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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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animist wrote:
this is really an improvised post which results from my pressing "submit" twice. I think that "non-naturalism" is the wrong term for the important view of Moore, ie that moral judgments are not to be reduced to ANY other particular quality. I think this poor choice of terminology accounts for Matt's confusion over this matter - this last comment is intended to evoke a response from him!

I may well be confused on many matters such as these, but I don't think so in this case. I am not claiming that Moore would agree with the way I have defined it (I have no idea) but I am defining it as commonly understood in its most general sense. The debate about non-naturalism is about what exactly a 'property of the natural world' (or a natural property) is. Emma has already provided a good link that talks about the different ways non-naturalism is understood, which discusses the different senses of "natural" that are used.

animist wrote:
the last statement is true, but you are simply wrong to think that you can redefine non-naturalism as consistent with identifying goodness with God's nature or commands (what's the big distinction between these two?). Please just read my post - and Emma's reply, in which she has downloaded some relevant articles. You do seem to make strange distinctions (eg between identifying and reducing), while arbitrarily imposing your own definitions! Your example of redness is not a reduction but an analysis, I would say.

I don't think I am "redefining" non-naturalism at all (see above), and I think there is a clear difference between identification and reduction:

Identification is where you say two properties are actually the same thing. Reduction is where a property is defined (analysed is fine) in terms of another property or properties. You could think of it analogously in mathematical terms: indentification is "x is equivalent to y"; reduction is "x is a function of y and not equivalent to y". The key idea is "basicality" - is rightness, for example, one of the basic properties which defines other properties (like wisdom perhaps), or is it defined by basic properties (like degree of pain).

Matt
P.S. Who is the third person?
Edited to add: and the fourth? :wave:


December 11th, 2010, 12:06 am
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Carmen Christi wrote:
animist wrote:
this is really an improvised post which results from my pressing "submit" twice. I think that "non-naturalism" is the wrong term for the important view of Moore, ie that moral judgments are not to be reduced to ANY other particular quality. I think this poor choice of terminology accounts for Matt's confusion over this matter - this last comment is intended to evoke a response from him!

I may well be confused on many matters such as these, but I don't think so in this case. I am not claiming that Moore would agree with the way I have defined it (I have no idea) but I am defining it as commonly understood in its most general sense. The debate about non-naturalism is about what exactly a 'property of the natural world' (or a natural property) is. Emma has already provided a good link that talks about the different ways non-naturalism is understood, which discusses the different senses of "natural" that are used.
yes, and have you read it? Clearly, the point made there is that Moore was concerned to establish the autonomy of ethics from natural science, and that is why he called his theory "non-naturalism". No mention of divine command was made, but only because, I assume, religion was already out of the picture. Now what you are trying to do is to insinuate a religious dimension into the opposition and put it on the side of non-naturalism because it suits your argument. But no, sorry, you simply cannot do this! My textbook ("John Hospers's Introduction to Philosophical Analysis"), in its account of Moore's theory, CLEARLY STATES THAT IDENTIFYING GOOD WITH THE WILL OF GOD IS A FORM OF NATURALISM. Please stop confusing this issue.

Carmen Christi wrote:
animist wrote:
the last statement is true, but you are simply wrong to think that you can redefine non-naturalism as consistent with identifying goodness with God's nature or commands (what's the big distinction between these two?). Please just read my post - and Emma's reply, in which she has downloaded some relevant articles. You do seem to make strange distinctions (eg between identifying and reducing), while arbitrarily imposing your own definitions! Your example of redness is not a reduction but an analysis, I would say.

