DebatingChristianity.com | Right and Wrong


Morality as brute fact

Goto page 1, 2, 3  Next

Morality as brute fact 
Author: Anonymous 
Posted: 02/09/2012 07:46 PM 
 
Many atheists reject objective morality as something that requires a god, however, I feel that the existence of these values and duties are obvious, self evident. I hate to argue from emotion, but I cannot see ANY case or reason in which torturing and cannibalizing children is morally permissible, and I KNOW it is a moral abomination in the same way I know that 5+9=14. Even if everyone on Earth decided such an atrocious and heinous act were acceptable, I would still know, beyond any doubt, that it is wrong. I am as certain of this as I am of my own existence.

I am NOT saying that everything that falls under "morality" is objective and unmistakable -- that would be absurd. Of course there is disagreement on things such as the morality of speeding, premarital sex, religious devotion, gambling, early-term abortion, or prostitution. What I am advancing is the position that minimal universal moral values are objective and properly basic. By "minimal universal moral values," I mean the three principles that:

1) It is wrong to cause gratuitous suffering to an innocent human being.

2) It is right to promote / improve the life of an innocent human being.

3) It is right to bring punishment upon those that violate (1) and/or (2).

From these three principles, all of our more specific moral values (rape is wrong, murder is wrong, slavery is wrong, child molestation is wrong, theft is wrong, saving lives is right, healing diseases is right, punishing mass murderers is right, etc.) logically follow.

I believe that these 'minimal moral values' are every bit as obvious and self-evident as cogito ergo sum. For example, what (sane) individual person could raise a rational doubt about the immorality of raping and murdering an innocent woman, or of torturing an innocent child to death? What rational, reasonable person could deny the moral imperative of attempting to save a child from death by cancer?

I also feel that god(s) cannot be a sound basis for morality due to the Euthyphro Dilemma:

1) Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is good

OR

2) Is what is morally good right because God commands it?

Either scenario is fatal to theism. If scenario (1) is true, then absolute moral good exists independently of God, making God superfluous.

If scenario (2) is true, then absolute moral good does not exist, and is simply contingent on God's subjective commands. On (2), if God commanded child rape (as he ostensibly did in Numbers 31, btw), child rape would be right. Obviously this view is deeply problematic, and provides no more explanatory power for objective morality than does atheism.

Instead of the logically incoherent positions of theistic morality or moral relativism, I believe that objective moral values and duties are "brute facts" and require no explanation or cause of their existence.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brute_fact

Debate question: Do objective moral values and duties require an explanation, or do they 'just exist' as brute facts? If they need to be explained, why?


Re: Morality as brute fact 
Author: McCulloch 
Posted: 02/09/2012 11:06 PM 
 








haven wrote:

Debate question: Do objective moral values and duties require an explanation, or do they 'just exist' as brute facts? If they need to be explained, why?



I do believe that an explanation for moral values can, in principle, be found. But the answers will be from Biology, Neurology, Anthropology, Chemistry and Physics, not in supernaturalism.


 
Author: Anonymous 
Posted: 02/14/2012 03:44 AM 
 
Why do you feel an explanation is necessary? My opinion is that moral values necessarily exist, and that they exist for no reason independent of themselves.


Re: Morality as brute fact 
Author: hollysoms 
Posted: 02/19/2012 12:59 PM 
 








Haven wrote:
Many atheists reject objective morality as something that requires a god, however, I feel that the existence of these values and duties are obvious, self evident. I hate to argue from emotion, but I cannot see ANY case or reason in which torturing and cannibalizing children is morally permissible, and I KNOW it is a moral abomination in the same way I know that 5+9=14. Even if everyone on Earth decided such an atrocious and heinous act were acceptable, I would still know, beyond any doubt, that it is wrong. I am as certain of this as I am of my own existence.

I believe that we are faced with choices that will always have a better and worse. I think it is quite possible that we can establish a set of guidelines that many even most can agree to as good and less good. I too would be far fetched to find a situation in which torturing and cannibalizing children is a good or better choice. And would find it personally "atrocious" as well. However, I am also quite aware that many things we find "atrocious" now, were not seen as such at one time. And also that many of us even now are affected by "atrociousness" of different things. For instance I am completely repulsed and find "atrocious" the killing of animals to eat. Others however have no problems with this. Those same others would find having sex with an animal as atrocious, but the murder/kill of an animal as not atrocious. Morals can be kinda mixy.

To the often used example of killing babies, (the christian has problems with it because God himself according to the bible does it upon his discretion) I have often cited the example of what if it were zombie babies? suddenly the picture turns.









