Is morality subjective or objective?

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by Sarkus, Dec 2, 2021.

  1. Write4U Valued Senior Member


    "God will provide and if you die you go to heaven are fundamental lies", cloaked in Sophistry.
    p.s. what happened to George Hammond? Oh, wait.......
    (Moderator note: George E Hammond has been permanently banned.
    It's time to call it on this nonsense. Mr Hammond hasn't managed to defend his position so far, and if it hasn't happened in 1300+ posts, it's unlikely to happen. Worse than that, Mr Hammond appears to have run out of material and is just repeating his unproven claims at this point.)
    Nobody is excluded from making subjective observations of objective reality.
    In fact, everyone is included in making subjective personal observations .
    Recent experimental evidence suggests that MT do in fact have many objective properties that heretofore were subjective speculative propositions.
    IMO, the Inquisition was an exercise in terror, just as its Creed advances. Nothing moral about terror.
    I did, Aristotle v the law of falling bodies..
    Subjective philosophy can describe objective truths.
    I agree. That's why it cannot be considered "objective".
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2022
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  3. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    Rather than replying line by line, I will try to save some time by just commenting on a few things in your most recent reply. Mostly, you have been addressing matters other than the thread topic, again.

    At one level, I don't disagree that morality is subjective, in that I do not believe that it is handed down from on high by some kind of ultimate moral authority (such as a God, for instance). But on the other hand, morality is rooted in objective facts about the world - observable behaviours and their observable consequences. Those things are objective. So, if we can agree at a basic level on what is valuable, then we have an objective basis for evaluating moral questions. For instance, if we can agree, for example, that human suffering is usually a bad thing - something every individual would prefer to avoid - then we can also agree that acting in a way that is likely to cause or increase human suffering is morally wrong. We can reason objectively from "suffering is bad" to "choices of action that cause suffering are wrong". This only requires that we agree that suffering is bad, in general.

    On the topic of predator animals killing their prey, this is usually because if they do not do so they will not survive. Thus, they often have no choice. In cases where they do have a choice, then the question arises as to whether they can conceptualise a moral dimension to their actions. If they can't, then it seems pointless to cast a moral judgment on them. If, on the other hand, they can, then they might well be morally culpable for needlessly causing harm or death. I think that such moral considerations could conceivably apply to such animals as chimpanzees or orcas, for example. I'm not so sure about something like a tiger. When it comes to the actions of, say, a spider, then I'm fairly confident that spiders are unable to reflect on any moral implications of their actions.

    Moving on... I would not describe Aristotle's belief that heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones a matter of philosophy that was disproven by science. I would say that, there, Aristotle was proposing a physical theory - a scientific hypothesis, if you like - and that was what has been proved wrong by science. These waters are muddied to some extent because a sharp distinction between science and philosophy was only made relatively recently, in the last couple of centuries or so, and long after Aristotle lived. So, what Aristotle would have called philosophy was, in some cases, early science.

    Moving on again ... objects, whether animate or inanimate (and this includes human beings), are all subject to deterministic physical laws. Whatever moral behaviours human beings exhibit, they must be grounded in physical reality (what else could be the root cause?).

    On insects: you seem to think that insects somehow epitomise "the natural world", for some reason. I get the impression from your post that you see insects as living in harmony with the rest of nature - something you believe that human beings do not do. You go so far as to claim that insects do not "disturb the natural balance and symmetry of Nature". That seems like a view through rose coloured glasses. Think about plagues of locusts, for instance. There, you have insects breeding like crazy and ravaging the land until there's not enough food left, at which point they die by their millions. The thing is, this is not really a disturbance of nature; it is just one more thing that happens in nature. Nature isn't always "balanced" or "symmetrical". Locusts aren't fundamentally any more capable of living in "natural harmony" than human beings are. So I wouldn't put them - or other insects - on some kind of moral pedestal.

    You say that human "lifestyle" is "contrary to Natural Law". What does that mean? What is this "natural law", and who or what determines what it is? Who or what punishes the transgressors of natural law?

    You seem to be arguing that since human beings are causing the planetary climate to change, therefore humans are "out of step" with "natural law", or something. But the Earth's climate has changed radically many times in the past already. That's part of nature. Changing the climate will be bad for us humans, but the Earth won't care. It will still be here even if we wipe ourselves out (and take a whole lot of others species with us in a mass extinction event). Who's to say that it isn't "natural law" that a species like human beings will eventually come along and change the climate on its planet?* What you are doing is actually making a moral judgment about human actions, which rests ultimately on what you consider to be valuable. In other words, it is predictable that you will say that humans are doing a bad thing, once we understand that you value a stable climate and a comfortable life for yourself and your descendants. There's an objective judgment that can be made regarding your likely attitude to the morality of climate change, in other words.

    Lastly, you avoided - again - saying whether you actually believe that all religious people are dishonest liars. I guess it's inconvenient for your purposes to admit publically that, maybe, they aren't all liars. It's a pity that your anti-religious stance means that you can't bring yourself to be more understanding or reasonable towards your fellow human beings who happen to hold a different opinion from yours.

    * Come to think about it, living things have already radically altered Earth's climate. Are you going to blame algae in the oceans for oxygenating the atmosphere, too? Was it "wrong" of them to do that?
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  5. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    You seem to be perturbed by my use of the word sophistry. Sorry if it sounded ad hominem.
    My use was strictly in terms of "false belief" and not as "intentional deceit". I would never resort to such debate tactics.
    The term sophistry does not necessarily mean intentional misleading.
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  7. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Well, at the very least—

    —don't wonder. When you call me out, maybe I'll find time to answer you. The detail is not especially subtle or complicated or confusing, so let us try taking your post at #54↑"Wrong about what, I wonder? Oh well, never mind."—at face value, because we see the only point was to respond to Seattle in order to disrespect Sarkus. That is, you are either unwilling or unable to at least recognize the basic shape of the discussion.


