Author Topic: Objective vs. Subjective Morality  (Read 572 times)

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Offline GodlessHeathen

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Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« on: March 05, 2012, 06:40:34 PM »
I read the debate between L-Chaim and CuriousGirl entitled "The (non)existence of Bible God" (http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php/topic,20247.0.html). I noticed that the primary topic of discussion was objective vs. subjective morality.

After reading it, I began pondering the moral argument against the existence of God. Namely, it goes like this: 1) A benevolent God would not allow suffering. 2) Suffering happens. 3) Therefore a benevolent God does not exist. If one concludes that morality is entirely subjective, it seems to me that this argument loses a lot of its strength.

Thoughts?

EDIT@ This is probably the argument that I have used the most often against the God of the Bible since the deeds attributed to him are so morally repugnant to most people.
"That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence" (Christopher Hitchens).

Offline joebbowers

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Re: Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2012, 01:23:05 AM »
The acts God commits in the Bible are all good by definition. Even when he creates evil[1], He is doing good. When he commands that we kill gays, or rip open the pregnant bellies of our enemies and smash their unborn babies onto the rocks, it is good. If you don't understand that they are good, that makes you a sinner, and that's why bad things happen.

God is benevolent, and suffering is simply punishment for sins. What about the suffering of children? They are being punished for their parents' sins, not to mention, have you ever watched a baby? They just sleep and eat all day, that sloth and gluttony, 2 sins right there. Babies deserve to die for their sins too.

None of this disproves the bible, it simply proves that people do not understand God. He loves you, but you will burn in hell because you are a sinner.
 1. Isaiah 45:7
« Last Edit: March 06, 2012, 01:27:02 AM by joebbowers »
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Offline MadBunny

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Re: Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2012, 01:29:26 AM »
Morality is highly subjective.


In general theists love to use the idea, because when it's pointed out that we had all of these wonderful morals and social abilities before the times listed in their holy book, they need a way to extend it beyond, or to cultures that never practiced their version of theology.

The idea of a 'Universal Moral Law' that binds all people and cultures together is a pretty common theological meme, but like most, it does not bear up under observation and scrutiny.
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Offline sun_king

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Re: Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« Reply #3 on: March 06, 2012, 01:55:05 AM »
It may be evidence that a benevolent god of a certain belief system does not exist, or maybe that he/she/it is not potent enough to ward off suffering. Some other belief system will attempt to justify suffering, negating the statement #1. For example, in some version of Hinduism the sufferings of a child is due to his/her not-so-good acts in the last birth. In this model, god is not an actor, any visible suffering is due to the person's deeds in this life or earlier. The recollection of earlier life is conveniently wiped off from the soul memories, so there is no easy way to disprove the bad karma in last life theory.

So you have a god that is almost blameless.

Thats the trouble in having so many gods

Offline Luke

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Re: Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« Reply #4 on: March 06, 2012, 06:26:39 AM »
Morality is highly subjective.

Hello, hello! Just lurking and I thought I would chip in.

MB, what do you mean by highly subjective? I think that the problem that most theists have is that they define subjective on an individual basis. That means that they can throw out tired old saws like: If there is no god then why shouldn't I hack/maim/rape with impunity.

We (as individuals) do have an objective source of morality. For the most part our morality/ethical behaviour is set in stone by the time we're teenagers, and not necessarily through choices that we make. Objective in this sense means external to ourselves, rather than some never changing set of rules that is handed to us on tablets of stone.


Offline GodlessHeathen

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Re: Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« Reply #5 on: March 06, 2012, 04:49:03 PM »
Subjective morality renders the moral argument toothless when attempting to use it to prove outright atheism; it is, however, an effective tool for showing the impossibility of a god such as, say, Yahweh of the Bible or Allah of the Koran, because the way those gods are portrayed shows an obvious contradiction between the moral attributes ascribed to them and their actual behavior.

I think there are much stronger arguments for the non-existence of God, such as inefficient design and the question posed on this site, why won't God heal amputees?

