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Are there any moral facts?

Enter here to explore ethical issues and discuss the meaning and source of morality.
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Are there any moral facts?

Poll ended at January 1st, 2011, 5:50 pm

Yes.
4
25%
No.
10
63%
I'm not sure.
0
No votes
Other (I'll explain in my post...).
2
13%
 
Total votes: 16

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Fia
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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#21 Post by Fia » December 3rd, 2010, 7:28 pm

Latest post of the previous page:

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.

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Dave B
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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#22 Post by Dave B » December 3rd, 2010, 7:40 pm

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.
You have said something there, Emma, that needs some thinking about, but I can't quite get a handle on it. Could you do me the favour of re-iterating it just once more please?
"Look forward; yesterday was a lesson, if you did not learn from it you wasted it."
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animist
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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#23 Post by animist » December 3rd, 2010, 8:50 pm

Dave B wrote: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.
I think you are using the term "moral realist" in a completely different way from Carmen. What you are saying here is simply that you are a realist - you may be completely immoral in fact (though I know that you aren't!)

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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#24 Post by animist » December 3rd, 2010, 8:55 pm

Carmen Christi wrote: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.
what do you mean by moral absolutism?

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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#25 Post by animist » December 3rd, 2010, 9:24 pm

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
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.
I don't know! Maybe it is the other way around, and that it is the relative objectivity (and going back to our previous exchanges, I don't think that morality can be totally objective if only because there is no "object" to which it relates) of morality which makes it more important than aesthetics. Whichever way, I think both that ethics is vastly more important than aesthetics and that it has more elements of objectivity - there is simply more to discuss, as this very thread (and the many others on ethics) shows, for how many threads are there on aesthetic issues?
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
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.
well, first, a judgment is not to be opposed to a statement of fact; as I've said already, many statements are generalisations and are both statements of fact and judgements. The difference between ethical and aesthetic in this respect is one of degree, I agree, but if you say that a picture is beautiful and I say it is not, there is, I think, less you can do to convince me of what you say than in the case of a moral judgment such as that killing innocent people is wrong. Your book example is different, and in fact I think that "this book is good" does not mean I like this book. But that is because the statement may well be an opinion on the skill or accuracy of the author in expressing whatever the book did express, ie it need not be an aesthetic judgment as such
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
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.
no, I don't think so, if you mean there is more than one kind of truth as opposed to more than one kind of true statements (or facts); if you mean the latter, then that is what I am saying. Moral truths are not verifiable in the way that some other statements are, but non-moral statements are themselves true in different ways; for instance, there are empirical facts which can be verified, complex generalisations and arguments which cannot easily be verified and contain simple facts, inferences and subjective value judgments, and the analytic truths of maths and logic. Can I get back to my first post, in which I said that facts are true statements: unless you disagree with that, or unless you do not think that the Nazis were wrong to persecute the Jews (and therefore that that statement is true) how can you deny that it is a moral fact?

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Dave B
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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#26 Post by Dave B » December 3rd, 2010, 10:27 pm

animist wrote:
Dave B wrote: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.
I think you are using the term "moral realist" in a completely different way from Carmen. What you are saying here is simply that you are a realist - you may be completely immoral in fact (though I know that you aren't!)
Oh yes, how do you know that then, Nick? :wink:

Yes, I suppose "realist" does fit as well, I have not noticed "rational" and its derivatives crop up yet.
"Look forward; yesterday was a lesson, if you did not learn from it you wasted it."
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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#27 Post by animist » December 3rd, 2010, 10:34 pm

Dave B wrote:
Animist wrote:What you are saying here is simply that you are a realist - you may be completely immoral in fact (though I know that you aren't!)
Oh yes, how do you know that then, Nick? :wink:
that's two people in a couple of days who have thought I was someone else!
Maybe my user name should be Inamist

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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#28 Post by Dave B » December 3rd, 2010, 10:39 pm

Sorry, animist, it's just that there are superficial similarities in your avatar and Nick's when seen out of the side of the eye. I almost made the same mistake once before.
"Look forward; yesterday was a lesson, if you did not learn from it you wasted it."
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Lord Muck oGentry
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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#29 Post by Lord Muck oGentry » December 4th, 2010, 1:18 am

I shan't be voting until the question is clear.