    When Sarkus says↑ "there is no objective answer", he is a little too confident; we will come back to this in a moment.

    What stands out about your response in #2↑ is that it leads with what looks like straw: "Objective doesn't mean that absolutely everybody has to agree." While the antivax example is itself accurate and applicable, consider where you went with it:

    It is a strange contrast, challenging Sarkus on "an extreme form of relativism" while asserting a relativist framework; perhaps what you puzzle over is your own fallacy. You're not necessarily wrong about an appearance "that people who assert that all of morality is relative are usually wanting to make excuses for something they know most people would disapprove of", but it is unclear how you apply the point, considering it is your commentary on your objection, which in turn reads like fallacious pretense for moral wagging.

    Sarkus is, in #3↑, not incorrect: "If X is objective then X is the reality for everyone," he says: "If people don't believe X to be the case then X doesn't stop being objective." To be clear, what happens next is its own question. That is, even as I might agree with Sarkus we can begin disagreeing almost immediately thereafter; the difference would be in whatever we do next, or after that, and so on. Given the range of possibility, it is likely, even expected, that we will run on different lines.

    And here we can start with two basic points:

    • If three people give us conflicting accounts of an event, have three separate events happened? The yes and no of it gets conditional and contextual and complicated, but for our purpose we can assert that one event has occurred, and the differences occur in the witnesses. The wheels can spin clockwise or counter, and the witnesses will tell different answers; if we ask a different question, we might find concurrence, e.g., the car was driving northward. The basic point is that if an event occurred, then it occurred, even if how we describe it is imperfect and inaccurate.

    • There is a perpetual question that inquiring after the purpose or meaning of life. It's actually kind of simple; the explanation is more complicated than the concept itself. We might suggest the actual purpose and meaning of life is to live. The basic point is that the underlying purpose of life hints after a framework for objective morality: The objective foundation of morality will be found in some aspect of preserving and propagating our contiguous genetic experience.¹​

    Such basic points might seem rather quite general, but that's the thing: Compared to an actual objective morality, what are the chances that I already aced the final?

    Still, take your pick, and, yes, political questions make useful examples. Compared to the ethical pretenses of the last half-century, how many compromises, corrosions, and corruptions of honest and forthright conduct have led to such danger as the species now countenances in warming and climatic destabilization.² In recent years it has become more common to hear a broader range of people blaming capitalism for so much misery and even existential threat, but an important contrast to recall is the ever-tenuous relationship between economy and morality. Not only have we chosen to accept so many compromises, corrosions, and corruptions, the historical record will generally remind that we actually treated some of these sleights, outcomes, and principles as somehow virtuous.

    Or, here is a joke: A religious tradition including euncuhs ought not complain so much about transgender. And while many might get the joke, it actually understates a certain part of the point; we might make crude and even cruel jokes about "suffer the children that they might come unto me", but Jesus actually seems to have found the children a welcome change of subject—what immediately precedes that part of the story is a bunch of people annoying Jesus, to the point that he says the invokes nonbinary couples² and says, "He who is able to receive this, let him receive it."

    In this context, it is hard to see what the moral aesthetics against transgender contribute toward preserving and propagating our contiguous genetic experience. And while that result is its own context, there is also the point that, taken in its larger framework, these Christianist moral aesthetics, which are actually intended to codify and regulate women, can be reasonably described as eroding the progress of our species; even as such arguments purport to propagate future generations, the shape of the moral framework describes harm to the very breeding vessels they pretend to protect and promote. Similarly, nature already makes clear that same-sex pair bonding has eusocial value, seemingly a benefit to a species.

    Like art, it often feels easier to identify what is not moral: Considering all the ways we might harm and exploit children, and make excuses as we do, an objective morality would suggest in terms leaving little room for doubt that harming the next generation of the species in such a manner undermines the species. So, no, Nambla cannot have their way; no, the incels wanting little girls cannot have their way; and it's one thing if what Spooner really wanted was a drink⁴, but his note about getting with ten year-old girls is not wrong in observing that people were okay with men getting on ten year-old girls.


    ¹ Perhaps that sounds simplistic, but consider that life, as a general concept, can be classfied as a range of results described by the laws of physics; a more colloquial expression is that life is an expression of matter and energy. Next, consider a particular form of life; in our case, it is Homo sapiens, here on Earth. There is presently a genetic contiguity from a beginning of life on this planet on through each of us. If this contiguity persists long enough, it will evolve into something other than H. sapiens, but in order to persist, this contiguous genetic experience must eventually escape the planet. Science fiction occasionally has need of intelligent matrices of light or energy, and in our moment we might consider the prospect that life, a matrix of matter and energy, emerged on this planet and evolved to humans, and continued to evolve in order to survive in the Universe, such that the living experience of matter and energy, including cognizance of will, persists to the end of time.

    ² The other day I read an account witnessing the birth of a demon. The short form is that after the child repeatedly asked where the monster was, and if anyone had seen the monster, it was time to explain that monsters don't exist; so the child asked her mother what was killing all the birds. Even without the war, there is a problem among the dolphins; in my corner of the world, the nootkatensis dieoff is epic, though not yet epochal. And when the birds in the sky and the fish in the river are dying because it's just too hot, and fire itself becomes weather, new legends are born. If the species survives, people will struggle to describe the principles and behaviors, the societal phenomena, that not only failed to avoid such outcomes but rushed so anxiously toward extinction, and this is how the demons and monsters of legend come to be; to call what we have done sin is inadequate to describe its magnitude.

