Does Objective Morality Require the Existence of God?

One-on-one debates

Moderator: Moderators

Post Reply
User avatar
wiploc
Guru
Posts: 1423
Joined: Sun Apr 20, 2014 12:26 pm
Been thanked: 2 times

Does Objective Morality Require the Existence of God?

Post #1

Post by wiploc »

The Peanut Gallery is here:
viewtopic.php?t=33976

Those who wish to comment on this discussion may do so there. Once this thread is closed, Tanager and wiploc may post there too. In the meantime, we may respond here to comments made there.

Topic: Does Objective Morality Require the Existence of God?

Tanager's position -- if I understand it -- is that objective morality is possible if a god exists, but not possible otherwise.

My own position is this prejudice: If objective morality is possible with a god, then it is also possible without a god; if it is not possible without a god, then it is also not possible with a god.

I invite Tanager to expound on his position.

User avatar
The Tanager
Prodigy
Posts: 3207
Joined: Wed May 06, 2015 11:08 am
Has thanked: 12 times
Been thanked: 47 times

Post #51

Post by The Tanager »

wiploc wrote:So far, none of your moves seems persuasive. I suspect that you move from one to the next in the hope that you'll find one that holds up, but you haven't found it yet.
I'm sorry you have that underlying mistrust of my motives. I can understand why with some of the various theists and Christians I have come across on these boards. I think the 'moves' you speak of are the result of misunderstandings and lack of clear explanation. I'm not against moving my position, however, if I think the new evidence I've considered warrants it. I just don't see that I've done that here. Your understanding of my position has moved. I thank you for your critiques and for asking for clarifications. Of course, if you really feel I keep moving the goalposts or treat you unfairly in other ways, I would not want you to waste your time on me.

You are right in saying that in my view obligation is about authority and power. Those things are a very part of the concept itself, I think. How do you define obligation?
wiploc wrote:Up until now I've assumed the oughtness was supposed to be a natural part of any creator/creature relationship. (You've objected to that when it comes to parents and children, but without explanation.)

But now you seem to be saying it is an elective operation, it is something the creator does--but doesn't have to do--to the creatures. Do I understand you correctly?
I do think placing obligations on those under your authority is an optional thing. You don't have to. You have complete freedom because there is nothing over you in authority. The creator is responsible for reality (including our human nature and it including this moral law) being what it is. The difference with the parent-child relationship is that parents are not responsible for the nature of their children in that same sense. We mainly pass on genes that we don't have control over.
wiploc wrote:If so, how does that work? What if the creatures did it back? Can I do it to you?
Creatures are not responsible for the nature of reality, the nature of the Creator, nor the nature of their fellow creatures.
wiploc wrote:So it's a power thing? It wouldn't have to be a creator, just someone stronger than you? Hitler had the same authority over the Jews as Jehovah had over Hitler, the ability to sustain or end life?
You are using power in two different ways with your counter example: power over human breath and power over human existence. Hitler could take their last breath, but he could not end their existence. Hitler didn't have the same kind of authority my view is talking about.
wiploc wrote:Suppose a deist god created the world and then did nothing else. And then suppose another god, not a creator god, showed up and took over. The new guy answers prayers, and makes up sins and punishes people who sin, and does occasional genocides when he doesn't like the way things are going, and generally acts like Jehovah.

Would you say that the original god is the one whom we ought to obey, or the new guy?
If you are asking what our objective obligation is (issue 1), then the new guy. Our desires don't matter for that. So, yes it's more about sustaining power than creative power, but in my view those are the same being, so it's not that I've shifted my view; I was just using different terms as designations for the one being.
wiploc wrote:Cruel. The scorpion god is cruel.
You think that because you have a certain nature. In my view, god is responsible for that nature of yours. It's working right in you; in Joe it's defective. My view can say that because there is a paradigm decided upon by the creator. Upon the logic of your moral theory, neither you nor Joe is defective (i.e., wrong) because there is no way our desires are supposed to be.
wiploc wrote:Then what does? What determines that creators are the boss of us? Why isn't it skin color or primogeniture, or who's strongest, or who's smartest, or who got the most votes? Where does this creators-are-the-boss rule come from? Why should any reasonable person accept it?

I'm not conflating. I'm asking where the ought comes from.
A certain skin color (or the other stuff) doesn't invest in us control over reality.
wiploc wrote:So if eyes had morally significant free will, they would be obliged to see? And in the same sense, for the same reason, guards at an extermination camp are morally obliged to exterminate. It is an extermination camp, after all, so that is their "natural end."

If I may try to anticipate your response to that last, you may say that in the absence of a creator the guards would have that obligation, but in the actual case, since you believe in a creator, and since you believe he is good, you think a higher rule cancels out the guard's duty to exterminate.

I will overlook your reference to "natural" ends, since creation is presumably supernatural, magic, unnatural. So I assume that any end at all works, natural or not.
I wasn't comparing natural and supernatural ends. A natural end of an acorn is to become an oak tree. An unnatural end (or purpose) for an acorn would be to be a building for humans. Extermination camps are not natural ends in my view; they are conventional or unnatural ends. However, on your moral theory, they seem to be at least just as natural an end for humans as deeply caring for the needs of the oppressed Jews is.
wiploc wrote:
If they do not provide us with vision, then something along the way is not working as it ought to (i.e., is defective).
Trying to agree on a theory of evolution would involve a long and presumably fruitless argument, so I will just demur.
It wasn't a statement about evolution. I could have used computer parts.
wiploc wrote:What does that leave? As near as I can tell, it's a matter of might makes right. I'm sure that you will object to that phrasing, but can't guess what you'll replace it with.
Might makes right would be fine as long as it isn't confused with "stronger-than makes right." In my view, there is only one with the 'might' that 'makes right.' Hitlers and whatnot don't have the specific might that makes something right. That specific might is sustaining power over reality.
wiploc wrote:The utilitarian rule is that we should act so as to help people be happy, regardless of what gods and evolution say.
Yes, but in your view, there are some people who have the utilitarian desire and some that don't. These are equally a result of our socio-biological evolution, right? Both occur naturally. There is no way humans are supposed to be. There is no ought.
wiploc wrote:The theist position should logically be that people who seek evil are part of gods' plan. They will only seek evil if gods designed them that way, of if gods harden their hearts and darken their counsels. Seeking evil is their supernatural end, gods' purpose for them, their moral obligation.
Not if free will exists. There are two different senses of God's plan or will here. God's plan involves free will which logically necessitates the possibility of evil being a part of reality. So, the possibility of people seeking evil is part of god's plan. That possibility is in god's design. But this in no way contradicts someone saying that god wants people to use their free will to seek good. That's what the moral law is: god's desire for people to seek the good. They have the freedom to follow those wishes or not. God obligates people to be free and morally obligates them to use that freedom in specific ways, but doesn't force them to.
wiploc wrote:Seems to me it would be a real jerk move to have kids and not take care of them. But your position is that would be fine unless, as you happen to believe is the case, a magical strongman wants us to take care of our kids. It seems like you're arguing for something very close to nihilism.