I don't think I am "redefining" non-naturalism at all (see above), and I think there is a clear difference between identification and reduction:

Identification is where you say two properties are actually the same thing. Reduction is where a property is defined (analysed is fine) in terms of another property or properties. You could think of it analogously in mathematical terms:

indentification is "x is equivalent to y"; reduction is "x is a function of y and not equivalent to y". The key idea is "basicality" - is rightness, for example, one of the basic properties which defines other properties (like wisdom perhaps), or is it defined by basic properties (like degree of pain).
ok, you may well be right - I was not really claiming that there could not be a difference, just that it did not seem specially relevant

Carmen Christi wrote:
P.S. Who is the third person?
Edited to add: and the fourth? :wave:
I don't know, I was asking this myself! Fourth person I suppose could be Chuck Jones, but he seems to be going thru Troll detection processing at present


December 11th, 2010, 1:15 am
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animist wrote:
yes, and have you read it? Clearly, the point made there is that Moore was concerned to establish the autonomy of ethics from natural science, and that is why he called his theory "non-naturalism". No mention of divine command was made, but only because, I assume, religion was already out of the picture. Now what you are trying to do is to insinuate a religious dimension into the opposition and put it on the side of non-naturalism because it suits your argument. But no, sorry, you simply cannot do this! My textbook ("John Hospers's Introduction to Philosophical Analysis"), in its account of Moore's theory, CLEARLY STATES THAT IDENTIFYING GOOD WITH THE WILL OF GOD IS A FORM OF NATURALISM. Please stop confusing this issue.

Again, I'm not saying that the definition of non-naturalism that I'm using (which is a perfectly normal definition - see quotes below) is the same as Moore's. You asked me what I mean by non-naturalism, and I gave you a definition. I've also not made any claims about whether DCT is non-naturalistic (in fact I plainly said that I don't know - I think it probably depends on how you formulate it). I claimed that identifying goodness with God's nature is non-naturalistic (by the definition I'm using with or without "of the natural world") and you accept that there is a difference between identification and reduction.

Quote:
Most often, ‘non-naturalism’ denotes the metaphysical thesis that moral properties exist and are not identical with or reducible to any natural property or properties in some interesting sense of ‘natural’. However, just which sense of ‘natural’ is most apt in this context is highly controversial and I shall return to this point shortly.
(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - "Moral Non-naturalism")

I note that none of the different possible definitions of 'natural' given in the article would apply to God's nature.
Quote:
Ethical naturalism is a reductionist view that holds that ethical terms can be defined by or reduced to natural, scientific properties that are biological, psychological, sociological or physical in nature.
(Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview - Craig & Moreland)
Thus on their view ethical non-naturalism is the view that ethical terms cannot be defined by or reduced to natural, scientific properties.

Matt


December 13th, 2010, 9:46 pm
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Carmen Christi wrote:
Again, I'm not saying that the definition of non-naturalism that I'm using (which is a perfectly normal definition - see quotes below) is the same as Moore's. You asked me what I mean by non-naturalism, and I gave you a definition. I've also not made any claims about whether DCT is non-naturalistic (in fact I plainly said that I don't know - I think it probably depends on how you formulate it). I claimed that identifying goodness with God's nature is non-naturalistic (by the definition I'm using with or without "of the natural world") and you accept that there is a difference between identification and reduction.
Quote:
Most often, ‘non-naturalism’ denotes the metaphysical thesis that moral properties exist and are not identical with or reducible to any natural property or properties in some interesting sense of ‘natural’. However, just which sense of ‘natural’ is most apt in this context is highly controversial and I shall return to this point shortly. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - "Moral Non-naturalism")

I note that none of the different possible definitions of 'natural' given in the article would apply to God's nature.
well, that is an over-statement; it is pretty unclear what exactly the term means. BUT did you read further on that Moore accused so-called non-naturalists of the naturalistic fallacy? "...a view according to which goodness is the property of being commanded by God where God is understood as existing outside of nature is also charged with having committed the naturalistic fallacy". That clinches it, surely! All that happened is that Moore chose a poor term for what he meant, and BTW, you cannot just distance yourself from Moore in the way that you do by talking about a "normal" definition; clearly his views remain the basis for the discussion, and the obvious interpretation is the first of the three possible ones - viz that moral terms cannot be reduced to non-normative ones. I am not sure of two things: why you try to distinguish between God's commands and God's goodness (since it can only because we think his nature is good that we feel we should obey his commands), and why you think the distinction between identification and reduction is important here.
Carmen Christi wrote:
Quote:
Ethical naturalism is a reductionist view that holds that ethical terms can be defined by
or reduced to natural, scientific properties that are biological, psychological, sociological or physical in nature. (Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview - Craig & Moreland)
Thus on their view ethical non-naturalism is the view that ethical terms cannot be defined by or reduced to natural, scientific properties.
Correct, but so? This does not help with what views violate the naturalistic fallacy.