    ³ See Mt. 19 1-12↱.

    cf. "Vices Are Not Crimes: A Moral Vindication of Liberty" (1875↱), note 2:

    "The statute book of Massachusetts makes ten years the age at which a female child is supposed to have discretion enough to part with virtue. But the same statute book holds that no person, man or woman, of any age, or any degree of wisdom or experience, has discretion to be trusted to buy and drink a glass of spirits,on his or her own Judgement! What an illustration of the legislative wisdom of Massachusetts!"

    Spooner, Lysander. "Vices Are Not Crimes: A Moral Vindication of Liberty. 1875. 2 July 2022.

  8. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    And while Boston circa 1875 is certainly not the most immediate example, Spooner's point does offer a glimpse into how your argument falls into relativism:

    Puritans are actually a good example insofar as Americans have come through how much history, and we still haven't discarded dysfunctional presuppositions. While it is unlikely we might find many ninety-nine percent results, the persistence of puritanistic moral dysfunction is an example of why investment of the question in what other people accept or disapprove of is insufficient. Consider your straw about "anything goes as long as it's 'true for you'"; nothing about your ninety-nine percent includes any suggestion that what people "disapprove of, on moral grounds" makes any sense. Populist morality is not inherently relativist, as it is not necessarily coherent enough to actually be relativist, but in wagging at straw relativism, you managed to stuff a framework that is relativist at best.

    Or, as Sarkus put it↑, "A shared subjectivity is not the same as something being objective."

    Historian and theologian Jeffrey Burton Russell argued↗:

    If no absolutes exist that transcend humanity, then nothing exists that could possibly be drawing humanity in any particular direction. Without a goal, motion is meaningless. If Portland is your goal, you can make progress by driving down the road toward Portland, but if you have no goal, then driving a mile in the direction of Portland or in any other direction is meaningless motion, not progress. That "man sets his own goals" is an evasion, because human goals shift frequently and radically. One may make progress in terms of this or that limited goal, but unless there is a general and final goal, it is not possible to speak of progress overall.

    Assertions of objectivity are inherent to some moral arguments: Where Russell, Sarkus, and I might all agree on is the basic sketch of objective morality; what happens next is that we all argue about what the foundation, the anchor, the basis of objectivity, might be.

    We might recall a notion about some proverbial grumpy old men of yesteryear, and, frankly, I would think you would remember them as well. They were a stuffy sort of would-be proper gentlefolk scolding about the thin edge of the wedge tearing the fabric of society, and, yes, they would include atheism and secular humanism in the litany. A subsequent generation would accuse that there is no morality without God. Even those old traditionalists would have asserted their morality was something close to objective.

    There is, of course, a difference between thinking "God" is an objective basis for understanding morality and observing an actual objective basis for morality. The idea that ninety-nine percent of people agree on some moral principle does not preclude the possibility that those ninety-nine percent are wrong. And that is the difference.

    Sarkus and I would reject the proposition that God makes an objective basis for assessing reality, but, again, what happens next includes possibly arguing forever about the detail of what the real objective basis actually is. The answer to the title question is that morality as we comprehend it is largely subjective, and while an objective morality does seem implicit, understanding the detail might be at least a little complex.

    If I don't fret the detail that Sarkus is incorrect in his topic post, it is because his is an error of expression; moreover, if it comes right down to it, the actual correct answer is just a pain in the ass, a whole lot of effort when something more colloqual will suffice: No, it is not immoral to watch adult movies.

    There are, however, other questions that might change that answer in particular circumstances; you note, "another question was put: 'Is it immoral to watch in front of children below 12 years old?'" And while it is true that Sarkus' answer to the first question "avoids giving moral advice" in a "specific question of application of morality, not … a meta-discussion of morality itself" your subsequent inquiry stands out. Would his response have been the same for the second? But the other question describes different circumstances⁵; objectively speaking, there is particular reason for protest—it is not appropriate conduct in the presence of children compared to the prospect of healthy posterity for the species. Equivocating the two is a strange foundation for your challenge; moreover, the question of "giving some moral guidance to somebody who seems to sorely need some" is at least a little bit subtle. I mean, sure, maybe Saint needs some moral guidance, and perhaps that's been true for years, #4↑ is kind of a weird post.


    What if the objective reality is that people object for dysfunctional reasons? It wouldn't mean that there are not real dangers in exposing children to pornography, but, simply that a given objection is in some way inappropriate. Let's contrast this with your inquiry to Sarkus:

    You might be chasing a phantom of your own imagination, here: "The implication of [Sarkus'] position seems to me to be that if there is no objective morality, then nobody is on solid ground when they say something is morally commendable or reprehensible", you argue, and that he "can always just respond 'Aha! But morality is inevitably subjective, so one person's ideas about morality are just as good as another's.'" This assessment is explicitly wrong; see Sarkus at #3↑: "If X is objective then X is the reality for everyone. If people don't believe X to be the case then X doesn't stop being objective."

    To apply that to your concern, the problem with objective morality is comprehending its objective roots, and, again, nobody ought pretend I already aced the final.

    That objective morality is complicated does not mean morality is inevitably subjective; it's one thing that you're posturing yourself against a straw man, but your sosobra burns brightly through the rest of #5↑. And what was it you said in #56↑: Does coming up with some content of my own mean making things up like you do? Like when you praise yourself, in #7↑, that you "helpfully elaborated on exactly what issue I took with [Sarkus'] response", yes, it was probably helpful that you elaborated on your fallacy, but it was still a fallacy.

