

As for what Brett said, I think he is actually asking a causal question (OK, causation also falls under metaphysics). What causes may we infer from the fact of morality? His view, and I agree, is that the existence of a Universal Sovereign and Lawmaker is a better explanation for the cause of moral law than atoms-in-the-void + time + chance. It is better in the following sense: it actually does posit something that can cause moral law.

WL,

I agree with your post, but need a little clarification on one point:

>> I suppose, if you want to be a thoroughgoing intuitionist about morality, then you may have the basis for saying that atheists can know morality.

Is this equivalent to the thought expressed in Rom. 2: 26, 27?

I think this:

They can, of course, have true, but unjustified, belief about morality. And it is only true belief about morality that is necessary to behave morally.
comes closer to Romans 2:26-27

I think what I was getting to in the section you quoted was that some people think that we know moral truths the same way we know visual truths: we have a sensory apparatus that allows us to see them, moreover, to be right just is to be perceived as right by a person with a functioning moral sense

What are the "objective moral truths" Brett speaks of and assumes exist?

Is there a list please?

If you watched the video, you should know of at least two.

Tim,

Regarding this list you’d like to see, does this mean objective morality doesn’t exist?

I would assume your argument would go something like this:

1. Things that exist can be put on a list.
2. Objective morals cannot be put on a list.
3. Therefore, objective morals do not exist.

Im just asking if there is a list.......

If there isn't one just say so.

"Torturing babies for fun is wrong".........

Isn't 'fun' a subjective standard? Seems odd to have an allegedly objective value contain something subjective. Does that not strike anyone else as problematic?

KWM - Brett says objective morals are 'discovered' so I'm asking what they are.

"Torturing babies for no reason at all is wrong."

"Torturing babies for any strictly subjective reason (like fun) is wrong"

"Torturing babies in order to earn your 3,000,000,000,017th 2010-adjusted dollar is wrong"

How very difficult it is to come up with a list of objective moral truths!!!!

Wisdom Lover

Thanks for your reply which came across as arrogant, patronising but was also useless.

Is there a list of objective moral values or not? This is a very simple question - you all seem to agree objective moral truths exist, so why the difficulty listing them?

Tim

And, of course, Tim, your question is not arrogant patronizing or useless.

But, FTR, the three items I mentioned are obviously:

  1. In list form.
  2. Objective moral truths
You are thus answered.

Wisdom Lover

Well let the record show quite how obnoxious both your replies to me have been.

Lesson learned, lets reframe the question.

Can someone provide an exhaustive list of objective moral standards?

Tim

What if there are, as I suspect, infinitely many?

Wisdom Lover

Why would you suspect that?

I was interested that you took one despicable activity and made 3 moral absolutes out of it - surely variations on a theme like that are not strictly necessary?

Tim

What do you mean when you say they are not strictly necessary. Surely they are different. Surely they are all objective moral truths. If you now want an exhaustive list, those three will be on it.

There will also be others, there may be infinitely many others just regarding the torturing of babies. (After all, it is an objective moral truth that torturing babies to earn your 3,000,000,000,018th 2010-adjusted dollar is also wrong.)

There is indeed a list:

1) Fear, love and trust in God above all things.

2) Do not curse, swear, use witchcraft, lie, or deceive by His name.

3) Do not despise His Word nor the preaching of it.

4) Honor your parents.

5) Don't murder.

6) Honor your own spouse; don't fool around with your neighbor's.

7) Don't steal stuff.

8) Don't lie about other people.

9) Don't be obsessed with getting your neighbor's house.

10) Don't be obsessed with getting your neighbor's stuff.

Some people might specify them a bit differently, but these are the basics. Anything else you might think of as a "moral standard" are more specific examples these basics.

"After all, it is an objective moral truth that torturing babies to earn your 3,000,000,000,018th 2010-adjusted dollar is also wrong"

I think a good lawyer (maybe even a bad lawyer) could provide some overarching principle could they not? It seems you are being facetious.

@Mike

Thankyou -- but do you not think those moral standards are open to subjective interpretation? Should a child honour their Satanic parents? Who defines what a 'lie' is? How does one define obsession? To name but a couple of objections....

Wisdom Lover

While I'm thinking of it, how is this objective?

"Torturing babies for no reason at all is wrong"- who decides whether there is no reason at all?

Tim

"Torturing babies for no reason at all is wrong"- who decides whether there is no reason at all?
If there were no reason, that would surely be wrong, wouldn't it?
I think a good lawyer (maybe even a bad lawyer) could provide some overarching principle could they not?
What if they could? Are you harboring hopes that maybe the whole thing can be boiled down to one axiom from which all moral truths derive? What if there is one such principle? Still, the principle is not the truths. There are still infinitely many truths (or a lot), derivative though they may be.

And even if the principle were the truths, would there not still be a list of moral truths that is of length=1?

And what if the lawyers couldn't distill the axioms of morality down to one principle from which all moral truths derive. What if the lawyers couldn't even distill the axioms of morality down to a finite list from which all moral truths derive? Then what?