December 15th, 2010, 10:01 pm
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this thread seemed to be dying (it was initiated by likeable Xian apologist Matt/Carmen Christi, who also seems to have died as far as TH is concerned), so I thought I would revive it. Most people in Matt's poll seemed to think that there are no moral facts, ie that moral judgments are not "true", and that this is presumably because they are subjective rather than objective in nature. One question from this is - does this apply to the humanists' Golden Rule? Questions arising from this last question are - do you as a humanist actually try to apply the Golden Rule, and if so how? Another question is - what actually do we mean by "objective"? Does it mean "valid", and if so do all of you who voted "no" in the poll mean that your own moral judgments are not valid? Are many of you actually ethical relativists, ie you think one moral statement is of no more value than another? If so, is this compatible with the Golden Rule and with any other moral judgments that you make? I won't provide any "answers" at present, but obviously I do have opinions on many of these questions.


December 27th, 2010, 12:36 pm
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)
animist wrote:
this thread seemed to be dying (it was initiated by likeable Xian apologist Matt/Carmen Christi, who also seems to have died as far as TH is concerned), so I thought I would revive it
. Lot of questions there, Animist. From a position of zero formal philosophical training, I could chuck in my opinions, firstly to support your attempt to kick off a discussion, and secondly because philosophy is one of those subjects on which I like to pretend I know something. (Which I don't, of course.) So, here goes:

)
animist wrote:
Most people in Matt's poll seemed to think that there are no moral facts, ie that moral judgments are not "true", and that this is presumably because they are subjective rather than objective in nature. One question from this is - does this apply to the humanists' Golden Rule?

Yes. For me all 'oughts' are opinions, preferences, socially conditioned notions, or similar.

)
animist wrote:

Questions arising from this last question are - do you as a humanist actually try to apply the Golden Rule, and if so how?

I don't think of myself as a Humanist; I relate to the basic emotion behind the 'GR', in that I feel other people are pretty much like me, and would suffer in the same way I would under the same conditions. And I have no wish to hurt people, (usually).

)
animist wrote:
Another question is - what actually do we mean by "objective"?

My way of using this word is referring to the things that exist independent of conscious thought. Thing that exist only in the mind I call 'subjective'. If philosophers have some special way of using this word I would be happy to learn better!

)
animist wrote:
Does it mean "valid", and if so do all of you who voted "no" in the poll mean that your own moral judgments are not valid?


A very long time ago I had a serious debate with a self-styled Nazi philosopher. We ended up agreeing on one point, viz; Communication is only possible when people use the same words to mean the same things. This means that logical argument can only proceed on the basis of some agreed assumptions. Therefore for a philosopher of any ethical system to argue logically with someone who completely rejects the fundamental assumptions behind that system is impossible. He (the Nazi) took as the basic ethical concept the idea of defending and promoting the advantage of one's own family, tribe, nation etc. I took for my basic concept the idea that all humans are equally valuable. We both agreed that, in the absence of a knowable god of the rules, neither his opinion nor mine could claim any absolute validity. I detested his philosophy as passionately as he despised mine. These were our preferences, our emotional feelings, which we took to be, for all practical purposes, 'absolute truths' insofar as our decision-making needed some solid basis. But absolutely valid? We both thought not.
I need hardly add that this was the only thing we agreed on.

)
animist wrote:
I won't provide any "answers" at present, but obviously I do have opinions on many of these questions.


So you think they're just 'opinions' too? :)


December 27th, 2010, 2:29 pm
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thundril wrote:
From a position of zero formal philosophical training, I could chuck in my opinions, firstly to support your attempt to kick off a discussion, and secondly because philosophy is one of those subjects on which I like to pretend I know something.
I have strong opinions on the subject of philosophy itself, and think it should be taught in schools. I did major in the subject but am certainly no "trained" professional, and though it does help a bit when arguing this in this great forum, it maybe can get in the way too - and can put people off if one starts using the jargon, formal logic etc.

