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 Are there any moral facts? 

Are there any moral facts?
Poll ended at January 1st, 2011, 6:50 pm
Yes. 25%  25%  [ 4 ]
No. 63%  63%  [ 10 ]
I'm not sure. 0%  0%  [ 0 ]
Other (I'll explain in my post...). 13%  13%  [ 2 ]
Total votes : 16

 Are there any moral facts? 
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Joined: December 2nd, 2010, 1:03 am
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A simple question: are there any moral facts (or in other words, are there any true moral claims about reality)?

Possible examples might be:
It is morally right/wrong to do [such and such]...
[Such and such] is morally good/bad...
One should/should not do [such and such]...
One ought/ought not to do [such and such]...

Please choose an option in the poll, share how you voted and why you did so!


December 2nd, 2010, 6:50 pm
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Qualification needed I think, Carmen, are your "moral facts" the same as "moral absolutes"? Are we only considering things that apply in every culture and belief system on Earth? Are there any such things?

With regards to belief systems it cannot be yours or mine (or anyone else's for that matter) since things that are acceptable to me in the "right" circumstances (value judgement right away) such as exactly equal rights for the gay members of society, abortion and assisted termination for examples, may not be met with such approval in the Christian church to which you belong. They are not "immoral" to me.

Though I have values which I try to keep to I consider myself to be pragmatic rather than rigidly moral, so I suppose I should say, "No" to your question. Each occasion would require a specific context, there may be times when "doing the right thing" seems totally immoral.

If a woman kills her violent husband, in a state of anger and during an attack, after years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, is she immoral? If she does the same in a state of fear how does one judge her then? If she leaves him and goes to live with a kind and supportive man how then? Or should she put herself in a purely platonic state of association, denying herself sexual love? Which are moral and which immoral?

IIRC all such discussions either dissolve into acrimony or come out in favour of the motion that moral absolutes are not a human quality.

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December 2nd, 2010, 10:55 pm
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I voted no for the reasons Dave gave. The word "moral" to me has a judgemental feel to it. Would substituting the word "ethical" be less subjective? I would be more likely to have voted "yes" if the question had been phrased this way as I do feel there are some ethical absolutes.

Aghh! I'm outta my depth here!

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December 2nd, 2010, 11:27 pm
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IMO, there are no independent moral absolutes. That does not mean that I do not hold certain moral views, either because of my evolved human nature or my own judgement.


December 3rd, 2010, 12:00 am
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Re: Moral Absolutes

One can certainly be a moral realist (someone who votes Yes in the poll) without being a moral absolutist (but not vice versa). For example, a moral realist could assert that all moral truths can be put in the form "It is right/wrong to do X in situation Y." However, a moral realist is necessarily a moral objectivist (note the small 'o'!), that is, someone who believes that there exist moral truths independent of individual opinion or social custom.


December 3rd, 2010, 12:28 am
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Matt, I'm not trying to be difficult, but I don't think we can get any further until you define (and maybe defend) "truth". Formyself, I'd say (as they said in Russia about Pravda), there's no truth in Truth.


December 3rd, 2010, 10:06 am
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I am not sure that a "moral realist" can vote "yes" in the poll. I might call myself a moral realist in that I feel there are, in the society of which I am a member, I recognise that there are limits to my behaviour. If I go beyond those limits I may suffer some sort of disapprobation, from being shunned by my neighbours to whatever the law decrees is a just punishment.

Now, is this self limitation due to a "moral fortitude" in my psychology or merely because I recognise that having people like one is far more pleasant than the opposite? Those patterns have been instilled in me by instruction and experience during that past 66 years. Which of them would have survived had I lived entirely alone for all of my life? It is only in that situation where, in my belief, that any moral absolutes can reveal themselves.

What little information can be gathered from the survival of abandoned children seems to indicate that survival is the only value, fight for food against all and sundry. In groups, and that includes animals, rules do develop so, one might say that those rules that a pack of wolves lives to, built in without benefit of religious or legal guidance, is the closest one might get to "moral absolutes".

Oh, and this word "belief" that often gets used to denote some sort of moral structure; I have beliefs, but when I come to analyse them most (like my belief that the woman who raised me was my biological mother) can be proved (or not) by scientific means. That the majority of people around me are good and decent folk in their dealing with the rest of society (or, at least, not a real danger to it) can be checked by statistics. Etc. I simply cannot see the need to believe in an unprovable entity just to achieve understandings that the experience of life instructs me in quite adequately.

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December 3rd, 2010, 10:56 am
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I believe there are moral facts simply because I think there are true statements of a moral nature. An example is "The Nazis were wrong to try exterminating the Jews". If asked to justify this judgement, I would say that it is so because it is an example of a more general moral fact, that it is wrong to harm innocent people. If asked to justify this, I would need more time and reflection.


