Kcrady, your entire counterpoint amounts to "we all agree with promoting what we see as well-being, therefore it is objective". Do you see the problem with that?
Sure, "we all agree" is not a flawless guarantor of truth, especially if "we all" are in a state of ignorance about the nature of reality and have no methodology for testing the validity of our ideas. However, if "we all agree" that the sky is blue on a cloudless sunny day, or that our measurements of the speed of light in a vacuum all converge on 299,792,458 meters per second, we ought to at least think, "Hmmm, maybe there's a reason for that." I'm sure a postmodernist philosopher could make an intricate argument that "the speed of light" is just a socially-constructed subjective opinion, but I doubt that anyone, including the philosopher would want to design a GPS system where the relativity calibrations for the signals to and from the geosynchronous satellites could be made on the basis of a speed of light entered by the individual into their GPS device on the basis of personal preference. Not if they actually wanted to use
their GPS device, anyway.
I'll go into more detail about that:
Why would we want to maximize our obedience to Yahweh? The Bible provides an unequivocal answer in both Testaments: if we do, he will reward us (maximize our well being); if we don't, he will punish us (maximize our suffering).
It offers us an answer that works if we plug in a positive valuation of the reward and/or a negative valuation of the punishment. Those valuations are subjective.
OK, so on a philosophical level, the words "reward" and "punishment" are meaningless (since they incorporate "plugged in" positive or negative valuations in their definitions), and a preference for winning the lottery over being sent to the electric chair is subjective. Still, there are plenty of good, empirical, scientific reasons why just about everybody would rather win the lottery than get the Chair, and why we would want to take a really good look at the serotonin levels in the brain of someone who preferred the Chair. Only a philosopher could represent the choice between a lottery win and the electric chair as some kind of difficult quandary, or a matter of whimsical personal taste.
Is the choice between having a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast, and having a bowl of gravel with a soupcon of motor oil a matter of subjective preference? I guess you could insist that it is as a matter of philosophical principle, since a person could
conceivably prefer the gravel. Nonetheless, there is a whole host of empirical facts of human physiology (the nature of our taste buds and sense of oral comfort/discomfort associated with trying to chew different things, the structure of our digestive system, the wiring of our brain that perceives pleasure as pleasant and pain as unpleasant, and so on) and the nature of small rocks and motor oil that explain why you would have to search long and hard to find any human being who felt a preference for the gravel and motor oil. Furthermore, that person's preferences aren't going to make the actual, physical results
of trying to eat gravel and motor oil go away.
So, you can say that the choice is subjective from a precise, philosophical standpoint, just as you can say that it's impossible to prove that Yahweh doesn't exist from that same standpoint. Maybe he (or Satan) faked things like distant starlight and fossils to test our faith. Nonetheless, from the practical standpoint of living our lives with finite cognitive resources and time, we simplify things by treating the very high probability that Yahweh doesn't exist as a fact. In the same way, when it comes to ethical reasoning, we can take baseline human physiology and psychology, the principles of biology and physics etc. as given and as factual, and the all-but universal preference for well-being over misery as a valid standard for making moral decisions. This is not to suggest that all ethical principles are equally obvious, that there are no genuine moral quandaries and so forth. On the other hand, a moral preference for viewing women as human and entitled to equality with men vs. sawing off their clitorises and treating them as chattel is not the same level or sort of "subjective" as a preference for the music of Metallica over Justin Bieber. In the case of women's rights, there are a lot of facts upon which a moral decision can be based.
The empirical inquiry which results from an acceptance of the subjective standard does proceed logically and objectively. Given goals A and B, with A being some definite proportion more or less important than B, the best course of action is objectively X, Y and Z. You claim the standard reduces to whether it maximizes some coherently-defined idea of human well-being? Sure. Everything does. Everything can also reduce to whether it maximizes the average temperature of the Earth,
How does the question of whether mutilating a little girl's clitoris is moral or not reduce to whether it maximizes the average temperature of the Earth? Are you really suggesting that there's no objective difference between maximizing the average temperature of the Earth as a moral standard, vs. maximizing human well-being (or to use Sam Harris' formulation, "maximizing the well-being of conscious creatures")? If so, remind me never to consult you when it comes to the issue of climate change.
You misunderstand me. I am not claiming that they are objectively true. I am saying that they have an objective state:
"X is true of the deity's moral opinions" is an objective assertion, true or false, about the deity's moral opinions.
"X is true of kcrady's moral opinions" is an objective assertion, true or false, about your moral opinions.
"X is true of any other part of physical reality" is an objective assertion, true or false, about whatever part of physical reality is being discussed.
Invalid comparison. "The rest of reality" isn't a person or persons, and its facts don't change arbitrarily according to whim, like the commands of an absolute dictator (human or divine) can.
You are placing the contents of minds into a different category than that of any other part of physical reality. That is supernaturalism. I am treating mind-contents in the same way as I would anything else. They're real. They have a state. It's not a matter of opinion.