I won't say too much on the thread topic itself for a bit, as I hope other people will join in again (anyway, I had said a lot already, and if you have read my posts, you will know that I would like to think that some moral judgments are true). But your argument with the nazi is interesting. That is exactly why too much ethical relativism in practice does not work IMO - you or I do not really believe that the nazi has any good reasons for believing has he does, it is just that we cannot easily prove him wrong. One way to try to would be to show up his racial theories as rubbish, but from what you say, he did not really try to advance a coherent theory about say the Jews or non-white people.

BTW, I was wondering if you stayed in your truck over Xmas - it sounds great, and if I lived nearer Cardiff I would pop over and see you - with your consent, of course!

(later)I meant what I just said in a not-very-serious way, but it then occurred to me that I was breaking the Golden Rule, however innocuously and inadvertently, by not thinking how what I say might affect someone else, or how I would feel in the reverse position. If you live in a truck it makes your home seem somehow less private than a conventional house would be, and also more intriguing. But you no doubt value your privacy as much as I do, and I am not sure I should even have mentioned popping in on you in the way I did. Anyway, don't worry, I won't be along! Best wishes.


December 28th, 2010, 12:06 am
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I think that to attempt a constant adherence to and practice of the Golden Rule is a path to neurosis at least! :D

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December 28th, 2010, 12:00 pm
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animist wrote:
[ you or I do not really believe that the nazi has any good reasons for believing has he does, it is just that we cannot easily prove him wrong.


On the contrary, animist, I think the reasons why the Nazi thinks as he does are just as real as the reasons why I think as I do; personal/cultural experience, hormonal balance, mental capacity, etc. In my day to day life, I assume that my moral basis is the only sound one; when confronted with fascist behaviour I feel compelled to oppose it. I really do believe that racism harms all of us, including its practitioners. Likewise Homophobia, anti-Semitism, mysogyny, and all the other forms of xenophobia seem to me to be socialy harmful, and therefore have to be challenged. But a person brought up in a completely different culture would have completely different ideas and emotions. Of course I feel very deeply that my political/social values are 'right', and therefore that contrary values must be 'wrong'. But this is not the same as thinking 'there is an absolute moral truth somewhere, but I can't quite prove it'.


December 29th, 2010, 12:31 pm
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thundril wrote:
animist wrote:
[ you or I do not really believe that the nazi has any good reasons for believing has he does, it is just that we cannot easily prove him wrong.


On the contrary, animist, I think the reasons why the Nazi thinks as he does are just as real as the reasons why I think as I do; personal/cultural experience, hormonal balance, mental capacity, etc.
well, what I said that we don't think the nazi had GOOD reasons for thinking as he does, not that his reasons are not REAL (ie sincere). You are saying much as I think most TH people have done over this (apart from Matt and me, for different reasons). I need to get out a longer reply, to you and Emma particularly, which covers examples like your nazi and her taboo belief system. Be back in a day or so!


December 29th, 2010, 1:15 pm
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animist wrote:
thundril wrote:
animist wrote:
[ you or I do not really believe that the nazi has any good reasons for believing has he does, it is just that we cannot easily prove him wrong.


On the contrary, animist, I think the reasons why the Nazi thinks as he does are just as real as the reasons why I think as I do; personal/cultural experience, hormonal balance, mental capacity, etc.
well, what I said that we don't think the nazi had GOOD reasons for thinking as he does, not that his reasons are not REAL (ie sincere). You are saying much as I think most TH people have done over this (apart from Matt and me, for different reasons). I need to get out a longer reply, to you and Emma particularly, which covers examples like your nazi and her taboo belief system. Be back in a day or so!


Again, I must clarify.
Yes i do think the Nazi has good reasons for thinking as he does. As long as you realise that by using the word 'good' I am not pre-empting the question we are supposed to be exploring; i.e. I do not consider his childhood conditioning a 'justification' in any moral sense, for his being a Nazi. But as an explanation, it is just as true as my explanation for being the way I am..
That doesn't in any way deter me from taking whatever action I consider necessary to prevent him acting on his beliefs!