It's certainly tempting to mutter, in the spirit of Strawson, that moral facts are what moral statements, when true, state.

But that just raises the question what it is for a moral statement to be true. Having conjured up one mighty spirit, I am obliged to conjure up another. Austin remarked that instead of contemplating on the nature of Truth, we ought to understand that That is true means much the same as Very well said!: it expresses agreement.

Now I am obliged to ask whether moral disagreements are real. And, to escape suspicion of philosophicking, I had better add that I mean real as opposed to merely apparent. A merely apparent disagreement would be one between Smith, who says that milk chocolate tastes at least as good as dark chocolate, and Jones, who insists that dark chocolate tastes better than milk chocolate. Since both can be paraphased out as I prefer..., there is no disagreement. By contrast, the dispute between ( say) the vehement opponent of abortion and its champion cannot be paraphrased out in that way: no such dispute has ever ended in a murmured De gustibus non disputandum. Unless the disputants literally cannot understand the nature of their difference, it is not a difference of taste.

So I have views. But until we get clear what the question means, I can't vote.
What we can't say, we can't say and we can't whistle it either. — Frank Ramsey

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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#30 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » December 4th, 2010, 1:33 am

animist wrote:I don't know! Maybe it is the other way around, and that it is the relative objectivity (and going back to our previous exchanges, I don't think that morality can be totally objective if only because there is no "object" to which it relates) of morality which makes it more important than aesthetics. Whichever way, I think both that ethics is vastly more important than aesthetics and that it has more elements of objectivity - there is simply more to discuss, as this very thread (and the many others on ethics) shows, for how many threads are there on aesthetic issues?
I don't disagree that ethics is more important than aesthetics, although I wouldn't want to claim that as a statement of fact, because "importance" is to a great extent a subjective value. :wink: But why do you think that ethics has more elements of objectivity than aesthetics, or any other kind of values? What evidence is there of that? It seems to me that all those values (morality, beauty, importance, fairness, humour ...) have elements of objectivity; they're all related to objective reality in some way. But if, as you agree, morality is not totally objective, then I don't see how a statement about the moral rightness or wrongness of an action can be a statement of fact.
animist wrote:well, first, a judgment is not to be opposed to a statement of fact; as I've said already, many statements are generalisations and are both statements of fact and judgements.
Sorry, I should have said "value judgement" and not just "judgement". But if you think that a value judgement can be a statement of fact, could you give an example?
animist wrote:The difference between ethical and aesthetic in this respect is one of degree, I agree, but if you say that a picture is beautiful and I say it is not, there is, I think, less you can do to convince me of what you say than in the case of a moral judgment such as that killing innocent people is wrong. Your book example is different, and in fact I think that "this book is good" does not mean I like this book. But that is because the statement may well be an opinion on the skill or accuracy of the author in expressing whatever the book did express, ie it need not be an aesthetic judgment as such
No, it needn't. There are bound to be other value judgements involved, not just aesthetic ones. But still largely subjective ones. They may make reference to objective reality, just as aesthetic and moral judgements do, but that doesn't make them statements of fact.
animist wrote:Moral truths are not verifiable in the way that some other statements are, but non-moral statements are themselves true in different ways; for instance, there are empirical facts which can be verified, complex generalisations and arguments which cannot easily be verified and contain simple facts, inferences and subjective value judgments, and the analytic truths of maths and logic. Can I get back to my first post, in which I said that facts are true statements: unless you disagree with that, or unless you do not think that the Nazis were wrong to persecute the Jews (and therefore that that statement is true) how can you deny that it is a moral fact?
Ah. I think the word "fact" is ambiguous. You're right: it can mean simply a true statement. But it can also mean some state of affairs in the world, some element of objective reality. Matt defined a "moral fact" as a "true moral claim about reality", which to me implied something more than my own subjective moral values, or even the subjective moral values shared by millions. Just as, if an "aesthetic fact" were defined as a "true aesthetic fact about reality", that would imply something more than my own subjective aesthetic values, or the subjective aesthetic values shared by millions. So, if I say, "The Nazis were wrong to try to exterminate the Jews", I could be said to be making a (true) statement about my own moral values (which I happen to share with many others), rather than about the world outside my own head. It could be described as a fact, in the sense of "a true statement", just as "This cake is delicious" could be described as a fact, in the sense of "a true statement", if we acknowledge that words like "wrong" and "delicious" are by nature subjective, so we don't have to qualify them with "I think" or "In my opinion". But I didn't think Matt was using "fact" in that way.