A logical person, in your view, should be a nihilist unless he happens to believe in a utilitarian strongman. Is that a fair statement of the implications of your view?
If we are left with your view, then it's a jerk move based on our subjective desires and not a jerk move based on the desires of the parent who does it. Jerk means two different things. That doesn't mean I'm saying I'm fine with it, if that is what you mean. It's the complete opposite there. We only have competing natural desires that are of equal weight.

On my view, there is a way humans are meant and designed to best act. Jerk means one specific thing. In that sense you could probably say reality is nihilistic with god as the strongman, but that doesn't mean everyone should be nihilists. It doesn't mean the creatures can adopt the same role in reality, because that is the unique role of the sustaining power. They aren't capable of playing that role. But we do try. That's the problem according to Christianity.
wiploc wrote:So it all comes down to power? Might makes right?

And as to who is "above" a creator, that word "above" is figurative. You don't mean literally above, as in altitude. Since it's figurative, it makes sense to say the nicest person is the highest.
No, it's figurative in the specific sense of authority or power. The creator is reliant upon no one for its reality and continuing to exist. Creatures are reliant upon the creator and, so, have someone 'above' them. Being nice doesn't put you 'above' another in that sense. It may put you 'above' in another sense, say more closely resembling the desired standard.
wiploc wrote:So, you repudiate your claim that morality is based on creators. It has to do instead with sustainers. Statan or Jehovah or whoever created a universe so defective that it will evaporate if somebody doesn't hold his thumb in some metaphysical dike. And whoever does that is the boss of us all.

I believe that theory is unique to you. You're the only one who knows it. And the logic of morality depends on this theory that nobody knows but you, and that you can't justify.

The implication would seem to be that nobody but you has any reason for being moral. That sounds like I'm conflating again, but I'm not. There is no logical reason for anybody who isn't familiar with and persuaded by your unique theory to be good.

I don't see how we can avoid that conclusion. We are talking about moral oughtness, and you are the only one who knows your justification.
I'm not sure what your critique is here. How is it a defect for a universe to need sustaining? Computers need electrical power to continue to work, not just at the beginning. Running on electric power is not a defect, but how the thing works at all.

And I'm not sure I know what you mean about this theory being unique to me and how we can only be good, on my theory, if we understand everything I've said about the theory. The logic of why morality/goodness means a specific thing for humans depends on this theory. But then your implication addresses a totally different question: why humans would choose to do the moral thing.

Goodness is a relative term by the definition you gave it earlier in this thread (and I agreed with). It has to be relative to some standard. Yet you seem to be faulting my view simply because goodness is relative to a standard. My contention has been that the standard you say it is relative to is one human desire among many. Relative to humans who had no say on reality being the way it is. I think the standard is relative to the one who has the only say on reality being the way it is, which exists outside of human desire. Thus, your standard is subjective to humans and my standard is objective.
wiploc wrote:That doesn't make sense. Why should we arbitrarily call whatever god does good? What would be the point? If he isn't good in the regular sense, why should anybody pay attention to this newfangled sense of the word?
On your view the 'regular' sense means what? The sense believed by the majority of humans? Something else? On my view, the creator has an intention for what the regular sense of good is for humans. My view has a paradigm and yours doesn't. The only reason we have a regular sense is because of the one responsible for our moral nature. So, by definition, our regular sense of 'good' would be identical to whatever god makes it. If this creator gave us a 'regular' sense of good that conflicts with its commands, then it is an irrational creator.
wiploc wrote:And what if the scorpion god didn't create a defective world that needed somebody's thumb in a metaphysical dike? Would we then not be obligated to him because he wouldn't be "sustaining" us? So anybody who believes in conservation of energy would then logically be immune to god-based morality?
As I said earlier in this response, I don't see how the need to have a sustaining cause is 'defective,' but I'll let you provide more reasons why you think it so if you have them.

I'm not sure what you mean about having a world that doesn't need to be sustained. If it's not sustained, it ceases to exist.

Conservation of energy is not denied by this. If a creator is responsible for the world, it's responsible for the conservation of energy being a thing at all.
wiploc wrote:If you don't call god's whims "whims" because they are his nature, then are your whims not whims because they are your nature?
How are you defining 'whim'? Whims, to me, are something like decisions based off sudden impulses, not any definite nature. A whim would be thinking one moment rape is bad and the next moment thinking it bad. God's commands are not like that. He's not indifferent to rape. He feels a specific way about it that doesn't change.

User avatar
wiploc
Guru
Posts: 1423
Joined: Sun Apr 20, 2014 12:26 pm
Been thanked: 2 times

Post #52

Post by wiploc »

The Tanager wrote:
wiploc wrote:So far, none of your moves seems persuasive. I suspect that you move from one to the next in the hope that you'll find one that holds up, but you haven't found it yet.
I'm sorry you have that underlying mistrust of my motives.
I'm sorry I wrote something that you could read that way.


I can understand why with some of the various theists and Christians I have come across on these boards. I think the 'moves' you speak of are the result of misunderstandings and lack of clear explanation.
Suppose you're dribbling toward the basketball goal when an opponent gets in your way. You could feint right and go left, feint left and go right, or go right with no feint, or go left with no feint. That's four different moves you could make.