Then moral science joins the list of objective-as-iron sciences that are not axiomitizable, like arithmetic. That's what.

In all events there is still a list of moral objective moral truths...perhaps infinitely long, perhaps not.

In all events aren't you answered?

^Correct^ WL, when Tim NBD asks "who decides if there is no reason at all", he in no way defeats the answer to his challenge you gave...he merely asks a follow up question.

As to his original challenge, Mike Westfall somewhat cleverly answers his challenge by offering the 10 commandments in paraphrase. Once again, Tim NBD asks follow up questions as though his original challenge isn't answered. The follow up questions are not defeaters in the least. Mike's list is quite comprehensive as is the distilled version offered to us by Jesus when He said "Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind...and your neighbor as yourself"

Skepticism of who clarifies application of the moral laws doesn't diminish confidence that the laws exist....except now that I think about it, when someone wants to throw them off in an effort to free themselves of the associated guilt they proclaim, their confidence is willfully shaken.

Thanks Brad.

Of course, I agree with Mike's list and with Christ's single commandment of Love.

I was going for moral truths that no one could really dispute, even though I knew my list would not amount to principlish truths.

Though actually, each of my 3 truths is a principle from which infinitely many moral truths may be derived. For example, from the first one alone, all of these moral truths may be derived (and infinitely many like them):

  1. It is wrong to torture babies for no reason on November 13, 2014 at 09:24 PM.
  2. It is wrong to torture babies for no reason on November 13, 2014 at 09:25 PM.
  3. It is wrong to torture babies for no reason on November 13, 2014 at 09:26 PM.
  4. etc.
The fact that each of my 3 moral truths is also, most likely, derivable from some more comprehensive principle beside the point. The fact that my 3 moral truths don't even come close to exhausting the list of moral truths is also beside the point, once you take into account that there are infinitely many moral truths.

Tim's challenge, such as it is, is answered:

  • There is a list of objective moral truths
  • It is infinitely long, so no, no one will print it out in this blog

Now maybe he'd like to pose this challenge:

Is there a finite list of moral axioms from which all the truths of morality may be derived?
Perhaps that's what he wanted all along, I don't know. I think he mostly wanted to sneer and thought that saying "just give me a list" would be a good way to do so...but that might just be my lack of charity showing.

Now, as for the finite list of axioms, there have been some attempts to answer that. Christ's commandment of Love is the best example. I believe Kant's Categorical Imperative is another. Mill's principle of Utility is another.

Interestingly, I think Kant at one point said that he was actually just trying to re-cast Christ's commandment of Love to avoid one of the more common ambiguities present in the word "Love". Kant said Jesus was interested in practical, not 'pathological' love. Today we'd say love as a choice, not love as a feeling. Kant's argument was that Jesus couldn't have been commanding love as a feeling because you can't command feelings.

Now, I agree with Kant that you can't command feelings, but I don't think that gets us entirely off the hook for not feeling love toward God or our neighbor. Our inability to feel, at the command of God, love toward God and our neighbor, even if we choose to practice love toward them, is a sign of our fallen condition. So I'd rather say that Jesus was more interested in commanding love as a choice than love as a feeling.

So, Tim NBD,

If you are still hanging around, why is the existence of an "exhaustive list" important to you?

Goat Head 5

Isn't 'fun' a subjective standard? Seems odd to have an allegedly objective value contain something subjective. Does that not strike anyone else as problematic?

Not at all. If the subject doing the torturing, is having fun (i.e. he feels that he’s having fun) that is objectively wrong.

Just as I thought, Tim would ask for an exhaustive list. So it turns out that Tim’s argument would go something like this:

1. Things that exist can be put on an ‘exhaustive’ list.

2. Objective morals cannot be put on an ‘exhaustive’ list.

3. Therefore, objective morals do not exist.

Yikes.

Here's a common point of confusion:

  1. There is no objective standard of X. X is inherently a matter of personal interpretation.
  2. Every natural language is vague and ambiguous.
Very often, people notice item 2 and assume that item 1 is true in consequence. All of Tim's quibbles are based on that confusion.

Consider his objection to Mike: "Who defines what a lie is?"

The fact that the term "lie" is ambiguous is not an argument that the wrongness of lying about other people is subjective.

The words "touchdown", "point", "worth" and even "six" are also ambiguous, that does not make the claim "A touchdown is worth six points" subjective. If the Rams score 9 field goals, and the Redskins score 3 touchdowns and 3 single-point conversions, it's not just a subjective matter who won. It isn't the case that Rams won for you but the Redskins won for me. Similarly, I cannot, with any truth, say that the Rams won every game before they left Los angeles and lost every game after they left Los Angeles (as much as I'd like to), because, hey, who defines what a point is anyway?

There is an obvious answer to the "Who defines what a lie is?" question. In this case, it's Mike. Mike put forth the principle that it's wrong to lie about other people, so it's up to him to clarify what it means when questions arise. That does not make Mike's principle subjective, it makes it a principle that has been expressed in a natural language.