If morality is objective, then it must be based on some naturalistic cause. Perhaps it was the result strictly of natural selection. For example, obviously a species in which the majority thinks that murder is ok will not survive very long. Nor will a species that steals food from each other. Nor will a species that commits acts that result in severe psychological damage of other members of the species. I think there is very good reason to believe in objective morality as the result of natural selection.

Still the above type of "objective" morality does not argue for or against the existence of God, because it would have a completely naturalistic cause.
"That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence" (Christopher Hitchens).

Offline jaimehlers

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Re: Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« Reply #6 on: March 06, 2012, 06:02:00 PM »
There isn't any such thing as objective morality, just subjective morality that's been accepted by more people.  And that includes religious morality systems.  One of the axioms of morality is that you have to be able to recognize the difference between moral and immoral behavior, so I don't believe it can ultimately come from something like natural selection, because natural selection is utterly indifferent to moral matters.  All that matters in natural selection is whether a behavior allows a species to successfully pass on its genes to the next generation, so (for example), you could have a species which killed and ate members which would not survive to puberty or which were too old to reproduce, and it might do quite well.  Yet, such a behavior would be subjective in nature, not objective.

For example, some animal species successfully reproduce by laying the equivalent of eggs and then being indifferent to the spawn until they get to a certain age, because it takes less energy to have lots of children, most of whom won't survive, than to have a few children which then have care lavished on them.  And again, it's subjective, not objective.  It depends on the specific factors that went into the makeup of that species, not some objective guiding principle which affects all species.

Offline MadBunny

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Re: Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« Reply #7 on: March 06, 2012, 07:22:25 PM »
Morality is highly subjective.

Hello, hello! Just lurking and I thought I would chip in.

MB, what do you mean by highly subjective? I think that the problem that most theists have is that they define subjective on an individual basis. That means that they can throw out tired old saws like: If there is no god then why shouldn't I hack/maim/rape with impunity.

We (as individuals) do have an objective source of morality. For the most part our morality/ethical behaviour is set in stone by the time we're teenagers, and not necessarily through choices that we make. Objective in this sense means external to ourselves, rather than some never changing set of rules that is handed to us on tablets of stone.

Your morality is determined largely by the culture that you're raised in as well as your own personal observations of it.

Parents in most civilized cultures today would probably[1] be horrified at the thought of smashing a babies head into a vise from time they were born so that it would grow into a more cube-like shape.  Yet it was the norm, or at least very acceptable just a few centuries ago in what we call South America.

Today, the goto example for objectively bad is slavery, yet it has been around for thousands of years in civilizations all over the world.

"objective morality" would imply that there is a an objective standard by which to measure morality.  Given that our morality stems from the society that we're in (mostly), and that society itself is fluid there is no real standard beyond 'survival morality'.

Quote
We (as individuals) do have an objective source of morality. For the most part our morality/ethical behaviour is set in stone by the time we're teenagers, and not necessarily through choices that we make.
(repeating this for quote purposes)

No, that morality, while set by outside forces is itself fluid and as I've said, determined by society.
 1.  My speculation
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Offline Jake

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Re: Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« Reply #8 on: March 06, 2012, 07:22:45 PM »
The entire human experience is subjective by force of relativistic means of perception and cognition.     

Here's the lay of the land on morality:  it's the systems by which good and bad are determined, inclusive of behaviours (stuff you do) not just acquired knowledge objects (stuff you think and how/why you think it).     

To be absolutely truthful in addressing this proposed quandary, we'd have to first determine if there is any possible means for a human to experience, perceive or elsewise acquire any sort of sense of objective relation to anything else, because we are absolutely relativistic in terms of how we learn to learn in the first place.  We don't actually have the means to do that conclusively, only to the best of our knowledge that no, we don't seem to.   

We're neurologically programmed to learn, that much is certain, but if a human were born and could somehow survive in a completely isolated void, there's an amazingly good chance that that human would not develop any manner of external or externalizable language (to communicate with what?), any concept of communication (nothing to communicate with or naturally occurring reason to externalize) or even any complex systems of rationalization (no outside information coming in from a void; nothing to process, no means of process required).