What I thought Matt was getting at was the idea that he touched on in the other thread about grounds for being a Humanist, when he said that "I think that there is good reason to believe that ethical non-naturalism is true". My impression was that he thinks that "moral facts" do exist and are thus evidence of the existence of something other than the natural world.

Emma
(cross-posted with Lord Muck)

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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#31 Post by animist » December 4th, 2010, 8:31 am

Dave B wrote:Sorry, animist, it's just that there are superficial similarities in your avatar and Nick's when seen out of the side of the eye. I almost made the same mistake once before.
yes, know what you mean. BTW, do you remember that when I adopted this avatar, several people were concerned about the child abuse implied? I think it is more disturbing (the violence and nudity seem to stand out) and less comical in its inevitably reduced form here than if you see it somewhat larger; I saw it in a newspaper article but have never actually seen the painting itself.

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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#32 Post by tubataxidriver » December 4th, 2010, 4:46 pm

I have voted No. In my opinion, none of this is absolute and existing independently of humans and society. It is all a social construction. We as a human society can decide what we want to do. There are no absolute rules, even the Golden Rule. We can classify our constructed rule sets as religious moral teachings for all I care, but it is all in my opinion still a construct. This doesn't mean that constructed rules are not useful - they are.

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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#33 Post by Dave B » December 4th, 2010, 5:38 pm

TTD, if there was a "moral" behaviour that was shared by humans and all other social animals would you consider that a - shall we use the word "universal rule" for the moment?

I realise that the one thing that I am thinking of is prone to attack from an environmental point of view.
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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#34 Post by animist » December 4th, 2010, 6:12 pm