December 29th, 2010, 5:37 pm
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animist wrote:
Most people in Matt's poll seemed to think that there are no moral facts, ie that moral judgments are not "true", and that this is presumably because they are subjective rather than objective in nature. One question from this is - does this apply to the humanists' Golden Rule?
Yes. (But the Golden Rule is one of those ideas that crops up all over the place. It doesn't belong to humanists any more than it belongs to Christians or Confucians. And I'm not aware that there's a uniquely humanist formulation of it.)
animist wrote:
Questions arising from this last question are - do you as a humanist actually try to apply the Golden Rule, and if so how?
Well, I don't try to apply it "as a humanist". Actually, I rarely try to apply it at all. That's not to say that applying it comes instinctively. I was taught it, as a child, by my mother, who learned it when she was a child, from reading Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies. That's why I always think of the Golden Rule in the form Do-as-you-would-be-done-by. (And The Water Babies has the advantage of Mrs Be-done-by-as-you-did to hammer the point home.) But anyway, I have certain ways of thinking and behaving that have been shaped by what I was taught as a child. It's also related to empathy, of course, but don't worry, I won't bang on about that again. :D And in any case, I think it's probably misleading to emphasise that aspect of the Golden Rule. I think it's more pragmatic than that. More about finding a way of living that enables you to get along OK with the people around you. You don't have to care about them. You can be quite selfish, I think, and still adopt the Golden Rule of Thumb in order to increase your chances of surviving and living comfortably and peacefully (if that's what you want). It could be as much a matter of prudence as morality.
animist wrote:
Another question is - what actually do we mean by "objective"? Does it mean "valid", and if so do all of you who voted "no" in the poll mean that your own moral judgments are not valid?
I don't think "objective" means the same as "valid", although I suppose there's a slight overlap in the dictionary definitions. But I could say also that my own moral judgements are not necessarily valid, either, in that they are not all well grounded in logic and they don't all have legal force. "Objective" in this context means something like "existing independently of people's perceptions and conceptions".
animist wrote:
Are many of you actually ethical relativists, ie you think one moral statement is of no more value than another?
I think that some moral statements are of greater value than others, but then I would, wouldn't I, because I'm the judge of that value. I don't think that some moral statements are objectively of greater value than others. But where there is a high level of intersubjective agreement, as there is in so many cases, it is possible to talk as if they were — or perhaps impossible not to talk as if they were. As for whether I'm a moral relativist, well, this is where the jargon comes in again. I'm a descriptive relativist, in that I recognise that people have different ideas about what is the morally right course of action in a particular circumstance. I'm not a meta-ethical relativist, in that I don't reject objective moral values just to replace them with culturally specific ones. Moral values vary within cultures as well as between them. And I am not a normative relativist, in that I don't believe we should always accept the behaviour of others when it runs counter to our personal or cultural moral standards. People will inevitably try to act on the basis of their own (genuinely held) moral values, and try to persuade others to act on the same moral values.
animist wrote:
If so, is this compatible with the Golden Rule and with any other moral judgments that you make?
Er ... yes, I ... I think so. But talking about this is a bit tricky, because our language is geared up to the idea that there are objective moral values, and it's very hard to step away from that. At least, I think it's very hard. But perhaps I haven't tried hard enough. I do think it's possible to make true ought statements — or, at least, ought statements well supported by evidence — so long as we include some kind of conditional clause, along the lines of "If we [want a certain outcome] then we should [prohibit a certain behaviour]". I suppose that gives us hypothetical imperatives instead of categorical imperatives (ugh! Kant!). And again, I suppose it's more about prudence than morality. If we don't generally bother with the "if" clauses, then perhaps that's because we assume that we all want the same things.
animist wrote:
I won't provide any "answers" at present, but obviously I do have opinions on many of these questions.
Good. I'll be interested to read them. Excuse my ramblings.

Emma


December 29th, 2010, 5:39 pm
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thundril wrote:
A very long time ago I had a serious debate with a self-styled Nazi philosopher. He (the Nazi) took as the basic ethical concept the idea of defending and promoting the advantage of one's own family, tribe, nation etc. I took for my basic concept the idea that all humans are equally valuable.