    Or try it this way:

    That's just ridiculous, James. Think about it for just a moment; it's not hard. Between Sarkus'↑ suggestion, "if a question is raised that opens a path to a wider discussion, so be it, that is one path the thread can take", and your inquiry about providing Saint with the means to find an answer to the question he asked, you're asking a lot that people don't laugh in your face. Or, compared to the fact that it's Saint, your inquiry suggests you aren't paying attention, or don't know what's going on, except there is that last, suggesting you are just being flippant for the sake of being disrespectful. To wit, perhaps Sarkus should bear in mind that you know Saint from outside the thread, and this informs your opinions about him, but if you want people to believe that, we might look back to your inquiry about providing Saint with the means to find an answer and suggest you're asking a lot that people don't cuss you out.


    ⁵ There are also other questions: Where does this or that pornography come from, and how was it made? The act of watching a pornographic video is not inherently immoral, but some particular pornographic material might describe circumstances of violation and exploitation that change the question from the general to explicitly circumstantial.​

    Russell, Jeffrey B. Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1984.

  9. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    One of the interesting things about reading the thread is how much of it is about you. Consider your approach to the thread subject:

    In other words, to put it another way, you fundamentally disagree with your own straw man, and you think that instead of acknowledging your straw man, a more constructive response would be for him to overlook that and tell you where he thinks you have common ground even as you continue to misrepresent him. Under such circumstances, the question of morality being subjective or objective isn't going to find much progress.

    It's like how you open #16↑ with a bunch of self-righteous nonsense: Seriously, James, life is too short for people to waste on your fallacies and self-righteous bullshit. Or are people just supposed to pass that over in order to focus on the substance of your arguments, which in turn is so often fallacious? Or do they need to cut you a break on that because it's too abrasive to call out fallacy? Well, fine:

    That is still relativistic. Societies can be, and often are, wrong about those basic, objectively necessary values. The difference between what Sarkus is saying and what you are arguing against is that it is not, as you suggest, that "any moral 'system' or criterion for moral decision making is as good as the next". Perhaps the most impressive thing about all this flaming straw is how blatantly you insist.

    And if there is room and reason to be critical of the argument Sarkus puts up, it is actually a bit harder pulling it out of the noise. But it's true, his identification as a moral relativst probably reads poorly to me because I tend to approach the term in a different context. The flip side is that his argument tends to work in a range I recognize and can share or, at least, don't refuse. Go back to #3↑: "If X is objective then X is the reality for everyone." If he holds to that, it should be possible to argue that an objective morality, mysterious though it might be, actually can be asserted. Moreover, as morality is likely a dynamic assertion⁶, I don't expect Sarkus' take on relativism will bring me any tremendous dispute. Between the two of you, James, your relativism is closer to what the grumpy old men of yesteryear would have scorned and scolded; yours is anchorless, while his has a tether that can tie off to reality.

    Consider, James, compared to religious superstition, your explanation that, "Having decided on a basic set of things that are valued, the question of how best to protect what is valued determines morality objectively," does not preclude religious superstition. Under what circumstances will you and I, and Sarkus, or, really, anyone following along in this discussion, agree that religious superstition has what to do with "objective"?

    Comparatively, Sarkus' argument, "If X is objective then X is the reality for everyone," guards against that problem. The difference is that the factors used to objectively discern morality are themselves objectively based, whereas we can make Catholicism sound logical if we accept a couple extraordinary and untestable presuppositions about "God", at which point the argument asserts an objectivity that still qualifies within your range.


    Time out: If you happened to make a point of "the moral systems that objectively exist in human societies", perhaps it would seem to be merely halfway-clever wordplay, but when coupled with the part about "consistent attitudes and behaviours" that are↑ "held in 100% of all cases (societies)", the contextual shift stands out: The context in which you are correct is weirdly inconsequential, but more importantly, it is different from the context of his inquiry. Anyway, it's just a weird moment. Whatever.


    Perhaps the occasion when all you can say is, "Er... yes it does," might help make the point. We can certainly "make objective observations about how people tend to act, in a moral sense, both in a particular context and across many contexts (historical and cultural)", and it is true "we can discern common threads of moral thinking", but per Sarkus' assertion↑ that, "'Common threads' doesn't make something objective", it is one thing to simply insist, "yes it does", but I do not think it means what you think it means. The objective thing that we have, then, is essentially a list; the common threads enumerated do not necessarily describe objective moral thinking.

    And here we might consider your suggested reading; the one example offers us a glimpse at the risks of "almost the first thing I found with a Google search": While its review of epistemic uncertainty about the answer is not useless as a general marker or reference point, all it really does is reiterate that uncertainty is uncertain. The other light reading you suggested only points back to uncertainty, and in its application, here, has a weird effect of much ado about saying nothing; the thing is, after the critique gets pretty close in part 3, it immediately turns, in its conclusion, back to uncertainty.


    A strange thing about this discussion, James, is that there are times, such as the last paragraph of section 3 of the light reading—that moral justifications do not exist in isolation—when it seems like we ought to be able to agree on a few things. Indeed, some of what respondents offer in the random reading you offered would suggest pathways to agreement with Sarkus, and in that context all three of us.

    However, it is one thing to suggest that potential becomes complicated in part by all your straw, but once we sweep that all away, the big functional gap is that your relativism appears to be anchorless, and it its way no less arbitrary than a religious morality.

    And if that happens to get us off the first page, and up to the six-month gap, we find this aspect of your argument in #28↑, responding to M345:

    Your assertion of objectivity continues to orbit conventional agreement that is not necessarily bound by objectivity or reality or rational logic; that is, it depends on a context of agreeing on what is moral according to criteria that do not exclude irrational pretenses such as aesthetics and superstition. And per Sarkus at #29↑, I would actually expect more common ground between you; the big differences are your failure or refusal to exclude subjectivity as the basis of objective assessment, and the flaming-straw sideshow. The question of a subjective basis for objective assessment continues in #31↑, and persists in #37↑.