You may want to argue that it wasn't Mike, but God who put forth the principle, since Mike is really expressing the 8th commandment (by the Lutheran numbering of the ten).

Fair enough, then it is up to God to clarify what He means when questions arise. Even God's words are subject to the limitations of natural language. And it is because of those limitations, which affect even His words to us, that God raised up the offices of theologian, philosopher, linguist and others.

WisdomLover,

I'm curious where you stand on the moral argument when it's styled like so:

1. If there is no Universal Sovereign Lawmaker, then there are no moral truths.
2. There are moral truths.
3. Therefore, there is a Universal Sovereign Lawmaker.

The reason I ask is because you seem to be arguing in your original post that unless one knows what makes morals true, one cannot know that they are true. And you believe that what makes morals true is a Universal Sovereign Lawmaker (USL).

If that's the case, then you couldn't know that the second premise is true unless you first knew that the conclusion is true. But if knowing the truth of the conclusion is your basis for knowing the truth of the second premise, then the moral argument would be circular. Your knowledge of a USL would be based on your knowledge of moral truths, and your knowledge of moral truths would be based on your knowledge of a USL.

So where do you stand on the moral argument? It doesn't seem to me that the moral argument can be a sound argument unless you can be justified in believing in the second premise without having to first know what makes it true.

Sam-

I guess the way I look at it, the one that non-theists are really going to question is item #1.

Whether they know that premise #2 is true or not, most non-theists believe it.

They don't even believe premise #1.

So if it is a question of convincing an atheist from what he already believes to become a theist, I don't think the moral argument, as you express it, is going to work.

Now, an unbeliever might become convinced that premise #1 is true. He might come to understand that the commands of the kind that morality purports to give can only come from a transcendent source. At that point, since they believe premise #2, they will be well positioned to shift to belief in the conclusion. They still have no knowledge, but they are now theists.

Could the moral argument, by itself, lead them to knowledge that God exists?

Maybe not. The argument I gave above about how atheists can't know that a moral truth is true because they can't know what makes it true seems to be operative here as well. The mere theistic believer, it seems, also cannot know what makes a moral truth true. It seems like it takes a theistic knower to do that.

I am interested in this line of posts if for two reasons, the possibility of a codification of morals and the likeliest source of good morals.

It took a curious turn during one of Tim NBD's posts:

>> Who defines what a 'lie' is? How does one define obsession? To name but a couple of objections....

This seems to be the nucleus of all objections to an established permanent morality. The question of questioning the integrity of a liar is a failure of skepticism as it lapses into sophistry. It would ascribe to a fluid concept of morality, where the morality of cultures vary widely. We are light-years from a consensus between the Victorian Age and the Millennial Era (however long this phase lasts), but they both encountered their own versions of moral questions. Women are deemed in a protected state in both historic episodes, although the versions of modesty/immodesty are contrasts.

Whether morality is fluid between seasons of historic change or rather tightly structured in spite of the changes is the matter at hand. Tim's critique of Brad's 10 moral principles at least recognized a list; he merely questioned the merits of some items on the list. This foundational argument concerning the time's mores lies in the perception of life-goal as one of "fulfilled life" or "life of character." The first would see morality as an affair of liberation, where some of morality's more onerous restrictions are muted or removed. The second sees morality as regulation of life toward that of the life best lived.

It boils down to whether you value self-gratification or integrity. We both can assume that lying is detrimental, but there will always be arguments for utilitarian lying (regards for feelings of other, safety of other, etc). But is utilitarian methodology just another approach of sophistry?

"1. If there is no Universal Sovereign Lawmaker, then there are no moral truths. 2. There are moral truths. 3. Therefore, there is a Universal Sovereign Lawmaker.
"I guess the way I look at it, the one that non-theists are really going to question is item #1."

I agree with you WL on this...at least we seem to run into quite of high percentage of non theists who either say morality doesn't need ultimate foundation, that morality as cultural convention carries obligation...etc.etc.

Seems to me most of these are driving their philosophy on morals in such obvious self obfuscation that one of the most self evident things in life becomes questionable to them. But what drives this?

Respected philosophers...even atheistic ones along the history of theoretical thought have nearly all universally stated the importance of grounding truth...some say grounding truth is impossible, devolving into radical skepticism, but even they nonetheless noted its necessity if one is to claim knowledge.

It seems that most of our modern day armchair philosophers aren't quite so vigorous and will casually overlook logical leaps or never even look for grounding at all as they reason through life. Moral obligations show up most often as guilt. Ignore the guilt long enough and you can deny that moral law has ultimate foundational authority over man...in ones own mind anyway. So reasoning out a worldview to suit this comfort zone provides plenty of motivation to stay comfortably numb in fallacious conclusions. The alternative is too uncomfortable to even begin to consider.

Transcendental argumentation seems to be the best way to show this most obvious denial of the need that for moral law have force universally and eternally, it must be founded upon a ultimate proposition. Otherwise moral law is without authority to compel obedience.

"....for moral law to have force universally and eternally, it must be founded upon an ultimate proposition....."

Well stated Brad B ~ As usual ~

The comments to this entry are closed.