Obviously, that sort of circumstance is bollocks and couldn't truly happen because no human iteration of life could survive in such an environment.     Never the less, from a hypothetical view on such a circumstance, would that absolutely isolated human develop any sense of morality?

The answer is almost resoundingly yes, courtesy of that they would still be fairly likely to, on some level and in some manner, develop internal systems relative only to themselves (and thus quite probably extremely primitive in their inclusive scope) that would not account for other things at all, as such a human would have no notion of other things existing in the first place.     That could, in theory, change if they dreamed up or imagined such notions, but would it?

At every turn, the notion of morality runs into the hurdle of awareness and various processes of decision-making.     

For example, did you know that every time you sneeze and turn left three times within five seconds of sneezing that you murder a Ploon?       Chances are pretty good that this, if said to you in a serious address, would sound a bit absurd; you have no idea what a Ploon is and might have to think about it for a moment to deduce that it must be some manner of living thing if it can be murdered.     It doesn't exist to you, however, at least not in the term used to reference it.     Chances are terribly good that if you're even the slightest bit rational (and not unrealistically gullible), you won't feel anything about that or be able to formulate elaborate moral opinions based on this; you'd need to know more.

You'd need to be more aware of what a Ploon is before you can so much as decide as whether or not murdering one is even something you care about, let alone why in any case.    You might take a cue from the accuser (who has alleged that you've murdered something!) and use that as a mnemonic reference to begin constructive a moral view on.   You'd probably agree that murder is probably not good based on both what the word itself references as a concept reference in your acquired grasp of it, but without knowing more about Ploons and their attributes and their motives and their relation to you or whatever else you ascribe morally determining value upon, you'd have to learn more or at least feel sufficiently informed by imaginary knowledge.

Could it be that murdering Ploons is a good thing?    It might actually be possible of Ploons are terribly bad for you and mean you and others unerring harm, which they love to first inflict and then laugh about, and they keep running tallies of all the chumps they've done terrible harm to in order to gloat to their Ploon-kin about?     

What if they're wonderful creatures that would make you coffee in the morning and make you soup when you're sick if only their numbers weren't so diminished by all this sneezing and left-turning so many thoughtlessly and tragically do?     

Changes the whole shape of the consideration just to contemplate those two contrasting configurations of attribution, doesn't it?       Granted, both of those present a contrast of things that very well might be of immediate relevance to you directly in either hand.

But what about this;  what if Ploons are actually the rhinovirus -- one of the most common viral causes of the common cold?

Suddenly, bam; you have all this familiarity with these 'Ploons' in that frame of reference, all kinds of information you've acquired and opinions you've formed about, if nothing else, colds and cold season and so on.      It'd get a whole lot easier to make a moral judgement as to whether or not murdering these 'Ploons' was acceptable or not because of that courtesy of your more familiar ideas of relation to what these 'Ploons' are.


Now, all that said and accounted for, I posit that morality cannot be, in any human terms of relevance, anything other than subjective.     We cannot render a moral view on something we're not aware of in the first place.     If there are objective, cosmic distinctions of right and wrong, we don't actually know about them. 

We know a great deal of what we imagine, of what we suppose and of what we desire to believe.    Nothing more.
« Last Edit: March 06, 2012, 07:37:09 PM by Jake »
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Offline rickymooston

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Re: Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« Reply #9 on: March 06, 2012, 10:26:02 PM »
Agreeing with the posts i have seen so far
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Offline GodlessHeathen

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Re: Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« Reply #10 on: March 06, 2012, 11:53:10 PM »
Now, all that said and accounted for, I posit that morality cannot be, in any human terms of relevance, anything other than subjective.     We cannot render a moral view on something we're not aware of in the first place.     If there are objective, cosmic distinctions of right and wrong, we don't actually know about them. 

Jake,
You have me convinced.... that all morality is subjective within our limited frame of reference.