    And while you criticize Seattle in #42↑, you still do not close your own relativistic gap. For instance—


    It's hard to figure where to begin, but as an American, according to our historical contetxt of slavery, your proposition seems arbitrary; by their objective logic derived from God-given truth, slavery isn't what their kind is for, so they would argue yes, there is something morally wrong with them being enslaved.

    The problem with your relativism, James, is that if enough people agree with them, then their morality is objective, and that outcome is what you fail or refuse to guard against.


    ⁶ It's as complicated as it is straightforward; under significantly different existential circumstances, an objective morality would assert different values according to different priorities than what we might formulate according to our present existential circumstance.​

  10. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Look at your response, in #49↑ to Sunday Blue Laws: "If you were to ask those people why one thing was wrong and another okay, could they give you a reason? Would that reason be sound and rational?"

    Well, actually, James, that answer exists and is attainable: If the applicable law says religious freedom, e.g. First Amendment, then the Sunday Blue Laws are wrong; if the Sunday Blue Laws are not attached to any principle, and thus just an arbitrary regulation, they are also wrong, and will eventually be stricken as such. If you cannot discern the difference between the logical structure of the applied constraints—i.e., law—and the aesthetics of what someone thinks God wants, this whole discussion just gets that much harder.

    Yet, you got so close:

    Do you understand, James, this is a requirement of objective morality, and not a subjective option?

    It is possible to make such judgments, and at this point, you and Sarkus should be on common ground; the functional difference seems to be something about how you define the boundaries of objectivity vis à vis an objective basis for comparative moral assessment.⁷ Consider that I can say whatever I will about Seattle on slavery⁸ in #44↑, but your answer—

    —reads like belligerence setting up the challenge, "What are you advocating for, exactly?" It's true, he isn't saying much, but that's the thing: He isn't saying much. Still, your explanation, "We can only decide whether being selfish is a bad thing … if we already have in place some core moral principles to which we can refer", continues to bear the same exposure, that the core moral principles need not be objective or rational in themselves.

    Your response to M345, #48↑, "You don't care if other people act immorally towards other people (other than yourself)?" is straw. Perhaps his outlook makes him unusual, but he did not say he does not care if other people act immorally towards other people. But if you check his line↑ about Roe v. Wade becoming a yo-yo, that is only true if there is no stable, objective basis for comprehending and asserting right and wrong. And even your response looks to subjective outcomes⁹ with no obligation to objectivity; on this apparent threshold you seem to be quite consistent.

    And as we come back 'round to #49↑ it is impossible to not notice the straw: The question of being an unusual person, carried over from #48, stands out. Two posts in a row, two people in a row, and, whatever, that is what it is; but while I am able to chortle at Seattle's pretense of not judging selfishness, your response has a way of missing the mark. It's one thing if I can split hairs about what judgments most people regularly make, but it isn't especially useful. Still, the point stands out because as you press on, "If you're trying to tell me that you never judge other people, I'm afraid that I'm going to find that very difficult to believe", is your own fallacious leap, and suddenly the difference between what he would call it when you or I might say he's judging selfishness seems even less significant. "Are you claiming you have no moral standards?" you ask. "I find that, also, very hard to believe."

    But again, that gap is consistent:

    Once again, your expression omits any obligation of those core values or our clear idea about them to be rational or objective. And inasmuch as you consider such questions some valence of meta, I would remind they are requisite of objective morality.

    It's worth observing your posts at #50↑ and #52↑, which, as with your response to me at #56↑, suggests that people go back and read the thread. Did you enjoy saying that? Had it occurred to you that maybe people already had? Like Gmilam, for instance, at #51↑; your sarcasm in response is its own thing, but perhaps you should consider the declarative tone of his reply can easily be read as attending the obtuseness of what Seattle referred to as subterfuge, and is addressed lightly in note 7 below. You actually said, "I'm not clear", so Gmilam answered your question clearly. Anyway, it's not like I wasn't aware of #5↑ back in December; that other thread↗ you mentioned was already enough of a mess. But this thread awakens, and here we are.

    And when Seattle, in #53↑ answered your demand—"In reading those I see that you're determined that Sarkus is wrong and you are right so I don't see much point in further debate in this particular thread (he isn't wrong by the way)"—you turned in #54↑ to have after Sarkus, instead: "Wrong about what, I wonder? Oh well, never mind." Faced with Seattle's disagreement, you turned to Sarkus and postured yourself as eithher unable or unwilling to recognize the basic shape of the discussion.

    So, maybe it feels good to say things like, "Perhaps you should have read the thread before deciding what I would or wouldn't really know," but review only deepens uncertainty about whether you actually understand what people are telling you. Substantively, there is a gap in your argument, where objectivity seems to fall away; the sosobra are entirely extraneous, and clearly disruptive. But, sure, compared to the idea that you're deliberately being rude toward Sarkus in #54, it is not difficult to actually believe that you really wouldn't know.

    Meanwhile, even in your later performance for W4U, yeah, that gap still remains in #102↑: "If we can agree at a basic level on what is valuable, then we have an objective basis for evaluating moral questions." Nothing in that paragraph hews to objectivity; it leaves room for subjectivity. And, per #87↑, it's worth checking on one point in particular: "5000+ years of recorded history shows that many people think you're wrong about that." James, stop and think about what you're saying. You're not necessarily wrong, but is that really the argument you want to be making in that moment? Is that really the one you think applies, there?