When I write one of these posts, I'm making choices all the time. Is this enough on this topic? Which topic should I address next? Every choice is a move. Think of chess. One could make a good move or a bad move, but there is nothing wrong with making a move. I did not intend the word to be derogatory. The way I used "moves," the word "tactics" would be a fair synonym.

A good conversationalist, like a good basketball player, has good moves.

I'm reminded of a conversation I had while shopping for shoes. When the salesperson was done pitching me, I said, "That's a great pitch," and she, wounded, said, "No, it's true." I didn't mean that it what she said wasn't true. I mean that she had done a good job of explaining the virtues of the shoe.

Apparently I used the word "moves" in proximity to a comment about you changing your positions, which may have contributed to your interpreting the word in a way I didn't intend.

-

Now, "moves" aside, you have changed your position. At one point, you said we are obliged to obey our creator. Now you say we are obliged to obey our sustainer. That's a change.

It could be that you've changed your mind, nuanced your position, refined your thinking, made your case stronger. Or maybe we just reached a level of discussion where you revealed nuance to me, in which case you haven't really changed your position at all, but rather just revealed a pertinent detail.

It's no crime either way. I'm certainly willing to change my position for a better one.


I'm not against moving my position, however, if I think the new evidence I've considered warrants it.
Right.


I just don't see that I've done that here. Your understanding of my position has moved. I thank you for your critiques and for asking for clarifications. Of course, if you really feel I keep moving the goalposts or treat you unfairly in other ways, I would not want you to waste your time on me.
I don't feel that you have in any way treated me unfairly. My impression is that you're nicer and more civil than I am.


You are right in saying that in my view obligation is about authority and power. Those things are a very part of the concept itself, I think. How do you define obligation?
I haven't thought about it. Here's the first hit from dictionary.comm (I misspell "comm" deliberately, because this or some other website I frequent detects URLs, and inserts weird links in their stead):
  • 1. something by which a person is bound or obliged to do certain things, and which arises out of a sense of duty or results from custom, law, etc.
    2. something that is done or is to be done for such reasons:
    to fulfill one's obligations.
    3. a binding promise, contract, sense of duty, etc.
I don't have any particular gripe about those definitions.

wiploc wrote:Up until now I've assumed the oughtness was supposed to be a natural part of any creator/creature relationship. (You've objected to that when it comes to parents and children, but without explanation.)

But now you seem to be saying it is an elective operation, it is something the creator does--but doesn't have to do--to the creatures. Do I understand you correctly?
I do think placing obligations on those under your authority is an optional thing. You don't have to. You have complete freedom because there is nothing over you in authority. The creator is responsible for reality (including our human nature and it including this moral law) being what it is. The difference with the parent-child relationship is that parents are not responsible for the nature of their children in that same sense. We mainly pass on genes that we don't have control over.
I'm going to talk about the potter analogy-that's-not-really-an-analogy. I'm not attributing the argument to you; I'm just using it as an illustration.

Mike: "A potter has complete authority over his pots, because he makes them. If you can't refute that, then you can't refute that god has complete authority over us, because god made us."

Phil: "So if I managed to create living, thinking, feeling beings, then I could torture them if I wanted to, because I made them."

Mike: "No, that would be horrible. But your situation would be different from god's. God created from nothing, so he has control of you, but you didn't do that, so the situations are fundamentally different. So your analogy is fatally flawed."

Phil: "It's your analogy. The potter has control over his pots without creating them out of nothing. If that means the analogy is fatally flawed, then we can't conclude that god has control of us just because the potter has control of his pots."

That is, I believe, the usual fate of the potter argument--but I stipulate that it didn't go that way when you and I talked about it.

I feel like something similar is being attempted now.

God has authority over us because he sustains our lives, but his authority and his sustaining aren't like a father's or Hitler's or anybody else's authority or sustaining. If there is no analog, then why should we believe or agree (logically, not emotionally) that gods' sustaining gives him authority?

It seems like two unrelated facts put together, and a conclusion drawn for no reason. If gods sustain us, that gives them authority over us why?


...
I wasn't comparing natural and supernatural ends. A natural end of an acorn is to become an oak tree. An unnatural end (or purpose) for an acorn would be to be a building for humans.
Got it. Thanks.



Might makes right would be fine as long as it isn't confused with "stronger-than makes right." In my view, there is only one with the 'might' that 'makes right.' Hitlers and whatnot don't have the specific might that makes something right. That specific might is sustaining power over reality.
Then I don't see any logical or emotional appeal to your claim. It's not an analogy to anything. God has a unique thing, and X-factor, and you think that gives him authority over us. Why should anybody agree with you?



wiploc wrote:The utilitarian rule is that we should act so as to help people be happy, regardless of what gods and evolution say.
Yes, but in your view, there are some people who have the utilitarian desire and some that don't. These are equally a result of our socio-biological evolution, right? Both occur naturally. There is no way humans are supposed to be. There is no ought.
In your view, they both occur supernaturally. If there's no ought in one case, there's no ought in the other.

But wait, am I misunderstanding your use of "naturally" again? Didn't you say that things should do what is natural to them, so an eye should see because that's natural. In which case, how do you conclude that there is no ought?

If natural ends is what determines oughtiness, and some people are naturally nice and others naturally mean, shouldn't that mean--according to your theory--that some people ought to be nice and others ought to be mean? Shouldn't you then retract your claim that "There is no ought"?

User avatar
The Tanager
Prodigy
Posts: 3207
Joined: Wed May 06, 2015 11:08 am
Has thanked: 12 times
Been thanked: 47 times

Post #53

Post by The Tanager »

wiploc wrote:Now, "moves" aside, you have changed your position. At one point, you said we are obliged to obey our creator. Now you say we are obliged to obey our sustainer. That's a change.

It could be that you've changed your mind, nuanced your position, refined your thinking, made your case stronger. Or maybe we just reached a level of discussion where you revealed nuance to me, in which case you haven't really changed your position at all, but rather just revealed a pertinent detail.