Quote:

I am NOT saying that everything that falls under "morality" is objective and unmistakable -- that would be absurd. Of course there is disagreement on things such as the morality of speeding, premarital sex, religious devotion, gambling, early-term abortion, or prostitution. What I am advancing is the position that minimal universal moral values are objective and properly basic. By "minimal universal moral values," I mean the three principles that:

1) It is wrong to cause gratuitous suffering to an innocent human being.

2) It is right to promote / improve the life of an innocent human being.

3) It is right to bring punishment upon those that violate (1) and/or (2).

what if causing suffering to an innocent human being saved the lives of countless others?
I think for the most part we can adhere to principles that we realize are beneficial and good. We can employ tools of empathy, compassion, and critical thinking to make such choices as to what principles fall into this category.
But I think that if we say that our principles are unbendable and absolute, we lose the ability to stick to employing these tools.









Quote:

From these three principles, all of our more specific moral values (rape is wrong, murder is wrong, slavery is wrong, child molestation is wrong, theft is wrong, saving lives is right, healing diseases is right, punishing mass murderers is right, etc.) logically follow.

when the individual is given foremost right and privilege as has been established slowly through human rights, than yes, these things are capable of being seen as not acceptable choices.
It is easiest done in my opinion with the employment of empathy. "do unto others what you would have them do unto you" and all such similar versions of the golden rule. Seeing that we would not like to be molested, murdered, or owned, etc.








Quote:

I believe that these 'minimal moral values' are every bit as obvious and self-evident as cogito ergo sum. For example, what (sane) individual person could raise a rational doubt about the immorality of raping and murdering an innocent woman, or of torturing an innocent child to death? What rational, reasonable person could deny the moral imperative of attempting to save a child from death by cancer?

I also feel that god(s) cannot be a sound basis for morality due to the Euthyphro Dilemma:

1) Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is good

OR

2) Is what is morally good right because God commands it?

Either scenario is fatal to theism. If scenario (1) is true, then absolute moral good exists independently of God, making God superfluous.

If scenario (2) is true, then absolute moral good does not exist, and is simply contingent on God's subjective commands. On (2), if God commanded child rape (as he ostensibly did in Numbers 31, btw), child rape would be right. Obviously this view is deeply problematic, and provides no more explanatory power for objective morality than does atheism.

Instead of the logically incoherent positions of theistic morality or moral relativism, I believe that objective moral values and duties are "brute facts" and require no explanation or cause of their existence.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brute_fact

Debate question: Do objective moral values and duties require an explanation, or do they 'just exist' as brute facts? If they need to be explained, why?

I think morals are something we make. They have evolved as knowledge evolves. It is their very evolution that gives me reason to believe that we cannot so easily say objective morality exists. I will admit to still working this all out as I came from a christian absolute moral pov.

Regards,
soms


 
Author: Darias 
Posted: 02/19/2012 03:32 PM 
 
First I must argue that morality is largely cultural, religious, and thus subjective. This does not mean I think everything goes because nothing has authority behind it.

Of course that's nonsense. I will admit that my moral views are subjective in some way, but I also stress that my morality is based upon philosophical logic and thousands of years of cultural evolution. That is how I can justly say that my values are better than human sacrifice.



Now, as for your argument. These "minimal" moral laws are not the same thing as the natural laws of the universe. They are not factual -- or woven into Time and Space.

However, those 3 "minimal" "laws" can be explained not just with reason but biology itself.

Rules one and two are largely felt as right due to Oxytocin, the empathy inducing molecule. The desire to punish wrongdoers is due to Testosterone.

Testosterone is also responsible for canceling out empathy, which makes sense -- it's why South Carolina cheers for the execution of wrong doers.

So what we see everywhere, or for the most part, is not some invisible law floating around, or some subjective cultural moral ethic, but these "minimal" ideas are strongly based upon human instinct. Perhaps this is why humans are so convinced in the self-evidence of their position, or in the cosmic authority that ensures they are right.







YouTube



 
Author: Anonymous 
Posted: 02/19/2012 06:04 PM 
 
Darias and Soms, thanks for sharing your thoughts Smile. I must say that I disagree with your analyses for three main reasons, which I will list below.

(1) Your views offer no basis for morality beyond subjective opinion. If morality is subjective, then who is anyone to say the child rapist acts immorally by sexually violating his victims, or the thief acts immorally by swindling people out of their life savings? Without some sort of objective grounding for morality, it simply becomes a game of personal preference and "might makes right," which is absurd.