    It's one thing if I think there is a gap in your line, but then you went and affirmed it.

    And, y'know, on telling people to read the thread, yeah, that went well: Before deciding what you would or wouldn't really know? My line was based on the point that you were pretending ignorance after having invested yourself considerably in the thread. It was easy, obvious, and worked as either sarcasm or straight-man. It's unclear what you thought your retort would get you.

    But, sure, the actual discourse on morality is fascinating.


    See #45↑: "Why does it matter to you whether there is an 'absolute' objective morality or not?" Weirdly, that might the wrong question; by your treatment, I would eye what he means by "absolute"; reading his post, though, he means something else; cf. #47↑.

    ⁸ Even if I suggest it's five sentences of truism as ineffective as it is meaningless, there is also his post at #40↑, which includes what turns out to be an apt example of the gap in your relativstic objectivity: "Some societies have slavery, they don't think it's wrong, at at least at some time in the past it wasn't seen as wrong." As it is, it isn't untrue; his observation in #44, regarding relativism, "culture bound and not objective in any absolute sense", describes the problem almost precisely.

    ⁹ And presupposes from a conservative perspective on an important point: "Abortion rights should be federally legislated", you suggest, except constitutional rights do not require federal legislation. In order to undo Roe, the court has simply invented the arguments it wanted, with no need for consistency or even accuracy. We can sail that one through the gap in your objectivity: All they need to do is convince enough people to go along with them, and what they want becomes objectively moral despite inconsistency and inaccuracy.

  11. Baldeee Valued Senior Member

    This is a rather confusing understanding, it seems, as you are mixing objectivity/subjectivity with in/determinism.
    However ob/subjectivity has nothing to do with the underlying process of events, but with the persepective of observation of those events.

    I'm not sure the two concepts can/should be equated as you are doing.
  12. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    Subjectivity has to do with observation and our ability to process the observed information.

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    Interpretation of observed information.

    Objectivity is the actual processing of self-organizing information and is independent of any observation,. (unless "observation" is used in a technical sense).

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    Self-organizing information in deterministic patterns

    Determinism is objective.
    Is there such a thing as deterministic morality? Not to my knowledge.

    Choice is subjective.
    Is there such a thing as morality by choice? To my knowledge, yes.
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2022
  13. Baldeee Valued Senior Member

    Again, all you are doing is repeating what I see as your error rather than addressing it.
    Objectivity and subjectivity are not equivalent or limited to determinism and indeterminism.
    You are equating the two. That is, as explained, a fallacy.
    Address it or remain irrelevant to the discussion.
    Your choice.

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  14. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    I see objective as pertaining to that being observed and subjective as pertaining to the observer's interpretation of that being observed.

    After a cursory search:

    What is subjectivity and objectivity?

    Is this different from what I posited?
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2022
  15. Baldeee Valued Senior Member

    Note that there is zero mention of in/determinism, which is an irrelevant concept to whether something is subjective or objective.
    If you drop the in/determinism and stick with what you posted directly above then you should be okay.
  16. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Practical Application: Ninety-Nine

    The Supreme Court of the United States today is hearing a Smith v. Elenis et al., in which a Christian seeks the right of a licensed business to refuse public accommodation to customers for failing to satisfy a personal religious standard associated with the business. The case, involving a homophobic web designer, is a reshash of bakery arguments.

    Much chatter and buzz during oral arguments focuses on Justice Samuel Alito, who joked about how Black children like to dress up as KKK, and something untoward about Justice Kagan and the infamous Ashley Madison website.

    However, while the politics and implications of the case are what they are, something else emerges in the discourse occuring on the nation's highest judicial bench. Harry Litman↱ observes:

    Alito: what if it's in a community that 99% disagrees with same-sex marriage? He seems to mean it as a strong case for letting majority have its religious views prevail, but it's precisely the opposite! That's why we have a Bill of Rights.

    James, it would appear you're on the same page with Justice Alito:

    What Litman describes is an actual "true for you" argument; we have before us a practical, living application of your proposition. Basically, what Alito is asking is if something becomes right if ninety-nine percent of people disapprove of on moral grounds regardless of any other objective aspect of reality.

    What Litman reminds is that reality still applies.

    If ninety-nine percent agree that it should be illegal to utter hate speech against Christianity, and therefore you, James, must stop complaining about what's wrong with religion, would you shrug and accept that was the moral outcome?

    As a practical test, if those ninety-nine said that they were protecting free speech by silencing you, would you agree that was true?

    That's the problem of your anchorless relativism, and the dysfunction of Alito's inquiry.

    To reiterate: While it is unlikely we might find many ninety-nine percent results, the persistence of puritanistic moral dysfunction is an example of why investment of the question in what other people accept or disapprove of is insufficient. Consider your straw about "anything goes as long as it's 'true for you'"; nothing about your ninety-nine percent includes any suggestion that what people "disapprove of, on moral grounds" makes any sense.

    Consider questions of consistency. I might razz you now and then about being unreliable, but as a scientist you're aware of a slightly different application of reliability. Your argument does not consider whether what the ninety-nine assert is even valid, nor the reliability of such outcomes.

    Recently, a federal court considered what is referred to as a carve-out↗, but only for the purpose of immediately rejecting the idea. Carveouts are inconsistencies, unreliability, occurring when a court does not wish to follow the law, but knows it cannot simply overturn the law. The Roberts Court is notorious for carveouts. For instance, silencing general atheistic criticism of Christianity as hate speech would be a carve-out; after all, it is unlikely such a Supreme Court would similarly quash Christianist make-believe about atheists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, &c.