It's no crime either way. I'm certainly willing to change my position for a better one.
Thanks for clarifying your thoughts for me there.
wiploc wrote:I haven't thought about it. Here's the first hit from dictionary.comm (I misspell "comm" deliberately, because this or some other website I frequent detects URLs, and inserts weird links in their stead):

1. something by which a person is bound or obliged to do certain things, and which arises out of a sense of duty or results from custom, law, etc.
2. something that is done or is to be done for such reasons:
to fulfill one's obligations.
3. a binding promise, contract, sense of duty, etc.


I don't have any particular gripe about those definitions.
From this, I'm not sure if you are agreeing with me in thinking obligation is about authority and power or not.
wiploc wrote:God has authority over us because he sustains our lives, but his authority and his sustaining aren't like a father's or Hitler's or anybody else's authority or sustaining. If there is no analog, then why should we believe or agree (logically, not emotionally) that gods' sustaining gives him authority?

It seems like two unrelated facts put together, and a conclusion drawn for no reason. If gods sustain us, that gives them authority over us why?
With obligations, the buck has to stop somewhere. If the potter has authority over his pots, it's not just because he made them, it's because there is no government or potter's guild or platonic form or whatever stipulating what the potter can do with pots. The buck stops with the potter. If Phil manages to create beings, there is still someone over Phil (his creator and/or sustainer) stipulating what kind of obligations (if any) he is under, even concerning his own creations. The buck does not stop with Phil.

It seems to me that an apt potter analogy is that just like a potter with no authority above it can decide what to do with its pots, a creator with no authority above it can make any rules it wants to. Just like a potter is the reason the pot exists and continues to exist (the potter can choose to break the pot), the creator-sustainer of reality is the reason we exist and continue to exist.

If the pot has free will and decides to make a crack in itself so that it no longer holds water, the potter can do with it what it wants to. The potter obligates the pot to hold water. If the potter is rational, the nature of the clay turned pot would help it to hold water well. The potter can have different motives for making such obligations (personal pleasure, making the pot happy, etc.), but that doesn't change whether they are objective obligations placed on the pot.
wiploc wrote:In your view, they both occur supernaturally. If there's no ought in one case, there's no ought in the other.

But wait, am I misunderstanding your use of "naturally" again? Didn't you say that things should do what is natural to them, so an eye should see because that's natural. In which case, how do you conclude that there is no ought?

If natural ends is what determines oughtiness, and some people are naturally nice and others naturally mean, shouldn't that mean--according to your theory--that some people ought to be nice and others ought to be mean? Shouldn't you then retract your claim that "There is no ought"?
Here is where I see the difference. In my view, wanting to help others is our natural end (made our natural end by a supernatural being, yes) and not caring about helping others is an unnatural end. So, the natural end is what we 'ought' to do.

In your view, both wanting to help others and not caring about helping others are natural ends (or just ends). So, depending on which language you use, both are 'oughts' or none of them are 'oughts'. Or, in other words, we have our own individual subjective oughts and, objectively speaking for all humans, there is no 'ought,' because in that context we mean "one way all humans should act in a certain situation."

User avatar
wiploc
Guru
Posts: 1423
Joined: Sun Apr 20, 2014 12:26 pm
Been thanked: 2 times

Post #54

Post by wiploc »

The Tanager wrote: From this, I'm not sure if you are agreeing with me in thinking obligation is about authority and power or not.
I don't think the Jews were obligated to obey Hitler. I don't think slaves are obliged to obey their "owners." I don't imagine that a sentient pot would be obliged to obey a potter. I don't think we would have any obligation to a scorpion god. If we were to have any obligation to your god, I don't see it being just because he is powerful.



It seems to me that an apt potter analogy is that just like a potter with no authority above it can decide what to do with its pots, a creator with no authority above it can make any rules it wants to. Just like a potter is the reason the pot exists and continues to exist (the potter can choose to break the pot), the creator-sustainer of reality is the reason we exist and continue to exist.
Your position, it seems to me, is that might makes right. But only the mightiest might makes right. The only reason Hitler couldn't dictate objective morality to the Jews is that--according to you--there was someone even mightier than Hitler who happens to be nicer than him.

But, since might makes right, if your god doesn't actually exist, then Hitler was the mightiest person, so he really did get to dictate objective morality to the Jews. They were morally obligated to follow his orders.

Do I have that right? Because the topic of this thread is something like, "Can atheist morality can be objective?"

User avatar
The Tanager
Prodigy
Posts: 3207
Joined: Wed May 06, 2015 11:08 am
Has thanked: 12 times
Been thanked: 47 times

Post #55

Post by The Tanager »

What do you propose as a different foundation for obligation, if it is not a higher authority? I also think that "owner makes right" is more in line with what I've been trying to convey than "might makes right". Might makes right is more relative an idea than what I have in mind, while ownership is you either have it or don't. Relatively someone is mightier than the other; but we aren't "ownier" then each other. In my worldview, God owns all of creation. God gives moral commands to his creatures on how to treat one another. We are obligated to obey because we don't own each other, yet are the possession of another being. There is no one over God who owns God and has say over how He acts. Again, this idea needs to keep getting fleshed out and analyzed, so keep pressing me for understanding and sharing your thoughts.

If God does not exist, then no one necessarily steps up into God's role of ownership. If God does not exist, I would say no one owns anyone else. We may try to act like we do (or act like someone else owns us), but there is no basis for that being the real case. It's play-acting at best. Hitler didn't own the Jews. Slave "owners" don't even own slaves at the level I'm talking about. Yes, they legally owned them at one time, but we are talking about morality, not legality. This leads to subjective morality. We just have different desires and different individuals and groups have different levels of power to make their desires the norm.

User avatar
wiploc
Guru
Posts: 1423
Joined: Sun Apr 20, 2014 12:26 pm
Been thanked: 2 times

Post #56

Post by wiploc »

The Tanager wrote: What do you propose as a different foundation for obligation, if it is not a higher authority?
I'm a utilitarian. I think being nice is good, making people happy. I think people should do that.

I don't agree that power gives authority (a mugger has the power to steal your wallet, that doesn't give him the right), but that doesn't mean I don't believe in authority.