December 3rd, 2010, 11:43 am
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animist wrote:
I believe there are moral facts simply because I think there are true statements of a moral nature. An example is "The Nazis were wrong to try exterminating the Jews". If asked to justify this judgement, I would say that it is so because it is an example of a more general moral fact, that it is wrong to harm innocent people. If asked to justify this, I would need more time and reflection.

Doesn't that demonstrate a moral conclusion, not a moral fact? We arrive at this moral conclusion because we apply human reason to it. We consider it reasonable to exterminate the polio virus from the earth. We may consider it OK to exterminate some non-indigenous species of animal from a country. We may consider it OK to exterminate all rats from your house. But we don't consider it OK (to put it ridiculously mildly) to exterminate a 'race' of humans. But would the dinosaurs have had moral scruples about exterminating all humans (by eating them) had we co-existed on the earth? I doubt it.

What is true for us, is not necessarily true for another animal. That is one reason why I call myself a humanist; because I make judgements (including moral ones) based on being a human, accepting the human predisposition to certain things, which may be irrelevant or even wrong for other creatures.


December 3rd, 2010, 1:10 pm
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Nick wrote:
animist wrote:
I believe there are moral facts simply because I think there are true statements of a moral nature. An example is "The Nazis were wrong to try exterminating the Jews". If asked to justify this judgement, I would say that it is so because it is an example of a more general moral fact, that it is wrong to harm innocent people. If asked to justify this, I would need more time and reflection.

Doesn't that demonstrate a moral conclusion, not a moral fact? We arrive at this moral conclusion because we apply human reason to it. We consider it reasonable to exterminate the polio virus from the earth. We may consider it OK to exterminate some non-indigenous species of animal from a country. We may consider it OK to exterminate all rats from your house. But we don't consider it OK (to put it ridiculously mildly) to exterminate a 'race' of humans. But would the dinosaurs have had moral scruples about exterminating all humans (by eating them) had we co-existed on the earth? I doubt it.

What is true for us, is not necessarily true for another animal. That is one reason why I call myself a humanist; because I make judgements (including moral ones) based on being a human, accepting the human predisposition to certain things, which may be irrelevant or even wrong for other creatures.

since animals don't make moral judgements or act in "moral" ways, I'm not sure that what you say about them is relevant; I'm not even sure I understand it. A conclusion can be a fact, and moral conclusions are moral facts which generate moral judgements - which are also facts, in principle. I think that moral facts are unlike other facts in many ways, however.


December 3rd, 2010, 1:42 pm
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I voted no, despite the fact that I frequently make moral statements myself, of the "she shouldn't have done this" or "that was wrong" variety. But then I frequently make aesthetic statements, too, and yet I don't believe that there are any aesthetic facts. Morality and aesthetics, and lots of other things, are matters of values rather than facts. Values, I believe, are subjective, not objective. We all frequently make statements based on our own subjective values that make them sound like facts: "Skateboarding is fun." "This carrot cake is delicious." "That's not fair!" — even if, when pressed, we acknowledge that not everyone shares those values, and we don't insist that we are uniquely right. But some values are so widely shared that "subjective" doesn't seem to be the right word to describe them, implying, as it does, that it's all a matter of taste, of personal preference. They're intersubjective to the extent that they're quasi-objective, and so perhaps they function as quasi-facts. "The Nazis were wrong to try exterminating the Jews" is probably one of them.

Emma


December 3rd, 2010, 3:24 pm
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Image @ Emma

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December 3rd, 2010, 4:00 pm
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Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
I voted no, despite the fact that I frequently make moral statements myself, of the "she shouldn't have done this" or "that was wrong" variety. But then I frequently make aesthetic statements, too, and yet I don't believe that there are any aesthetic facts. Morality and aesthetics, and lots of other things, are matters of values rather than facts. Values, I believe, are subjective, not objective. We all frequently make statements based on our own subjective values that make them sound like facts: "Skateboarding is fun." "This carrot cake is delicious." "That's not fair!" — even if, when pressed, we acknowledge that not everyone shares those values, and we don't insist that we are uniquely right. But some values are so widely shared that "subjective" doesn't seem to be the right word to describe them, implying, as it does, that it's all a matter of taste, of personal preference. They're intersubjective to the extent that they're quasi-objective, and so perhaps they function as quasi-facts. "The Nazis were wrong to try exterminating the Jews" is probably one of them.

Emma
see what you mean, and I agree about aesthetics, but I suppose I think ethics/morality is both more important and maybe therefore more objective than aesthetics (I know you and I have been thru this before so won't go on too long). "This cake is delicious" just means that I like this cake, but "that actions is wrong" somehow means more than I don't like that action. I certainly think that moral facts, if such there be, are not absolute and not verifiable in the away that most other types of facts are, but if you start using terms like "quasi-facts" I think you end up with talking about "quasi-true". I think a couple of other people (as well as me) voted "yes" - any opinions?