    A flip-side, of course, is that if one disdains morality in general, then your ninety-nine percent argument looks attractive; in human history, morality has yet to destroy the species, but your pitch describes how it still might, and Justice Alito illustrates how that works: If you can get ninety-nine percent of people to ignore objective reality in favor of their make-believe surrogate, does that somehow mean they're right?

    And if that subjectivity wrecks the place and inflicts suffering, will you agree with them that what they are doing is moral, simply because enough people think treating you that way is not simply okay, but a moral imperative?

    Litman points to an anchor; Alito's inquiry seems to be without one. We can always double-check the transcript when it comes out, but it is unlikely Alito is following a different pathway; what Litman describes is more consistent with Alito's history.

    And that's the underlying problem: Objectivity does not support what Lorie Smith wants. In order to find for Smith, the Court must flip a lot of its own work. With the Roberts Court, it is possible they will. But the arbitrariness of doing so would denigrate the basic concept of morality by detaching it from what is real and known.

    Anyway, it's one of those things; sometimes, life hands us examples. Once upon a time, of course, I would not have expected the example to be so straightforward. And if Alito actually does the right thing, then he will have helped undermine the ninety-nine percent argument.

    But we do have a practical application, a living test, of the ninety-nine argument.


    @harrylitman. "Alito: what if it's in a community that 99% disagrees with same-sex marriage? He seems to mean it as a strong case for letting majority have its religious views prevail, but it's precisely the opposite! That's why we have a Bill of Rights." Twitter. 5 December 2022. 5 December 2022.
  17. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    If 99% of the community disagreed with same sex marriage, I think it would make sense for that community to be able to decide to outlaw same-sex marriage. And, indeed, that was the state of affairs in the United States until quite recently. It is still the state of affairs in many other countries. My own country put the matter to a vote and it turned out that significantly more than 50% of people in my country think same-sex marriage is just fine, so it is now legal, whereas it wasn't before.

    Why should a 99% majority of people in a community have to be dictated to by the 1%?

    Note well, though: this is about who gets to decide how a community is legally organised. The question of whether it is moral to outlaw same-sex marriage is a related but separate question.

    If you support same-sex marriage and live in a nation where 99% of the population thinks that it marriage is immoral, then you're the outlier. That's just a fact of life. The best you can hope for is (a) that, in time, people will change their minds and/or (b) that you can move to a different community whose views are more in accordance with your own.
    I think the question of what a majority is able to impose on a minority is a different question from whether something is morally right.

    There's some confusion here, I think. If a moral argument is sound, and 99% of people object on the basis of that sound argument, then it seems at least plausible that the moral argument the 99% is using is correct. If you then disagree with the moral conclusion that the vast majority of people have reached, you're an outlier, objectively. That was the point I made previously.

    Now, it is possible, as you have no doubt realised, that the 99% could be using faulty arguments that they believe are moral but which really aren't. I assume this is the sort of thing you have in mind when you refer to "any other objective aspect of reality". In that case, you're just making an alternative moral argument, based on whatever that neglected aspect of reality is (plus your own moral values). Who "wins" the argument in that case will depend on a number of factors. I'm not sure whether you think there are such things as objective moral facts, in and of themselves. I have my doubts about that.
    No, but I'd have to accept that was the legal outcome. Obviously.

    I have never engaged in hate speech against Christians, though, just to be clear.
    I would question how the 99 are defining the term "free speech" in such circumstances. We could have a moral debate about that, probably.
    I don't think I have an anchorless relativism. What kind of anchor are you hoping to find? Perhaps I have one of those.

    Out of interest, what do you consider the foundation of your own morality? Do you think your morality is absolute rather than relative? Or is it relative and anchored? How so?

    I have argued against "anything goes as long as it's true for you". What's your position? You seem to be on the same side as me, at least as far as the basics go. Aren't you arguing that it is not true that "anything goes as long as it's true for you"?
    You didn't ask.
    You'll need to explain how this "objective reality" of yours imposes moral obligations on people, regardless of what people believe about morality, I think.

    Reality (by which I mean, here, everything other than people) is what it is, but it doesn't determine how people ought to act, as far as I can see. Not on its own.
    You're asking me if I think that people can have opinions they believe are moral but are, in fact, wrong. I think they can.
    Litman points to the Bill of Rights, which is a specific law enacted by choice of a majority at a particular time and place. You seem to be assuming, without making an actual argument, that the Bill of Rights is morally good, and using that assumption as your "anchor". It follows, of course, that once you've decided the Bill of Rights is good, then suggested laws that breach the Bill of Rights are going to be bad. But that's not an objective moral standard. It's just another 99% (probably less, in practice) argument.
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2022
  18. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    Since you seem to be a bit confused about my position on morality, here's something I wrote back in post #102, above. Hope this helps!

    At one level, I don't disagree that morality is subjective, in that I do not believe that it is handed down from on high by some kind of ultimate moral authority (such as a God, for instance). But on the other hand, morality is rooted in objective facts about the world - observable behaviours and their observable consequences. Those things are objective. So, if we can agree at a basic level on what is valuable, then we have an objective basis for evaluating moral questions. For instance, if we can agree, for example, that human suffering is usually a bad thing - something every individual would prefer to avoid - then we can also agree that acting in a way that is likely to cause or increase human suffering is morally wrong. We can reason objectively from "suffering is bad" to "choices of action that cause suffering are wrong". This only requires that we agree that suffering is bad, in general.​
  19. Seattle Valued Senior Member

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  20. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I think that in cases where objective truth applies, there is some objective truth-of-the-matter, some really existing state of affairs that makes the belief true. My belief that 'Paris is the capital of France' is true iff Paris is indeed the capital of France. Your "antivaxxers" belief that vaccines cause autism is F iff vaccines in fact don't cause autism.