I also think that "owner makes right" is more in line with what I've been trying to convey than "might makes right".
It was creating that made right, then it was sustaining, then power, now ownership. (And next, of course, will come the nuance: you're not really talking about ownership.)

That felt a little mean to say--and you never say anything mean--so I want to try to fumble my way to an explanation of why I said it.

One thing, of course, is that you objected when I said you shift your position, so I mention that it seems to be happening again. From here, it looks like you're shifting your position, so my earlier comment was fair.

But maybe shifting is good. Maybe you just haven't found your home. Maybe you'll keep shifting your position until you find one you can own, one you'll defend and not shift from. That'll be cool. And I'll be happy to have helped you find your philosophical bedrock.

Sometimes it feels like you want to shift the burden of proof. Like when you say, "What do you propose as a different foundation for obligation if not a higher authority?" My reaction is, "Now I have to come up with a coherent theory of obligation? When did I sign up for that?" My position is that an atheist can justify morality (or "objective" morality) as well as a theist can. At least as well.

As long as your theory has to keep shifting from one post to the next, I think I've accomplished my goal. We don't need me to actually come up with a theory-that-doesn't-work-as-stated-so-it-has-to-keep-changing in order to conclude that an atheist could do that as well as a theist.

At each stage, I point out that your theory would work as well for atheists. If ownership is the thing, then, since atheists believe in ownership, they can have a morality as objective as yours.


Might makes right is more relative an idea than what I have in mind, while ownership is you either have it or don't. Relatively someone is mightier than the other; but we aren't "ownier" then each other.
A thief has partial title. That's why you don't get to steal from a thief. You don't own the stolen item, and neither does the thief (not totally, anyway) but the thief is ownier than you. Property law has much to do with who is ownier.


In my worldview, God owns all of creation.
In my worldview, we should be good to each other. Atheists can have worldviews too.

And your worldview is arbitrary. I could say that Hitler owned the Jews without being more arbitrary.


God gives moral commands to his creatures on how to treat one another. We are obligated to obey because we don't own each other, yet are the possession of another being.
You're talking about slavery. I hope you realize how unappealing this is.

Suppose Joe says, "We should be nice because being nice is good," and suppose Sara replies, "No, being nice isn't good. We should be nice because we are slaves who just happen to have been ordered to be nice. Following a slave owner's orders, that's what is good." Joe's argument is appealing; Sara's is not.

I hope you don't land on "ownership" as your home, your philosophical bedrock. I'd rather see you land on the signpost god argument, where god doesn't create objective morality, but we should follow him anyway because he knows more about what's good for us than we do. That won't get you part of what you want (because atheists will have objective morality too, even if we know less about it than your omniscient god does) but I'd hope it would be more comfortable than ownership-based morality.


There is no one over God who owns God and has say over how He acts.
An arbitrary assertion. I could say that, in my worldview, my five year old neighbor kid, Timmy, owns god, so that means god has to do what Timmy wants.


Again, this idea needs to keep getting fleshed out and analyzed, so keep pressing me for understanding and sharing your thoughts.
Thanks. You keep making me stretch. Sometimes I glad that I don't have internet for days at a time. That gives me time to ruminate on my next post.



If God does not exist, then no one necessarily steps up into God's role of ownership. If God does not exist, I would say no one owns anyone else. We may try to act like we do (or act like someone else owns us), but there is no basis for that being the real case. It's play-acting at best. Hitler didn't own the Jews. Slave "owners" don't even own slaves at the level I'm talking about. Yes, they legally owned them at one time, but we are talking about morality, not legality. This leads to subjective morality. We just have different desires and different individuals and groups have different levels of power to make their desires the norm.
And the argument shifts again. We're no longer talking about actual ownership. We're back to talking about some x-factor that is kind of like ownership but kind of not. Something ineffable that you imagine your god has that slave owners don't.

I couldn't satisfy you by saying that, in my worldview, Timmy owns god. Your argument, that, in your worldview, your god owns me, is no stronger.

User avatar
The Tanager
Prodigy
Posts: 3207
Joined: Wed May 06, 2015 11:08 am
Has thanked: 12 times
Been thanked: 47 times

Post #57

Post by The Tanager »

wiploc wrote:I'm a utilitarian. I think being nice is good, making people happy. I think people should do that.
But why do your thoughts obligate other people?
wiploc wrote:It was creating that made right, then it was sustaining, then power, now ownership. (And next, of course, will come the nuance: you're not really talking about ownership.)

That felt a little mean to say--and you never say anything mean--so I want to try to fumble my way to an explanation of why I said it.

One thing, of course, is that you objected when I said you shift your position, so I mention that it seems to be happening again. From here, it looks like you're shifting your position, so my earlier comment was fair.

But maybe shifting is good. Maybe you just haven't found your home. Maybe you'll keep shifting your position until you find one you can own, one you'll defend and not shift from. That'll be cool. And I'll be happy to have helped you find your philosophical bedrock.
I honestly think it is shifting the language to zero in on the clearest explanation of the position I've had all along, but I can understand the feeling that I've been shifting my position. I'll let you take that for what it's worth.
wiploc wrote:Sometimes it feels like you want to shift the burden of proof. Like when you say, "What do you propose as a different foundation for obligation if not a higher authority?" My reaction is, "Now I have to come up with a coherent theory of obligation? When did I sign up for that?" My position is that an atheist can justify morality (or "objective" morality) as well as a theist can. At least as well.

As long as your theory has to keep shifting from one post to the next, I think I've accomplished my goal. We don't need me to actually come up with a theory-that-doesn't-work-as-stated-so-it-has-to-keep-changing in order to conclude that an atheist could do that as well as a theist.
I don't think that was the point of the thread at all. There have been two points to this thread in my mind all along. (1) Is your atheistic view a rational foundation for objective morality. (2) Is my theistic view a rational foundation for objective morality. Both of our views must be analyzed on their own merit. They don't rise and fall with each other. Since you haven't been focusing on your view at all, it makes me think you see clearly that your atheistic worldview leads to subjective morality.