It seems to me that you're changing the terms of the discussion. You're right that states of consciousness are aspects of physical reality. However, we were debating whether or not moral principles are subjective or objective. To say that anything is "subjective" is to treat the contents of minds as distinct from the rest of physical reality for the purposes of discussion:
1. existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought (opposed to objective).
2.pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual: a subjective evaluation.
From the perspective of a fully consistent reductionism, there's no such thing as "subjectivity."
Our moral decisions are reducible to interactions between quarks. So how can morality be "subjective?"
And yet you decided to make a statement on one side of the question when you posted in this thread. Your attempt to dismiss my position on the grounds that it is supposedly useless navel-gazing is disingenuous, given your attention to the same topic.
I do not think the topic
of ethical reasoning is useless navel-gazing. I think that approaching it from a perspective that is wildly unrelated to actual human life (e.g. the "brains in vats" thing as a reason we should doubt reality, or the possibility that someone, somewhere might prefer to maximize suffering as a reason to pretend that the distinction between well-being and suffering is really hard to figure out
and unrelated to any facts) is
useless navel-gazing. The purpose
of morality is to provide a set of principles to guide our decisions in reality. It's like a compass. If you and some friends are trying to navigate through a wilderness, and, after consulting the map and compass one of your friends says, "We should go north," would you start in, saying, "Well, 'north' is just an arbitrary subjective thing people made up. We could just as easily call it "East" or "Owwen," or whatever we like. There's no factual reason to prefer going 'north' to going any other direction. Even if we'll find food and shelter by going 'north,' why should we prefer finding food and shelter to freezing to death or getting eaten by grizzlies? I dunno man, that really keeps me up at night, you know?" Do you actually live your life that way?
Most things don't need to be understood in order to navigate through life. Hell, most people hold ill-defined religious beliefs without it unduly impacting their navigation through life. Your point here is null.
When it comes to actually navigating through life,
people with religious beliefs usually set them aside and operate based on a relatively accurate mental model of reality. We encounter it here all the time.
Propose any reality-test of religious beliefs, at all, and the believer will start emitting all sorts of "explanations" for why reality behaves as if it were a godless naturalistic Universe rather than a haunted house full of magical beings. They already know, in advance, what results they'll need to excuse. To the extent they actually incorporate their ill-defined religious beliefs into their mental map of reality (e.g., refusing to seek medical treatment for themselves or a loved one because they really expect prayer or magic rituals to work, making political decisions on the basis of "divine commandments" or the expectation that Jesus is coming Real Soon Now and he'll give us a new planet to replace the one we've decided to wreck), their beliefs will
adversely affect their ability to navigate through life, and/or adversely affect others such as people they oppress in their deity/deities' name(s). If that wasn't the case, would this site even exist?
Naturally. I have values, and I act on them. The difference between us is that I don't pretend that mine are some sort of ultimate truth of the universe.
So, in your view, it's not possible for something to have a basis in fact without being "some sort of ultimate truth of the universe?" I think it's pretty obvious that "New York City exists" is not an Ultimate Truth of the Universe. Does that mean acknowledging the present existence of New York is just a subjective whimsy, and it's just as valid to believe that the 9-11 hijackers crashed dragons into the upper levels of Minas Tirith?Why
do you have values and act on them? Do you not think that your values are even a little bit
more rational and reality-based than fundamentalist Muslim values, or ancient Babylonian values? Is there a reason you don't just collect a set of different moral codes and roll dice each morning to decide which one to follow for the day?
I would expect us to behave similarly, yes. As for "is it objectively right for us to do so", the answer is "null". The question is incoherent as stated, without added assumptions. Consider: What is so special about these species-divisions? Back when Neanderthals were still around, was it objectively right to promote what we see as human flourishing alone? Or did they get included? Did it depend on our ability to interbreed? Why the hell does any of this matter in the first place, outside of what we personally value?
Do you find these questions to be equally difficult to answer, and the answers equally personal and arbitrary when it comes to, say, Jews?
This idea of well-being is a fact. Its adherence by both behaviour and biology is a fact. That it should be sought, morally, is not. That was my fault for not asking quite the right question. I already know enough about why humans end up valuing the things they do. I meant to ask why they should.
Ah, OK. I think I see where you're coming from better now. A more fundamental question than "What should our morality be?" is "Do we need a moral code, and if so, what for
?" Why not just ignore the issue altogether? The answer, as I see it, is that humans don't have a particular, relatively simple set of instinctive and passed-down behaviors that will automatically maximize their well-being like other animals do. Wolves are not capable of asking questions like, "Is is ethical for us to hunt? Why should we hunt, instead of just running circles around trees? Why should we prefer being able to eat and feed our cubs to not being able to?" Those sorts of questions are already answered for them by biology and evolution.