(2) Your views reduce human beings to little more than mindless machines, behaving according to the chemical programming written into us by evolution. Under your views, we are not "rational animals" capable of making informed choices, but simply advanced robots carrying out actions caused by chemical reactions in our brains. Personally, I find this a very low view of humanity; I give us more credit than that.

Also, I feel that Paul Zak somewhat overstated the effects of oxytocin on morality and empathy. This article gives a basic, brief overview on the purported effects of oxytocin on human behavior -- it is not necessarily the "silver bullet" of morality that Professor Zak construed it to be. In fact, oxytocin appears to have numerous deleterious effects on human morality, which essentially disqualifies it as a key component of moral behavior.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxytocin
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/science/11hormone.html
http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb08/oxytocin.aspx

(3) The fact that morality cannot be reduced to a series of chemical causes seems to suggest that it has its roots in something beyond humanity, rather than simply social construction and hard biology.


 
Author: Anonymous 
Posted: 02/19/2012 06:55 PM 
 
Also, I would caution against confusing moral relativism, the belief that there is no objective standard of morality and "good" and "evil" are entirely subjective terms, with situational ethics, the belief that the morality or immorality of a given action depends on the circumstances in which it occurs. Situational ethics is entirely consistent with moral realism, as it details the practical way in which to apply moral facts. It is not the negation of moral facts.


 
Author: Rowena 
Posted: 02/19/2012 07:05 PM 
 








Haven wrote:
(1) Your views offer no basis for morality beyond subjective opinion. If morality is subjective, then who is anyone to say the child rapist acts immorally by sexually violating his victims, or the thief acts immorally by swindling people out of their life savings? Without some sort of objective grounding for morality, it simply becomes a game of personal preference and "might makes right," which is absurd.


There's a difference between 'no morality' and 'no objective morality'. I've no idea whether or not it's in use, but the term 'social morality' seems applicable: morality is, from my research, considered secularly to be the result of humanity's evolution into a social species: we live in a society, and morals are needed for the cooperation and teamwork which form the foundation of a society. Morality from society: hence, social morality. If the people you mention are in that society, or affect that society, then they are immoral, simply enough.
Morality is essentially in humanity: it is part of humanity, just as the social instinct is.









Quote:

(2) Your views reduce human beings to little more than mindless machines, behaving according to the chemical programming written into us by evolution. Under your views, we are not "rational animals" capable of making informed choices, but simply advanced robots carrying out actions caused by chemical reactions in our brains. Personally, I find this a very low view of humanity; I give us more credit than that.


I don't have the time to discuss this in depth right now, but your personal view of humanity, if this were the case, would not change things at all.
It's the problem with many arguments relating to morality: even if morals did not exist at all, and humans were just robots, feeling that it should be otherwise wouldn't change a thing.









Quote:


(3) The fact that morality cannot be reduced to a series of chemical causes seems to suggest that it has its roots in something beyond humanity, rather than simply social construction and hard biology.


I'm not an expert biologist so I can't dwell on this point, save to point out the difference between 'have not' and 'cannot' on reducing morality to chemical causes; and to point out that it is logical for morality to have evolved as society did: indeed, for society to exist, morality is arguably a necessity.


 
Author: Darias 
Posted: 02/19/2012 07:11 PM 
 








Haven wrote:
Darias and Soms, thanks for sharing your thoughts Smile. I must say that I disagree with your analyses for two main reasons, which I will list below.

(1) Your views offer no basis for morality beyond subjective opinion. If morality is subjective, then who is anyone to say the child rapist acts immorally by sexually violating his victims, or the thief acts immorally by swindling people out of their life savings? Without some sort of objective grounding for morality, it simply becomes a game of personal preference and "might makes right," which is absurd.



As I said before, my morality isn't wholly based on cultural upbringing, religious indoctrination, and preference. My moral ethics borrow from Kantian ethics rather than from Utilitarian. Philosophy, logic and science largely inform my morality and give me a firm basis to declare that my values are better than genocide, human sacrifice, and female genital mutilation. There is a level of subjectivity involved when it comes to my favorite color, favorite food, and style of dress. But when it comes to the integrity and rights of a human being (as an end and not as a means), this is based upon philosophical logic and firmly rooted in morality based upon empathy.

My morality isn't wholly based upon a majority, nor is it based upon a cosmic authority of any time, it's based on reason and empathy. That alone makes it better than "moral customs" devoid of both.











Haven wrote:
(2) Your views reduce human beings to little more than mindless machines, behaving according to the chemical programming written into us by evolution. Under your views, we are not "rational animals" capable of making informed choices, but simply advanced robots carrying out actions caused by chemical reactions in our brains. Personally, I find this a very low view of humanity; I give us more credit than that.