In your critique of my view, the nature of obligation and authority is very important, so it's vital that we better pin down what these concepts mean if your critiques or my view are going to have any merit.
wiploc wrote:At each stage, I point out that your theory would work as well for atheists. If ownership is the thing, then, since atheists believe in ownership, they can have a morality as objective as yours.


I don't think that is the case at all. Why must all ownerships be the same? Me saying I own a person is a different kind of thing than the government saying I own a person.

If ownership is the thing, then the basis of ownership for the atheist is what? Platonic forms? Physical properties of morality? Or human convention based on the opinions of those in the majority? If the first, then it is objective because it is not dependent on human opinions. If the second, then it is objective because it is not dependent on human opinions. If the third, then it is subjective, because all it is in one human group placing their opinion over the opinions of other humans.

But if the basis of ownership is god(s), then it is objective by definition because it is not dependent on human opinions. That doesn't mean it's reality, but it does mean it is objective morality.
wiploc wrote:A thief has partial title. That's why you don't get to steal from a thief. You don't own the stolen item, and neither does the thief (not totally, anyway) but the thief is ownier than you. Property law has much to do with who is ownier.
You are going to have to explain this better. How does the thief own anything of it whatsoever? The thief possesses it, but doesn't own it.
wiploc wrote:You're talking about slavery. I hope you realize how unappealing this is.

Suppose Joe says, "We should be nice because being nice is good," and suppose Sara replies, "No, being nice isn't good. We should be nice because we are slaves who just happen to have been ordered to be nice. Following a slave owner's orders, that's what is good." Joe's argument is appealing; Sara's is not.
I think you are still mixing up what obligations are and how we feel about those obligations. Joe's argument is emotionally appealing to how we want those in authority to be. We want them to do things for our good, not out of a power trip. But their authority comes out of them being on a higher level. At work, you are required to do certain things by your boss because she's your boss, not because she's nice. You are more likely to want to do those required things if she is nice and rational.

Joe's argument is rationally appealing only if good is an objective thing relative to the one he is trying to appeal to. Good cannot be completely objective to everything; it is a relative term and will be subjective to at least one thing. If atheism is true, then good is relative to humans. If theism is true, then good is relative to God, but objective to humans.

In my specific theory, unlike the scorpion god, God has authority as creator of all that exists and emotionally appeals to what we want out of those in authority: God makes commands that are for our good, our joy.

My view of the God-human relationship is also not like slavery because God gives us a choice to follow or not.
wiploc wrote:An arbitrary assertion. I could say that, in my worldview, my five year old neighbor kid, Timmy, owns god, so that means god has to do what Timmy wants.
Sure, you could say that. And we'd have to analyze that theory. It seems to me to equivocate on terms. Part of what "god" means is usually the one with authority over all of reality. In your worldview, Timmy is what other people call 'god'. So, in actuality, if you said this, then your view would be what my view is. Don't let the language fool us.
wiploc wrote:And the argument shifts again. We're no longer talking about actual ownership. We're back to talking about some x-factor that is kind of like ownership but kind of not. Something ineffable that you imagine your god has that slave owners don't.

I couldn't satisfy you by saying that, in my worldview, Timmy owns god. Your argument, that, in your worldview, your god owns me, is no stronger.
How did the argument shift again? It was still about ownership. The point is that they are different understandings of ownership. In one case one human is claiming they own the other one, yet had little to nothing to do with her coming into existence, in making her the person she is and making sure other people also recognize his claim and cannot guarantee to end their existence even if he takes their breath away. In the other case one being is ultimately responsible for the human existing at all, for it being the kind of being she is and has control over them continuing to exist.

To me, the latter example is closer to if I make a pot.

User avatar
wiploc
Guru
Posts: 1423
Joined: Sun Apr 20, 2014 12:26 pm
Been thanked: 2 times

Post #58

Post by wiploc »

I just typed for maybe a couple of hours, and lost it all. Frustrating. I may be brief this time.

The Tanager wrote:
wiploc wrote:I'm a utilitarian. I think being nice is good, making people happy. I think people should do that.
But why do your thoughts obligate other people?
You asked what I believe, so I answered. My thoughts don't obligate anyone, no more than your belief in god does.



I honestly think it is shifting the language to zero in on the clearest explanation of the position I've had all along, but I can understand the feeling that I've been shifting my position. I'll let you take that for what it's worth.
I take it at face value, and thank you for clarifying.



I don't think that was the point of the thread at all. There have been two points to this thread in my mind all along. (1) Is your atheistic view a rational foundation for objective morality. (2) Is my theistic view a rational foundation for objective morality. Both of our views must be analyzed on their own merit. They don't rise and fall with each other. Since you haven't been focusing on your view at all, it makes me think you see clearly that your atheistic worldview leads to subjective morality.
The way I remember it, you made a claim in another thread, a claim something like this one which you made in the second post of this thread:
It is my current belief that if morality really is objectively true, then this points to God's existence. Another way to look at it is to say my belief is that the truth of theism is logically consistent with objective morality, but that the truth of atheism is not. I think that if atheism is true, then morality is a human convention or illusion. This is a claim about whether or not God needs to exist or not for us to get objective morality.


I rose to that bait and offered you a one-on-one discussion of that topic. Our thread topic is "Does Objective Morality Require the Existence of God?"

In post #1 I said,
Tanager's position -- if I understand it -- is that objective morality is possible if a god exists, but not possible otherwise.

My own position is this prejudice: If objective morality is possible with a god, then it is also possible without a god; if it is not possible without a god, then it is also not possible with a god.


In post #5 I said this: "
Your position, then, if I understand it, is that objective morality can exist if gods exist, but not if they don't.

That's why we're here. That's what I want to talk about.

I don't want to invent an atheist philosophical system for you to test for for weaknesses, with the result that we never get around to discussing the topic of this thread.

I want to talk about your claim that objective morality (or moral realism, if you prefer) requires gods. I don't see what gods have to do with it.
I don't claim to understand morality, and I have little use for the word "objective," regarding it as a weasel world, a locus of equivocation.

So I'm taken aback by your belief that I'm here to offer a rational foundation for objective morality.