Reading through more of the debate forum contributions on the subject, I have come to the conclusion that there is no "ought" for any basis for morality given. For example, let's say we grant that a god actually exists and that said god's actions define what is "good", we still have no good reason why we "ought" to emulate said god's morality. The same applies to whatever basis we give for morality - society's majority opinion, pleasure vs. pain, etc. While we may use any of these things to define what is "good", a reason why we "ought" to apply these standards of morality does not follow from them.
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Offline Jake

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Re: Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« Reply #11 on: March 07, 2012, 01:03:50 AM »
Now, all that said and accounted for, I posit that morality cannot be, in any human terms of relevance, anything other than subjective.     We cannot render a moral view on something we're not aware of in the first place.     If there are objective, cosmic distinctions of right and wrong, we don't actually know about them. 

Jake,
You have me convinced.... that all morality is subjective within our limited frame of reference.


In that acknowledgement, consider then the cases made for objective morality if we humans are only, in fact, capable of morality in subjective terms.

There is no objective reference known that demonstrates any interpretable, let alone definitive, morality; where are such suppositions coming from, and with what authority is a claimant of objective morality's factuality establishing that assertion?

In my thinking, it's pretty simple; we don't know what we can't know, and we don't know what we don't know yet.     Root of the matter in either hand, for the intellectually honest, is that nobody knows if there is, in fact, any moralized function of the cosmos.   

Could there be?  Perhaps, though the mythologicaly and religiously based claims made almost certainly don't do a better job of determining what is and isn't so about reality around us than other, typically scientific methods.   If there is, we don't know that.    Is it a matter of can't or that we simply don't -yet-?     We don't even know enough to know that much.

There's no dispute to be had on whether or not there are things we can't know.    There's no dispute to be had on that there are things we don't know because we haven't learned them yet, or perhaps even imagined they're there to know.   

So, just what basis could we possibly have to blatantly claim knowledge of cosmic morality when these things that don't just fly in the face of even imagining ourselves qualified to speak with such authority, but tally up to being so intellectually dishonest and absurd as to scarcely be believed as being posited in any serious fashion at all.   It seems the province of deliberate comedy, not intelligent discussion.

What argument could any human make to even begin justifying any claim at all to special knowledge of -objective morality-...when we are so terribly subjective and not only subjective, but pitifully small and brief in both the scope and scale of our capacities to perceive relative to the cosmos some like to pretend to know so much about, but also in the known indications (not even considering the unknown) of things we don't know -yet- about things we know a little about already?

If you're me doing the perceiving, the notion is so boggling as to easily come off as dangerously insane.
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Offline rickymooston

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Re: Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« Reply #12 on: March 07, 2012, 04:01:31 AM »
I agree with the gist of your post but I see some errors or points of disagreement which I've outlined below.

I agree with this statement, There isn't any such thing as objective morality, just subjective morality that's been accepted by more people.

Morality in general reflects a society rather than an individual.

When we are discussing morality, we are really discussing culture.


There isn't any such thing as objective morality, just subjective morality that's been accepted by more people.

Most moral systems are functional and the question is begged why its accepted by many people.

Quote
  And that includes religious morality systems.  One of the axioms of morality is that you have to be able to recognize the difference between moral and immoral behavior, so I don't believe it can ultimately come from something like natural selection, because natural selection is utterly indifferent to moral matters.

The statement in bold is circular reasoning and for your information, a form of "natural" selection of memes ("ideas") has been apparently formalized into a theory by Blackwell et al. The theory is, memes like religions, value systems, design ideas, languages, evolve in a way that is analogous to Darwinian biological evolution ... Ironically, some of the humourous creationist examples of "evolution" are in fact possibly true in some cases in the context of memes rather than genes.

There are aspects of human moral behavior that probably in my opinion are related in some way to natural selection:
1) empathy - an instinct for empathy exists. I can imagine this serves a purpose in making  individuals in a group closer together which protects the group.
2) conformity - this is also group behavior which protects each of the members of the group. Those who don't conform risk being rejected by the group which can lead to problems
3) language -  humans have a linguistic instinct which allows them to codify rules.