We humans--at least since the Agricultural Revolution--have to discover
what behaviors will maximize our individual and (since we are by nature social animals) collective well-being. We are also inextricably part of a wider planetary ecosystem, on which our lives and well-being depend, so that too has to be incorporated into our moral calculations. As to why we should
want to live rather than die, and have well-being rather than misery, is, as you say, a "null" question. That we do
want to live and maximize well-being is the "Is" from which the "Oughts" of a rational moral code flow. I think well-being works as a moral standard because
it is simply a fact that we seek it, as a result of our nature as human beings. We seek well-being. Morality answers the question, "How
do we achieve well-being?" Since all moral codes do not maximize well-being equally (this is something we can actually measure, by means of statistical studies of results, brain scans, and perhaps tools we have not invented yet), we have a standard by which we can compare them, and select the one that works best. And then, improve on it. This is what we mean by "moral progress," and why we can evaluate modern democratic societies as morally superior to those of, say, the Mongols under Genghis Khan, or North Korea.
A person who wants to die, or who prefers misery over well-being, or who wants to maximize the suffering of others is generally considered to be mentally ill, and cognitive neuroscience is getting better at discovering the actual, physical brain malfunctions responsible for those sorts of desires, and in some cases, providing remedies. Perhaps you could argue that "mental illness" is an invalid concept since there is no Platonic Form of healthy human consciousness and the subjective desires of the "mentally ill" person are no less valid than the subjective desires of "mentally healthy" people.
But somehow, I doubt you'd actually want to extend that argument to practical application in the form of eliminating suicide hotlines, the mental health profession, and the idea that we ought to capture and incarcerate serial killers. In other words, the idea that morality is subjective is a position that a person can hold and argue for philosophically
, while their practical actions (moral decisions, advocacy, what they teach their children, their votes, etc.) operate on the basis that there are moral principles that are actually valid, or at least more valid than the absence thereof or the moral claims they disagree with. Which is why I tend to look at that sort of "philosophy" as, to use your term, "useless navel-gazing."
I don't think desires/values resolve as "true" or "false," more like "works" or "doesn't work" to maximize their well-being.
Good. So you agree that the argument that the value of "well-being" as a positive thing resolves as "true" is a circular one. "'Promoting X is good' resolves as positive because promoting X is good!" - FYI, this doesn't demonstrate that X is good.
Well-being is the standard
by which "goodness" is evaluated. The state of well-being, and that we seek it, is the set of facts upon which an objective morality is based. The standard itself is a given, a brute fact. The same applies to moral subjectivism. "All morality is subjective" is the claimed basis for the absence
of any moral standard, but the claim is not, itself, believed to be subjective. If true, it is a fact, an "Is" from which subjectivist moral "Oughts" arise, such as "We ought to respect all cultures equally." IOW, we cannot view fundamentalist Muslim culture or New Guinea cannibal cultures as morally inferior to modern democracy and human rights, since the morals on which each is based derive from subjective personal taste.
You're right. I have values. They have a definite objective state, encoded as they are in my brain and the rest of me. They are not objectively correct, they resolve as correct to me subjectively, and for some - to others - incorrect, subjectively.
So there is no basis or standard by which you can evaluate your values as ethically superior to Torquemada's? Why do you bother with this website? If the choice between secular Enlightenment values, and the values of Christian fundamentalism is just a "six in one, half a dozen in the other" subjective preference, why would you waste time trying to persuade people to abandon fundamentalism? Wouldn't that be rather silly, like trying to talk Justin Bieber fans into preferring Metallica? Again, I perceive a disconnect between your professed philosophical position, and your actual behavior.
Looking at your signature quote, do you think that guy is right
? Do you think there's no actual, reality-based reason
to prefer upholding gay rights to murdering gays?
I don't find it all that vexing. What I find vexing is the residual attachment others seem to have to having an external value-god, even when the original one didn't offer what it was supposed to, logically.
You are implicitly agreeing with kevinagain, that any actual moral standard (as opposed to a moral fashion or taste) can only
derive from a "god." As I explained earlier, authority (divine, or human) can't
serve as an objective moral standard, since it is just the subjective moral preference of the Authority/Authorities. As for my "attachment" to the idea of an objective moral standard, I think that one is necessary to even bother with "moral reasoning" or "ethics" at all
. For example, why set up a "bioethics committee" to guide Federal funding and regulation of genetic research and engineering? There is no basis on which to prefer any member's subjective preferences to those of any other member. Their discussion devolves to "I like genetic engineering! I want a cat that glows in the dark!" vs. "I think genetic engineering is scary." Well, so what
? Opinions are like assholes, everybody's got one. Why not decide by flipping a coin? It's no less random than polling the panel on their preferences for action movies vs. romances. It's not like any of them, regardless of their levels of expertise, could offer any facts
that should influence the decision of whether we ought
to fund or forbid genetic engineering, since "you can't get an 'ought' from an 'is.'"