Using the word "Nazi" prejudices the issue here, which is whether "the idea of defending and promoting the advantage of one's own family, tribe, nation etc." is morally justified. (Interesting that "one's own race, religion, or ethnic group" wasn't used.) I'm convinced that a strong tendency to do exactly that evolved during the hunter-gatherer days, when cooperation and empathy within the tribe (family unit, community, social group, whatever) was desirable, and fear, hatred, and animosity toward those outside the group was beneficial in that giving food and protection to the outsiders made one's own group less likely to survive. The more civilized and the more familiarity with other cultures, the more people we include in our community of empathy. But I disagree that all humans are equally valuable. Psychopaths and caregivers are not equal. Someone trying to hurt your family or an enemy during war, most of us would feel justified in killing. My point is that all of us are tribal, because that's a characterisitc that's built into our DNA, but some of us include most people, and some of us only a few. I define "tribalism" as dividing the world into "us" and "them", and the difference between the good and evil among us (according to my sense of morality) is where they draw the line. So by my standards, and that definition, "tribalism" is not always unethical. By another definition, I might have a different opinion.


December 31st, 2010, 1:08 am
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Wilson wrote:
thundril wrote:
A very long time ago I had a serious debate with a self-styled Nazi philosopher. He (the Nazi) took as the basic ethical concept the idea of defending and promoting the advantage of one's own family, tribe, nation etc. I took for my basic concept the idea that all humans are equally valuable.


Using the word "Nazi" prejudices the issue here,


As a matter of fact the person in question described himself as a Nazi; specifically, as a Strasserite. The clue is in the phrase 'self-styled.'

Wilson wrote:
...which is whether "the idea of defending and promoting the advantage of one's own family, tribe, nation etc." is morally justified.

The issue was actually "whether there are any moral facts". (The clue is in the thread title.) :smile:

Wilson wrote:
(Interesting that "one's own race, religion, or ethnic group" wasn't used.)

The clue is in the 'etc' at the end of the line. :wink: .


December 31st, 2010, 2:42 am
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thundril wrote:
The issue was actually "whether there are any moral facts". (The clue is in the thread title.)


I agree with you and our Nazi brother that there are no moral facts - if by moral facts you mean that there exists a moral rule that can proved to be universally and objectively true.


December 31st, 2010, 9:12 pm
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thundril wrote:
Quote:
A very long time ago I had a serious debate with a self-styled Nazi philosopher. He (the Nazi) took as the basic ethical concept the idea of defending and promoting the advantage of one's own family, tribe, nation etc. I took for my basic concept the idea that all humans are equally valuable.


I suppose most of us would defend and promote our own families and nations. I don't see much wrong with that where it takes the form of education, skill development, investment in resources, etc. and even peaceful competition - though that's more often between companies these days.

Moral problems arise for humanists where:
    competition is not peaceful
    the terms of competition make it difficult or impossible for others to compete effectively
    the inevitable result of competition is to entrench current advantages.

Can anyone see a principle here?


December 31st, 2010, 9:27 pm
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There used to be a TV series called Father Ted, about a small group of Irish Catholic priests and their housekeeper, on a little island somewhere off the Western coast. I loved it. In one episode Dougal, a simple-minded young priest, is gazing out through the window, with an expression of intense perplexity. Father Ted approaches, and takes from his pocket a small plastic cow.
'Dougal,' he explains, very carefully. 'This cow is small. Those cows are far away.'
This is how I see familial, ethnic, national etc preference: It is quite understandable, but it does come down to basing one's morality on an optical illusion.


January 1st, 2011, 1:52 am
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thundril wrote:
There used to be a TV series called Father Ted, about a small group of Irish Catholic priests and their housekeeper, on a little island somewhere off the Western coast. I loved it. In one episode Dougal, a simple-minded young priest, is gazing out through the window, with an expression of intense perplexity. Father Ted approaches, and takes from his pocket a small plastic cow.
'Dougal,' he explains, very carefully. 'This cow is small. Those cows are far away.'
This is how I see familial, ethnic, national etc preference: It is quite understandable, but it does come down to basing one's morality on an optical illusion.
Good analogy there I think, thundril. It was only when I listened to what a group of African women were really saying (even through translation), as they sat outside a mud hut, that I realised the only real differences between them and us were location, knowledge and vocabulary, none of which are measures of humanity.