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:But if you think that a value judgement can be a statement of fact, could you give an example?
well, I already have! The statement about the Nazis and the Jews. But the more I think about this, the more I think that there can be aesthetic facts as well as moral facts (maybe not many of the former). Take the statement "William Shakespeare was a great writer". This is virtually universally accepted (I know G. B. Shaw may have demurred, maybe others, but they are insignificant numerically); however, the crucial point is that, as with the moral fact of the Nazis' evil, it is in fact hard to think how a contrary case could be made (in view of WS's skill, output and insight). To all intents and purposes these are facts which in many ways compare favourably in reliability with the seemingly "objective" statement "The human race evolved by natural selection", which is far less widely accepted and in fact is impossible to verify.
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:The difference between ethical and aesthetic in this respect is one of degree, I agree, but if you say that a picture is beautiful and I say it is not, there is, I think, less you can do to convince me of what you say than in the case of a moral judgment such as that killing innocent people is wrong. Your book example is different, and in fact I think that "this book is good" does not mean I like this book. But that is because the statement may well be an opinion on the skill or accuracy of the author in expressing whatever the book did express, ie it need not be an aesthetic judgment as such
No, it needn't. There are bound to be other value judgements involved, not just aesthetic ones. But still largely subjective ones.
but how are we to decide which judgments are subjective and which objective? Skill is something which is largely objective, accuracy even more so
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote: Can I get back to my first post, in which I said that facts are true statements: unless you disagree with that, or unless you do not think that the Nazis were wrong to persecute the Jews (and therefore that that statement is true) how can you deny that it is a moral fact?
Ah. I think the word "fact" is ambiguous. You're right: it can mean simply a true statement. But it can also mean some state of affairs in the world, some element of objective reality.
no, you are simply begging the question - and avoiding my question - by making a spurious distinction between "simply" true and "factual" which I am not sure that even you really believe.
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:Matt defined a "moral fact" as a "true moral claim about reality", which to me implied something more than my own subjective moral values, or even the subjective moral values shared by millions.
yes, but not something more than "true".
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:Just as, if an "aesthetic fact" were defined as a "true aesthetic fact about reality", that would imply something more than my own subjective aesthetic values, or the subjective aesthetic values shared by millions. So, if I say, "The Nazis were wrong to try to exterminate the Jews", I could be said to be making a (true) statement about my own moral values (which I happen to share with many others), rather than about the world outside my own head.
No, no, no!!! Sorry to go stentorian, but if you make that statement you are emphatically NOT talking about yourself, which is what you seem to be suggesting - you are talking about the Nazis. What you are now trying to propose as some sort of subjectivist "translation" of the statement is absurd, for how could you make a "false" statement about what is inside your own head? What could this mean? Look, imagine you actually made the statement to some nazi type (with some passion, I trust). You might reasonably expect him to react in various ways - he could deny that there was such an attempt, or justify it, or whatever, but what you would NOT expect or want him to do is smirk and say "Ah, but I know you are just talking about your own subjective opinions, because that is all you ever do - you said so yourself; and anyway, how I am to know that you really do believe this?".
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:It could be described as a fact, in the sense of "a true statement", just as "This cake is delicious" could be described as a fact, in the sense of "a true statement", if we acknowledge that words like "wrong" and "delicious" are by nature subjective, so we don't have to qualify them with "I think" or "In my opinion".
no, adding "In my opinion" adds nothing to any statement, whatever sort it is, except to indicate lack of certainty, and in making moral judgments we often do add this qualifier (maybe less often with aesthetic statements, but we do even here, eg "In my humble opinion, this is tosh") - anyway, the point is just not relevant.
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:But I didn't think Matt was using "fact" in that way.
TBH, I don't know or care exactly how he was using it, and I doubt if he was aware of the distinction - since it is you who have now improvised it, as you did with "quasi-facts". This is fair enough from your viewpoint, but I simply don't accept the wedge you are trying to drive between "true" and "factual": these concepts are far too close to be distinguished just so you can deny that there are moral facts. Suppose the question had said "truths" instead of "facts" - would it have made a difference to you?
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:What I thought Matt was getting at was the idea that he touched on in the other thread about grounds for being a Humanist, when he said that "I think that there is good reason to believe that ethical non-naturalism is true". My impression was that he thinks that "moral facts" do exist and are thus evidence of the existence of something other than the natural world.
well, interesting example, and of course I would not accept that the existence of moral facts has any implications for metaphysical non-naturalism. I have already queried this with him, because I think he may misunderstood what ethical non-naturalism is - it is nothing to do with the supernatural.

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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#35 Post by Carmen Christi » December 4th, 2010, 11:10 pm

Nick wrote: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.
I mean truth in the usual sense - a statement about reality is true if it corresponds to (accurately describes) the way reality actually is. So "human beings exist" is a true statement, because, in reality, there really are such things as human beings. The same definition applies to moral statements - so "stealing is wrong" (on moral realism) means that, in reality, the act of stealing has the property of being wrong (that is, an act that morally responsible agents should not do).

Lord M - hopefully this clarifies things enough to come to a conclusion in the poll.

Matt

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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#36 Post by Carmen Christi » December 4th, 2010, 11:12 pm

Dave B wrote: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.
Perhaps you are thinking of being a realist as opposed to an optimist or a pessimist. Moral realism just is the view that there are moral facts. There is an article here that you (and others) might find helpful.