Enforcing the rule of not killing has an obvious benefit to those who support that idea. That is, each of them, is less likely to be killed and therefore more likely to breed.

On the otherhand, most human moral systems justify killing in war or self defense and that is also condusive to surviving.

Quote
  All that matters in natural selection is whether a behavior allows a species to successfully pass on its genes to the next generation, so (for example), you could have a species which killed and ate members which would not survive to puberty or which were too old to reproduce, and it might do quite well.  Yet, such a behavior would be subjective in nature, not objective.

One point of correction, "all that matters in natural selection is whether behavior allows an individual to pass on its genes or not".

If a given species has the same strategy, that would indeed be "objective".

Why I agree that human morality is subjective :

The proof is in the pudding. Several well known moral systems exist and each of them values different things.

There may be a general "common core"; e.g., murder is usually immoral. There are functional reasons for this which is why, most likely its usually immoral.

I think human morality is best understood by understanding:
1) The human social instincts such as the 3 I mentioned above
2) The theory of memes viewed in the context of the history of a culture
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Offline Luke

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Re: Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« Reply #13 on: March 07, 2012, 06:21:32 AM »
I think my problem here is that I am being more flexible with my use of the terms Subjective and Objective.

To me, there is an objective source to my morality - one that is outside of my power to influence and given to me by the society that I live in. When talking about the wider morality of society, then it could be argued again that there is an objective source in the proto-morality of the animal kingdom. When talking about Morality as a concept then I would agree that it is Subjective.

But when most theists use it, they seem to be confusing personal morality with the concept of morality, and in order to counter their arguments one has to understand what they are actually arguing.

Not sure if I'm making any sense here!

Offline MadBunny

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Re: Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« Reply #14 on: March 07, 2012, 02:10:20 PM »
Theists in general like to argue that there is a universal moral law (UML), and because, if they can show that UML spans all cultures of the earth, then, they argue; there is an outside source of morality.

Give a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a night.  Set a man on fire and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

Offline GodlessHeathen

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Re: Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« Reply #15 on: March 07, 2012, 05:22:54 PM »
Theists in general like to argue that there is a universal moral law (UML), and because, if they can show that UML spans all cultures of the earth, then, they argue; there is an outside source of morality.

Unfortunately, even if they can show that there is a universal moral law, they still cannot prove that its source is "God."
"That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence" (Christopher Hitchens).

Online pianodwarf

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Re: Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« Reply #16 on: March 07, 2012, 05:46:27 PM »
Unfortunately, even if they can show that there is a universal moral law, they still cannot prove that its source is "God."

That's exactly correct.  For example, I believe it can be shown that there's a universal moral law -- no, I'm not going to try to explain it here; it took me years of studying philosophy to get it and it would take forever for me to even start getting into it, so don't anyone get any ideas about asking -- and I'm an atheist.

The thing is, most apologists aren't really being honest when they present their case.  What they say is, "{Kalam Cosmological Argument}, therefore we know that God exists", when what they really mean is usually something more like, "{Kalam Cosmological Argument}, therefore we know that Jesus died for our sins".  They do this because they know that the latter case would be far more difficult to make than the former, so they try to "sneak up on it".
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Offline MadBunny

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Re: Objective vs. Subjective Morality
« Reply #17 on: March 07, 2012, 06:10:07 PM »
Theists in general like to argue that there is a universal moral law (UML), and because, if they can show that UML spans all cultures of the earth, then, they argue; there is an outside source of morality.

Unfortunately, even if they can show that there is a universal moral law, they still cannot prove that its source is "God."

Essentially correct.  In a way the pursuit of UML is very similar to somebody using the Fibonacci number as proof of the divine.

As PianoDwarf intimates, there may be an underlying structure that allows these to work, but it's basically still just "you can't explain this, therefore Jesus" level argumentation.

Give a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a night.  Set a man on fire and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.