We too often see things through the distorting lens of prejudice: primitive life styles must equal primitive intelligences, lower values. How wrong!

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January 1st, 2011, 11:29 am
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David Flint wrote:
thundril wrote:
Quote:
A very long time ago I had a serious debate with a self-styled Nazi philosopher. He (the Nazi) took as the basic ethical concept the idea of defending and promoting the advantage of one's own family, tribe, nation etc. I took for my basic concept the idea that all humans are equally valuable.


I suppose most of us would defend and promote our own families and nations. I don't see much wrong with that where it takes the form of education, skill development, investment in resources, etc. and even peaceful competition - though that's more often between companies these days.

Moral problems arise for humanists where:
    competition is not peaceful
    the terms of competition make it difficult or impossible for others to compete effectively
    the inevitable result of competition is to entrench current advantages.

Can anyone see a principle here?

yes, surely this is showing up the need for a principle of fairness or justice, whatever you want to call it. It is OK to promote your own or your family's interests within reason, but not if it means cheating or forcibly suppressing the chances of others to survive or succeed; that's one reason we have government


January 1st, 2011, 12:17 pm
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Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
the Golden Rule is one of those ideas that crops up all over the place. It doesn't belong to humanists any more than it belongs to Christians or Confucians. And I'm not aware that there's a uniquely humanist formulation of it.)
true, but as I was addressing a humanist forum I thought I should use the word.
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
You can be quite selfish, I think, and still adopt the Golden Rule of Thumb in order to increase your chances of surviving and living comfortably and peacefully (if that's what you want). It could be as much a matter of prudence as morality.
largely true, which reflects, as I said in the trolley thread, that maybe one just does not often get the opportunity to decide about being moral and in what way. And as you say (and I believe that you are naturally a moral person) we get used to doing sort of the right thing. But sometimes one can get away with being dishonest or selfish or nasty - so I would think that choosing to apply the GR (or at least to try doing this) does come into play - that's why I asked all the questions.
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
I don't think "objective" means the same as "valid", although I suppose there's a slight overlap in the dictionary definitions.
well, this is what I have come to be arguing in our previous exchanges, and it is necessary for my belief that at least some moral statements can be valid or true - they cannot be objective as there is no object for them to relate to or be verified by.
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
But I could say also that my own moral judgements are not necessarily valid, either, in that they are not all well grounded in logic and they don't all have legal force.
not sure what you mean - obviously your and everyone else's statements, moral or not, are often not logical, and what has legal force got to do with this?
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
I think that some moral statements are of greater value than others, but then I would, wouldn't I, because I'm the judge of that value. I don't think that some moral statements are objectively of greater value than others. But where there is a high level of intersubjective agreement, as there is in so many cases, it is possible to talk as if they were — or perhaps impossible not to talk as if they were.
well, this the crux of it. Let's stop using the word "objective" as we seem to agree that it does not mean, or be necessary for, truth or validity in moral statements. Yes, you can't escape the position that you (and I) are both inside the system (of making judgments about things and people) and simultaneously trying to be outside, in the meta-ethical sense of making judgments about judgments and systems. This is where you and I differ, as I think we can say with some certainty that statements like "Causing unnecessary pain is wrong" are in their own way simply true. Of course I can't prove this, but I would challenge anyone to argue the opposite. This is the line I am taking below over Thundril's example of the nazi and yours over the incest taboo (unfortunately - in a sense! - there is noone on TH who holds these views, or defends slavery, my other example, so I will have to think for them).