Why am I here? I'm here in the belief that you can't justify your claim that morality has to do with gods. If you show that X (letting X stand for morality, or objective morality, or moral realism, or whatever) is possible if gods exist, then I will show that X is also possible if god does not exist. And if you show that X is not possible if gods do not exist, then I will show that it is also not possible if gods do exist.

But I can't do my job until you do at least part of yours. You have to show either that X is possible with gods, or that it is not possible without gods. Then I'll be in a position where I can show, using the same logic that you used, that it is also possible without gods, or that it is also impossible with gods.

See, I'm used to theists using one test (call it the pass test) to prove that morality is possible with god, and a different test (call it the flunk test) to prove that morality is impossible without god. Two completely different tests.

My job is to point out that the pass test "proves" that X can exist regardless of whether gods exist, and the flunk tests "proves" that X can't exist regardless of whether gods exist. The existence of gods doesn't matter to either test. Gods doesn't affect morality.

There would be no point in me providing a moral theory. You would, quite properly, disavow it. So what I have to do--after all, you made the claim, you assumed the burden of proof--is let you show why X can exist if gods do (or why X can't exist if gods don't) and then use your own logic--logic which you can't disavow because you just used it yourself--to show that X also can exist without gods (or that X also can't exist if gods do).

That's what I'm here for, as I believe I've made clear repeatedly.

I don't want to seem obstructive or secretive, so when you ask me about my moral theories, I sometimes answer your question. But that doesn't mean I'm here to defend utilitarianism. It doesn't mean that I think I know enough about that subject to be a competent advocate.

I suspect that you and I are equally confused about morality. But you made the claim that X can exist with god but not without god. That is the claim I want to see defended. That is the claim I'm here to refute. That's what I understand our discussion to be about.

There have been times when I thought you should concede that I'm just right. For instance, you said that might made right (perhaps not in those exact words) so I pointed out that--if gods don't exist--that would have made Hitler right. It would have given him moral supremacy over the German Jews. They would have been--according to your might-makes-right theory--morally obliged to do what he wanted. Thus, your theory of moral obligation works as well without gods as it does with them.

So you see my technique. You offer a test showing that X can exist if gods do, and I use the same test to show that X can also exist if gods don't. Or you offer a test showing that X can't exist if gods don't, and I use the same test to show that X can't exist even if gods do.

None of this involves me having to invent rationalizations for atheist morality that you will then be free to disagree with. That wouldn't prove anything. Does it prove anything that I see no logical or emotional appeal to your theory that slaves are morally obligated to their owners? I assume not.

You recently made this move: You said that god owns us, but he isn't like a slave owner because he gives us the choice of whether to obey him.

So here's my response to that: You're saying that X can exist if someone owns someone else but allows the choice of whether or not to obey. Thus--according to your logic--if Thomas Jefferson told Sally Hemings, "I want you to come to my bed, but I don't require that," then she would have been morally obligated to go to his bed.

That is, if there are no gods, then, by owning her but giving her a choice Jefferson would create in Hemings a moral obligation.

Thus--according to your own test--if X exists with gods, then it also exists without gods.



wiploc wrote:A thief has partial title. That's why you don't get to steal from a thief. You don't own the stolen item, and neither does the thief (not totally, anyway) but the thief is ownier than you. Property law has much to do with who is ownier.
You are going to have to explain this better. How does the thief own anything of it whatsoever? The thief possesses it, but doesn't own it.
If the thief doesn't own it, then why can't you just take it from him? The answer to that is that he does own it; his claim, his title, won't stand against the claim of the person he stole it from, but it will stand against anyone else.

Who owns this land? Joe has a life estate, Sara has the mineral rights, Jane has an entailment, Jeffrey has a workman's lien, and Lisa has a claim conditional on her showing that she really is part Cherokee.

The law divides titles all the time, and frequently has to decide who is ownier.



My view of the God-human relationship is also not like slavery because God gives us a choice to follow or not.
Ah, there it is. I was citing something you hadn't said yet.



wiploc wrote:An arbitrary assertion. I could say that, in my worldview, my five year old neighbor kid, Timmy, owns god, so that means god has to do what Timmy wants.
Sure, you could say that. And we'd have to analyze that theory. It seems to me to equivocate on terms. Part of what "god" means is usually the one with authority over all of reality.
No, that's no part of the definition. That's an attempt at a circular argument. You are here to prove that gods have authority over us, and I am here to challenge your argument if that is possible. You don't get to define god as having authority over us. If you try that, I will define us as being independent of the authority of gods. I'll have used the same move you used, and to equally good effect: Neither of us will have proven anything.



In your worldview, Timmy is what other people call 'god'.
Timmy only has control over your god, not over all of reality. He's just a kid. How would he get control of reality?

You're probably going to ask how he got control of gods, right? I just arbitrarily declared that he had control. I was demonstrating by example that you don't get to arbitrarily declare that one thing has moral authority over another. You can't just make the assertion, you have to defend it, explain it, justify it, make it plausible.

User avatar
The Tanager
Prodigy
Posts: 3207
Joined: Wed May 06, 2015 11:08 am
Has thanked: 12 times
Been thanked: 47 times

Post #59

Post by The Tanager »

wiploc wrote:Why am I here? I'm here in the belief that you can't justify your claim that morality has to do with gods. If you show that X (letting X stand for morality, or objective morality, or moral realism, or whatever) is possible if gods exist, then I will show that X is also possible if god does not exist. And if you show that X is not possible if gods do not exist, then I will show that it is also not possible if gods do exist.

But I can't do my job until you do at least part of yours. You have to show either that X is possible with gods, or that it is not possible without gods. Then I'll be in a position where I can show, using the same logic that you used, that it is also possible without gods, or that it is also impossible with gods.
Here were my thoughts approaching this thread. It seemed to me that you and I both believed in objective morality. So, I took it as our job here to explore what could account for that. I figured we would look at the various contestants. I do not think that it is logically impossible for atheism and objective morality to co-exist. As I've said in this thread, I think that if an atheistic platonic moral realism were true, then human morality would be objective. I also think that if a physical reductionistic moral realism were true, then human morality would be objective. While logically possible, I think those views have other problems. You seemed to agree, so I thought part of this thread would be you trying to show that your atheistic worldview could lead to us having objective human morality...human morality that comes from something outside of personal human desires. In our discussion of that, you never got there, but you weren't thinking you needed to. So, I was left feeling that we have no known viable atheistic contestant to lead us to objective morality. So, then the focus (in my eyes) more fully came on whether we even have a theistic contestant (which was happening from the beginning). I think we've seen my theistic contestant (if true) is objective to humans (dependent on God's desires, not human opinions), but you've raised questions on whether this is obligatory upon humans. That's why I wanted to hear your take on what obligation means.
wiploc wrote:You recently made this move: You said that god owns us, but he isn't like a slave owner because he gives us the choice of whether to obey him.