    So when it comes to morals, is there any objective fact that makes the belief that 'racism is evil' or 'homosexuality is a perversion' true or false as the case may be?

    Many would argue 'yes', that moral judgments are objective, because they are grounded in divine will or in some concept of 'natural law' (not in the physics sense). Both of those views are very much out of favor today in the modern West, so we often see attempted justifications in terms of utilitarianism or something like that, that try to justify 'good' in terms of what objectively promotes human flourishing or eudaimonia. (Of course making sense of that idea without returning to subjectivity or to natural law becomes a problem.)

    Others would argue that morals are the products of subjective feelings. I "know" that X is wrong because it seems so abhorrent to me! I know that Y is good, because it just feels so right to me!

    But it quickly gets more complicated than that. Morality isn't just an individual thing, it's inescapably social. When I say that something is wrong I'm not just saying that it displeases me or that I don't like it as if it's a musical song. I'm saying that You shouldn't approve of it either! There's a prescriptive as well as a descriptive side to morality.

    Since we are social animals who go along to get along, when everyone around us is making those kind of judgments, we will inevitably be influenced by them. So morality kind of develops the facade of objectivity, of something that doesn't arise in me but rather comes to me from outside, despite its seeming lack of grounding.

    That produces a relativism that isn't of the 'it's good if it feels good to me' sort. It becomes a relativism of social communities, X is right in a particular community if there is broad general agreement in that community that X is right. It isn't strictly up to an individual, though individuals collectively contribute to it.

    Which still leaves the question when there are communities with dramatically different social mores, of whether one community be more right or correct than another? If so, why?

    I'm inclined to agree in most cases. But that still leaves us with the problem of what justifies our moral judgments.

    In the past that problem was less troubling, because communities were much more homogeneous and there was broad agreement on these things. But as communities become more diverse and dissimilar (and this is celebrated as a good thing as we emphasize outsiders and outsiderdom) moral unanimity falls apart and morality starts to weaken for everyone. Humanity is well on its way towards anomie. This is one of the biggest challenges facing Western (and global) civilization right now in my opinion.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2022
  21. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    I agree with the majority of what you wrote.

    It is always possible for us to play infinite regress with morals.

    It's a similar thing with matters of causation, I think. What caused event Z? Event Y was the cause of Z. Yes, but then what caused Y? Well, Y happened because of X. Yes, but what caused X? etc. etc. Well, C was caused by B and B was caused by A, but then we still have the problem of what caused A.

    The only solution to this is to assume that there is some "first" cause, beyond which it makes no sense to ask about prior causes, or that there is an infinite regress of causes. But the notion that there might be a first cause is a very slippery one, because it can often seem like an ad hoc assumption that is introduced purely to avoid the infinite regress, whereas the infinite regress itself is unpalatable to many.

    Similarly, when it comes to morals, whenever we say something like "It is good to do X" or "It is evil to do Y", it is always possible to ask "Yes, but why is it good to do X?" Then we go down a similar path: X is desirable because of W; W is desirable because of V; etc. etc.; B is desirable because A. And we're left with: either there's a final source of ultimate goodness (or evil) or there's an infinite regress of reasons why something is moral or immoral.

    In practice, I think that most of the time most of us are content to stop the regress at some point (which might be considered arbitrary). When it comes to matters of causation, we decide might stop at the Big Bang, for instance. What caused the Big Bang remains an open question, but we're aware that we (probably) have no way to get to the answer, so while philosophers might still speculate, our causal chain is about as done as it can get.

    Similarly, when it comes to morality, I think there's a sensible stopping point in the chain. For instance, we might decide that avoiding suffering (of self and others) is a good thing (which is approximately the same as saying that maximising happiness is a good thing). Why is murder bad? Because it causes suffering, and causing suffering is evil. Why is polluting the environment bad? Because it causes suffering, and suffering is bad.

    Again, some philosophers might still ponder the question "Yes, but is causing suffering actually evil?" or "Yes, but is being happy actually good?" But most people will be able to agree, I think, that their own experience is that being happy is preferable to suffering, so that seems like as sensible a place as any to stop (or to start, if prefer to track the moral chain in the opposite direction).

    You have, in effect, argued that human diversity means that it is conceivable that different groups (or individuals) might be unable to agree on a core value like "happiness is desirable". I can't see that happening, but there is an important caveat. I believe that morality is fundamentally social and interpersonal. If that is true, then it is not enough for me to proclaim "Only my happiness is important; I don't have to give a damn for anybody else's happiness/wellbeing". This is where the idea of 0bjectivity comes into morality: I don't get to decide that only the things that are important to me are important. That would be purely subjective. If I decide that murder is good (for me) and 99 other people decide that murder is evil (for them), then if I'm to share a community with those 99, I'm going to have to abide by the view of the majority when it comes to murdering people, or suffer social consequences.

    Somebody at this point will probably chime in to ask: what happens if, instead, the 99 people decide that murder is desirable and good and I'm the odd one out in believing murder to be bad? A lot of moral philosophers have spent lots of time considering that kind of problem and there are lots of arguments to be made about it. But the idea of objectivity is central, in my opinion, to deciding which of the two potential societies will be more socially viable in the long term: the one with 99 murderers and one person averse to murder, or the one with 1 murderer and 99 people averse to murder. A crucial question, I think, when it comes to morality is to ask yourself: which of those two hypothetical societies would you rather live in, if you had no information or choice in advance as to whether you would be one of the 99 or the one on his own? I know which one I'd rather live in, and I suspect everybody else here would make the same choice I'd make in this case.

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