Take the nazi first. I assume that the case for nazism in fact relies on a large number of empirically falsifiable claims about eg the natural superiority of the white Aryan race (fitness to rule), the paradoxical claim that it is threatened by races which are inferior in some way, that mongrelisation is weakening the race, that race and nation are "objective", and so on; these arguments would need disentangling, but in principle I think the false factual claims could be stripped away. Would any genuinely deep ethical difference remain between the nazi and the liberal? Who knows, but it is for the relativist to prove that such a difference remains. If anything (and I get the impression that this applies to Thundril's nazi), the difference might simply be that the nazi is essentially amoral, egoistic and openly unethical, rather than holding a different ethic from the liberal: he says in effect, I can do as I please, why shouldn't I, and if I care about anyone if is about my nearest and dearest - at the expense of justice, equality, human rights and all the other things that the liberal holds dear. The nazi might of course talk about Nietzsche and his superman philosophy, but without the systematic and disprovable racism this could never constitute any justification for nazism. Please note that I am not claiming that there are no differences between the ethical views of individuals or societies (and of course in the sincerity, consistency and commitment with which they hold these views), but I am claiming that it is unproven how important these are when viewed apart from the confusion of assumptions and factual claims. The taboo (on incest) champion would I imagine be even more easily be challenged if one had the opportunity to show that the disasters which he claimed would result from breaking taboos just did not occur; since incest can in fact have undesirable genetic effects, however, this disproof is unlikely to happen, though maybe eventually a test case will come up in which barren and related people might wish to marry; I imagine that adult siblings do often have sex and the incest law appears not to be used much.

So that is one strand of my argument: that I believe actually challenging unenlightened (I know that's a loaded word) people could separate out the differences between moral and empirical. The other is that I think that we do make moral progress (very much a meta-ethical view), simply because we can look back on the societies of the past and see how their deeply held moral systems depended on their society's needs (for instance, 17C slave-based societies had to draw on the Bible to justify their practices, and Aristotle defined slaves as human tools). As Wilson says, our empathy has widened considerably to include all men and women, and we are starting to include other sentient beings. With all our faults, we are wealthy enough not to need to lie or enslave, and knowledgeable enough to make these judgments; the position is simply asymmetric (we do know more than they did) and thus there is no ground for relativism. Of course, we are always changing, and many things which we may now think morally OK (or at least tolerate) may be rejected in the future (I am thinking about huge disparities of wealth between nations and individuals and about our treatment of animals, but there could be other future attitude changes about which I have no inkling). But remember that I am not holding up all our current society's moral attitudes as correct, only a few basic ones - like the one I mentioned, or the judgment that one should try to keep one's word unless there is a good reason not to.

I don't think that either of you (Emma and Thundril), or maybe anyone else who has contributed to this thread (eg Wilson), is in fact a moral relativist in the sense of claiming that one society's norms are just as good as another, but just in case, I would like to mention the neat demolition of ethical relativism in Peter Cave's book.
Emma wrote:
As for whether I'm a moral relativist, well, this is where the jargon comes in again. I'm a descriptive relativist, in that I recognise that people have different ideas aboutwhat is the morally right course of action in a particular circumstance.
but surely this would be true of all of us? Are these your own definitions or are they from a source? You've mentioned Mackie, but I have not read his book, only a few writeups
Emma wrote:
I'm not a meta-ethical relativist, in that I don't reject objective moral values just to replace them with culturally specific ones.
I am not sure that is what meta-ethical relativists say, but again I don't know where you have got this from
Emma wrote:
Moral values vary within cultures as well as between them. And I am not a normative relativist, in that I don't believe we should always accept the behaviour of others when it runs counter to our personal or cultural moral standards. People will inevitably try to act on the basis of their own (genuinely held) moral values, and try to persuade others to act on the same moral values.
well yes, that is what I am trying to do, although, to repeat, it would be more convincing if there was a real someone with radically different views to challenge (of course, maybe if I did debate with a nazi, he would win and I would end up a nazi!). It is the normative relativist, who says we SHOULD accept any old crap (like stoning people for adultery), for the sake of multiculturalism, who is the target for Cave (since it obviously is itself making a moral judgment). I would say that you were a subjectivist rather than a relativist (for what it's worth).
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:
If so, is this compatible with the Golden Rule and with any other moral judgments that you make?
Er ... yes, I ... I think so. But talking about this is a bit tricky, because our language is geared up to the idea that there are objective moral values, and it's very hard to step away from that
not sure this is true, or at least it is no more true for moral than for aesthetic value-statements, as you have previously reminded me. But these hypothetical imperatives you mention are not moral statements at all, are they? They just say that if some particular thing is to be achieved, then some other particular thing "should" be performed.

To end for now (yes, I think I should!), I do think it is a bit funny of humanists in general to claim the Golden Rule as their ethical base yet not want to actively defend its validity or value!


January 3rd, 2011, 7:39 pm
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