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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#37 Post by Carmen Christi » December 4th, 2010, 11:38 pm

animist wrote:
Carmen Christi wrote: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.
what do you mean by moral absolutism?
Moral absolutism would be the view that there are some actions which are right or wrong without exception, independent of the situation or consequences or any other factors.

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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#38 Post by Carmen Christi » December 4th, 2010, 11:43 pm

animist wrote:(and going back to our previous exchanges, I don't think that morality can be totally objective if only because there is no "object" to which it relates)
I'm interested about how you can hold this while still thinking there are moral facts - when you say that you think some moral claims are true (like the Nazi's example), what exactly do you mean by "true"? Do you mean the same as how I defined it a couple of posts ago?

P.S. I think having four pictures of my face in a row is quite enough aesthetic abuse of this page for now, so time for some sleeps! :)

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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#39 Post by Lord Muck oGentry » December 5th, 2010, 1:24 am

Carmen Christi wrote:
Nick wrote: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.
I mean truth in the usual sense - a statement about reality is true if it corresponds to (accurately describes) the way reality actually is. So "human beings exist" is a true statement, because, in reality, there really are such things as human beings. The same definition applies to moral statements - so "stealing is wrong" (on moral realism) means that, in reality, the act of stealing has the property of being wrong (that is, an act that morally responsible agents should not do).

Lord M - hopefully this clarifies things enough to come to a conclusion in the poll.

Matt
Unfortunately, it does not help to decide my vote.

I have remarked very recently on another thread that we know very well how to use the word real ( for example, to distinguish fivers from forged fivers) and how to use the phrase in reality ( by contrast with, for example, fancy or fabrication).
But what contrast is being drawn when it is said that " in reality, the act of stealing has the property of being wrong"?

I expect I'm missing something here, but the clarification doesn't make things clear for me.
What we can't say, we can't say and we can't whistle it either. — Frank Ramsey

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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#40 Post by Nick » December 5th, 2010, 3:45 pm

Carmen Christi wrote: I mean truth in the usual sense - a statement about reality is true if it corresponds to (accurately describes) the way reality actually is. So "human beings exist" is a true statement, because, in reality, there really are such things as human beings. The same definition applies to moral statements - so "stealing is wrong" (on moral realism) means that, in reality, the act of stealing has the property of being wrong (that is, an act that morally responsible agents should not do).
I don't think the same definition can be applied to morals. Taking your example, "stealing is wrong". That depends in what you mean by "stealing", "wrong" and (as Bill Clinton reminds us) "is". It all depends on how one defines the legitimacy of the original ownership, the needs and or legitimacy of the "thief" and whether the relationship will always be the same. So "stealing is wrong" cannot be a "true" statement as you are suggesting.

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Re: Are there any moral facts?

#41 Post by animist » December 5th, 2010, 5:30 pm

Carmen Christi wrote:
animist wrote:(and going back to our previous exchanges, I don't think that morality can be totally objective if only because there is no "object" to which it relates)
I'm interested about how you can hold this while still thinking there are moral facts - when you say that you think some moral claims are true (like the Nazi's example), what exactly do you mean by "true"? Do you mean the same as how I defined it a couple of posts ago?

P.S. I think having four pictures of my face in a row is quite enough aesthetic abuse of this page for now, so time for some sleeps! :)
the short answer is that I would steer clear of the term "objective", as I would of "absolute". But I would cling to "true" and not attempt to define it "exactly" - I think we all know roughly what truth is (this thread is supposed to be about ethics, not logic) even though we disagree widely on what statements are true, whereas the other terms are fraught with difficulties. But actually what I said was the moral judgements cannot be completely "objective" because there is no object to which they correspond; this is almost a tautology, since you can't see, hear, touch, smell or taste a bit of immorality - this does not mean that immorality is not there.

PS - your face is cheering, so don't worry about aesthetic abuse :D
PPSS - have you answered my query about what you mean by ethical naturalism? Sorry if you have, but you have generated so much text in the last few days that I can't find it at present

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