I don't believe in free will. I cannot will myself to go to Mars as it is beyond my ability. I have just as much free will as a loaf of bread.

But it is within my power to make choices any given moment from a range of possible decisions.

At the same time, I have genetic and chemical factors that heavily inform and influence my behavior.

At the same time I have my cultural upbringing and philosophical ethics that remind me of the right thing to do....

And most of us have the power of reason and rationality. At the end of the day we are responsible for our actions and are very well capable of doing things that go against our emotional impulses.

That said, we are organic machines, very complex ones... and we do have self-awareness. This shouldn't be a horrible thought or idea. This is just the reality.

But we aren't the slaves of our genetics, there is also something called Epigenetics. Take your time to watch this; it's very informative and entertaining:







YouTube













Haven wrote:
Also, I feel that Paul Zak somewhat overstated the effects of oxytocin on morality and empathy. This article gives a basic, brief overview on the purported effects of oxytocin on human behavior -- it is not necessarily the "silver bullet" of morality that Professor Zak construed it to be. In fact, oxytocin appears to have numerous deleterious effects on human morality, which essentially disqualifies it as a key component of moral behavior.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxytocin
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/science/11hormone.html
http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb08/oxytocin.aspx



Well of course too much of a good thing can be bad. Just because too much can be bad, it doesn't mean that oxytocin has no influence upon our empathic behavior.











Haven wrote:
(3) The fact that morality cannot be reduced to a series of chemical causes seems to suggest that it has its roots in something beyond humanity, rather than simply social construction and hard biology.



If I didn't know you better, I'd think you were talking about God.

I don't think that all human morality is based upon chemicals and genetics alone. I'm just saying that the bare minimal thoughts of reason "The Golden Rule" might, in part, come from feelings of empathy that are created in our brains which we inherited from mammalian ancestors. Of course with complex moral ideas comes philosophy and reason and culture, but you can't deny the role emotion plays in morality. Heck you even admitted to this in the OP. Maybe it's those feelings that are found in most human beings which you are appealing to as a "universal law."

But the way you frame it in the end -- as morality something more than social construction and hard biology -- it's almost as if you are appealing to some spiritual or physical law woven into the fabric of time. I know you aren't referring to god, so just what are you referring to?

Where else does human morality come from apart from genetics (epigenetics), social upbringing, culture, religion, philosophy, reason, and personal choice?

You certainly wouldn't say "God," so just what are you talking about here?


 
Author: Anonymous 
Posted: 02/19/2012 07:17 PM 
 
Thanks for responding Smile.









Rowena wrote:

There's a difference between 'no morality' and 'no objective morality'. I've no idea whether or not it's in use, but the term 'social morality' seems applicable: morality is, from my research, considered secularly to be the result of humanity's evolution into a social species: we live in a society, and morals are needed for the cooperation and teamwork which form the foundation of a society. Morality from society: hence, social morality. If the people you mention are in that society, or affect that society, then they are immoral, simply enough.
Morality is essentially in humanity: it is part of humanity, just as the social instinct is.



Using your view, the Holocaust was not immoral because killing Jews, Romani, and gays was socially acceptable within the society of Nazi Germany. Slavery was not morally wrong because buying and selling human beings of African descent was socially acceptable with the society of 19th century America. The Salem Witch Trials were not immoral because burning people at the stake for religious reasons was socially acceptable in 17th century Massachusetts.

Logically, your view commits you to these statements. Are you really prepared to accept such abhorrent actions as "not wrong" because they were "right" relative to their given societies?

This is the problem with moral relativism. It invariably reduces to "might makes right" and logically commits its adherents to deny the immorality of obviously evil actions.










Quote:
I don't have the time to discuss this in depth right now, but your personal view of humanity, if this were the case, would not change things at all.
It's the problem with many arguments relating to morality: even if morals did not exist at all, and humans were just robots, feeling that it should be otherwise wouldn't change a thing.



My position is not "I don't like humans being robots, so it should be otherwise." You're right, that is not rational. My position is "it is obvious that human beings are more than robots, and that human beings seem to have knowledge of some transcendent moral code." It seems axiomatic -- knowable a priori -- that an objective moral code exists, and because of this, it seems rational to require evidence to reject this a priori, properly basic belief.









Quote:
I'm not an expert biologist so I can't dwell on this point, save to point out the difference between 'have not' and 'cannot' on reducing morality to chemical causes; and to point out that it is logical for morality to have evolved as society did: indeed, for society to exist, morality is arguably a necessity.



This seems correct.

Full version