December 3rd, 2010, 5:26 pm
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Nick wrote:
IMO, there are no independent moral absolutes. That does not mean that I do not hold certain moral views, either because of my evolved human nature or my own judgement.

I think there could be moral facts, like the ones I mentioned, without bringing in absolutes; for instance, it is IMO a moral fact that we should not kill innocent people, but there could be exceptions (eg bombing in a just war)


December 3rd, 2010, 5:29 pm
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animist wrote:
Nick wrote:
IMO, there are no independent moral absolutes. That does not mean that I do not hold certain moral views, either because of my evolved human nature or my own judgement.

I think there could be moral facts, like the ones I mentioned, without bringing in absolutes; for instance, it is IMO a moral fact that we should not kill innocent people, but there could be exceptions (eg bombing in a just war)

Now there's a whole new argument in itself!

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December 3rd, 2010, 5:56 pm
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animist wrote:
Nick wrote:
IMO, there are no independent moral absolutes. That does not mean that I do not hold certain moral views, either because of my evolved human nature or my own judgement.

I think there could be moral facts, like the ones I mentioned, without bringing in absolutes; for instance, it is IMO a moral fact that we should not kill innocent people, but there could be exceptions (eg bombing in a just war)

Hmmm... That surely prove such a thing is not a fact. To my mind, a fact is an absolute. I think our disagreement is largely linguistic. But my problem with your approach is that if you allow "facts" and "absolutes" it becomes increasingly difficult to question notions which religious proponents regard as integral to their religious beliefs. Much better to go right back to the roots.


December 3rd, 2010, 5:59 pm
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Nick wrote:
iHmmm... That surely prove such a thing is not a fact. To my mind, a fact is an absolute. I think our disagreement is largely linguistic. But my problem with your approach is that if you allow "facts" and "absolutes" it becomes increasingly difficult to question notions which religious proponents regard as integral to their religious beliefs. Much better to go right back to the roots.
well, I am not allowing absolutes, and I think humanists should in general avoid the word - it does not add much to a statement and implies a fanaticism which is decidedly non-humanist. I don't think non-moral facts have to be absolutes, since many empirical "facts" are generalisations or approximations which admit of exceptions and qualifications. I don't really understand your last two sentences.


December 3rd, 2010, 6:30 pm
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I agree with animist that a fact doesn't have to be an absolute. For example, the boiling point of water depends on the atmospheric pressure, which changes with elevation. Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius under standard conditions at sea level (at one atmosphere of pressure), but it boils at around 69 degrees Celsius on Mount Everest. I was assuming that "fact", as Matt was using it, referred to a claim corresponding to objective reality. The reason I don't think a relative moral claim is a fact is not that it isn't an absolute; it's that it isn't something that corresponds to objective reality.

Emma


December 3rd, 2010, 7:03 pm
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animist wrote:
see what you mean, and I agree about aesthetics, but I suppose I think ethics/morality is both more important and maybe therefore more objective than aesthetics (I know you and I have been thru this before so won't go on too long).
I know you put a "maybe" in there, but I'm curious about why you think ethics/morality being more important than aesthetics implies that it is more objective.
animist wrote:
"This cake is delicious" just means that I like this cake, but "that actions is wrong" somehow means more than I don't like that action.
Yes, it does mean more than that, but one could say that "This Botticelli is beautiful" somehow means more than "I like this Botticelli." Or "That book was good" somehow means more than "I liked that book." They are different kinds of judgement, with different kinds of criteria. But they're still judgements, rather than statements of fact, as I see it.
animist wrote:
I certainly think that moral facts, if such there be, are not absolute and not verifiable in the away that most other types of facts are, but if you start using terms like "quasi-facts" I think you end up with talking about "quasi-true".
Well, I'll try to avoid that. :) I could point out, though, that if you're going to allow "moral facts" to be a different type of fact, you could end up talking about a different type of truth.

Emma


December 3rd, 2010, 7:23 pm
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Although I'm not too good at this sort of stuff, I ticked other.

I too see a difference between personal judgement and facts. As far as humanity is concerned, the facts are that we need as basics: water, shelter, food, warmth or cooling, somewhere safe to urinate and defecate. After millennia of our existence on this planet we still haven't even managed to get that right. (Despite religion).
To me, there are no moral facts per se - and certainly not passed down from on high - but moral judgements are things that humans create from the complexity of living together in harmony and fairness. And to my mind they are best done by us.


December 3rd, 2010, 8:28 pm
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