So here's my response to that: You're saying that X can exist if someone owns someone else but allows the choice of whether or not to obey. Thus--according to your logic--if Thomas Jefferson told Sally Hemings, "I want you to come to my bed, but I don't require that," then she would have been morally obligated to go to his bed.

That is, if there are no gods, then, by owning her but giving her a choice Jefferson would create in Hemings a moral obligation.

Thus--according to your own test--if X exists with gods, then it also exists without gods.
I think this equivocates on the term 'ownership'. The way a potter owns a pot she created is different than the way a master owns a slave in American colonialism. Not even all slaveries are equal concepts of ownership. The "ownership" of a child is different than both. So, just saying if ownership works this way in one it works the same way in another is misleading.

I'm not saying I have fully explained all the differences, but that's because I approach this as a dialogue and that is why I've asked you throughout this discussion how you use certain terms. I then try to work off of how you use language. Many times I just run with language before doing that and we have to refine language as we go. Right now I feel like we need to explore ownership and obligation and what we should mean with those terms. And then see how that affects our views or just mine is fine.
wiploc wrote:No, that's no part of the definition. That's an attempt at a circular argument. You are here to prove that gods have authority over us, and I am here to challenge your argument if that is possible. You don't get to define god as having authority over us. If you try that, I will define us as being independent of the authority of gods. I'll have used the same move you used, and to equally good effect: Neither of us will have proven anything.
I didn't mean it like that. I used 'authority' in a general sense. If you tell theists that there is some being above god(s), then they will say that that higher being more deserves the title 'god'. Whether such a being has moral authority, I think, is a separate question (although most theists are going to think god has moral authority). I can see how my wording was confusing.

User avatar
wiploc
Guru
Posts: 1423
Joined: Sun Apr 20, 2014 12:26 pm
Been thanked: 2 times

Post #60

Post by wiploc »

It's been awhile. Sorry I took so long.
The Tanager wrote: Here were my thoughts approaching this thread. It seemed to me that you and I both believed in objective morality.
I'm happy to believe in it, depending which definition of "objective" we're using. Which is to say that I'm also happy to disbelieve.


So, I took it as our job here to explore what could account for that. I figured we would look at the various contestants. I do not think that it is logically impossible for atheism and objective morality to co-exist. As I've said in this thread, I think that if an atheistic platonic moral realism were true, then human morality would be objective. I also think that if a physical reductionistic moral realism were true, then human morality would be objective. While logically possible, I think those views have other problems. You seemed to agree, so I thought part of this thread would be you trying to show that your atheistic worldview could lead to us having objective human morality...human morality that comes from something outside of personal human desires. In our discussion of that, you never got there, but you weren't thinking you needed to. So, I was left feeling that we have no known viable atheistic contestant to lead us to objective morality. So, then the focus (in my eyes) more fully came on whether we even have a theistic contestant (which was happening from the beginning). I think we've seen my theistic contestant (if true) is objective to humans (dependent on God's desires, not human opinions), but you've raised questions on whether this is obligatory upon humans. That's why I wanted to hear your take on what obligation means.
I just try to return service. (Tennis metaphor.)

If you say we're obligated to obey a god's morality, then that is the kind of obligation I'm talking about. If I were to produce my own definition, then my argument would no longer parallel yours. I'd be off topic.

If you say we are obligated1 (1st definition of "obligated") to obey god, and I respond by saying that we are obligated2 (any other definition of "obligated") to obey Timmy the neighbor kid, then I would have failed to provide a relevant response. You could, quite properly, protest that I had changed the subject.

But now it feels to me like you are the one changing the subject.



wiploc wrote:You recently made this move: You said that god owns us, but he isn't like a slave owner because he gives us the choice of whether to obey him.

So here's my response to that: You're saying that X can exist if someone owns someone else but allows the choice of whether or not to obey. Thus--according to your logic--if Thomas Jefferson told Sally Hemings, "I want you to come to my bed, but I don't require that," then she would have been morally obligated to go to his bed.

That is, if there are no gods, then, by owning her but giving her a choice Jefferson would create in Hemings a moral obligation.

Thus--according to your own test--if X exists with gods, then it also exists without gods.
I think this equivocates on the term 'ownership'. The way a potter owns a pot she created is different than the way a master owns a slave in American colonialism.
Well, if you say so, I guess. So what kind of ownership are we talking about?


Not even all slaveries are equal concepts of ownership. The "ownership" of a child is different than both. So, just saying if ownership works this way in one it works the same way in another is misleading.
You're the one who brought it up.

I don't mean to be misleading; please straighten me out. What kind of ownership are we talking about, and how does it produce our moral obligation?


I'm not saying I have fully explained all the differences, but that's because I approach this as a dialogue and that is why I've asked you throughout this discussion how you use certain terms. I then try to work off of how you use language. Many times I just run with language before doing that and we have to refine language as we go.
Right. I hate trying to read a debate where people define terms endlessly before they reach the substance.



Right now I feel like we need to explore ownership and obligation and what we should mean with those terms. And then see how that affects our views or just mine is fine.
Your case, if I understand it, is that ownership creates obligation.

But, when I point out that ownership happens in godless worlds, you say you aren't talking about that kind of ownership. Which raises the question of what kind of ownership you are talking about, how it is different from regular ownership, and and why you believe it produces greater obligation than regular ownership. Why, in fact, do you believe that this strange and unfamiliar not-regular kind of "ownership" produces any obligation at all?

Post Reply