Is Morality Objective or Subjective?

Ethics, Morality, and Sin

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Artie
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Re: Is Morality Objective or Subjective?

Post #21

Post by Artie »

Difflugia wrote:
Artie wrote:We call those actions that is beneficial for society moral actions. Right or moral or good are just different words describing the same action.
Often, but not exclusively. Sexual jealousy defines a significant bit of what is normally called "morality" and the rules are not primarily for social benefit. In fact, most sexual taboos and rules about what constitutes a marriage codify urges that are selfish rather than communal. As long as sexual fidelity is considered to be within the purview of morality, morality and social benefit are not identical.
If sexual fidelity is beneficial for the society being sexually "fidel" is moral.
Artie wrote:I benefit immensely from living in a well-functioning and thriving society. I personally wouldn't be alive if I didn't live in a society with a good hospital. So for my own benefit, I do what is beneficial for the society.
That's as good an argument as any for that definition of "moral," but that doesn't explain why that definition should be considered objective (or "functionally objective"). In fact, it's the opposite; it's based on its perceived benefit to you, which makes it subjective, pretty much by definition. In order to even fit the framework of the article you cited, you'd have to do what is beneficial for society, specifically because it feels to you that it's beneficial to society even though the actual reason you feel that way is because it was evolved by your ancestors for ultimately non-altruistic reasons.
A society where people helped each other survived better than other societies where people murdered each other and produced a lot more offspring with the same attitude. It's objective because this is simple logic and doesn't depend on anybody's subjective opinion.
Artie wrote:Since morality is neither fully subjective nor fully objective and none of those words are adequate to describe morality but "functionally objective" is, what's wrong with using that expression instead of inadequate single words?
I disagree that it's adequate. The only definition I can glean from the article for "functionally objective" is that it means neither objective nor subjective. That's like saying that religion is "functionally rational" and expecting it to mean something.
Try reading the article more times. The whole article explains what "functionally objective" means. Are you looking just for a two or three word definition?

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The Tanager
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Post #22

Post by The Tanager »

[Replying to post 13 by bluegreenearth]

I agree with much of what you say in your post, I disagree with some of your historical summary, but I think it is beside the point of this thread. What is objective goodness, how certain one could be that they are in line with it, one's ability to go against what they think is morally right, and what people actually believe morally are all different questions. They are all important issues, but this thread is about the first one.
bluegreenearth wrote:Why do we need an externally imposed objective morality to dictate what human flourishing should be for us when humanity has already demonstrated the capacity to develop our own subjective moral system through the process of natural selection?
What it means to flourish depends on what one's purpose is and how they are built. If humans were created, then their creator may know something about what it would mean for them to flourish. That the humans that agree (or at least don't actively disagree) with those in power survive does not mean humans are flourishing, at least not as much as they could be.
bluegreenearth wrote:Sure, we have gotten it wrong on occasion, but our moral progress is an indication that we have the ability to learn from our mistakes.
Moral progress means nothing if subjectivism is true. There is only moral difference. The specific content of what you mean by "flourishing" is one goal among many others. You may get it wrong on how best to reach your "flourishing" goal, but (if subjectivism is true) there is no wrong goal.
bluegreenearth wrote:As previously explained, I'm a subjectivist because there is no demonstrable evidence to support the claim that an objective morality exists. Until an objective moral authority is demonstrated to exist, the claim that Christianity provides an objective moral standard will be just another subjective opinion.
I have not given an argument for the objectivity of morals or the existence of the Christian God. You claimed that theism, if true, would not give us an objective morality. I clarified how you were using objective and how the traditional objective/subjective debate has used objectivity in regards to morals. From that I have talked a little about how, if true, theism would give us objective morality in the more traditional sense, but not the sense you speak of it in.
bluegreenearth wrote:In the mean time, the process of natural selection functions to determine which subjective moral systems will survive and which will go extinct. Every proposed subjective moral system including Christian morality has evolved through this natural process and will either continue to adapt in response to the selection pressures imposed by humanity or go extinct.
We have also talked about your subjectivism a little. If subjectivism is true, then this is what we can say. There can be no real value judgment on whether those that survived are better or not. Yes, humanity has survived, but survival is not the same as better. If history had gone quite differently, we may very well have a more (or less) flourishing human species right now than we currently have.
bluegreenearth wrote:As best as we can tell from our limited perspective, humanity has no choice but to develop its subjective morality through the natural selection process. Whatever subjective moral system survives the natural selection process will be the subjective morality humanity adopts. Pretending a subjective religious moral system is an objective morality will not be a sufficient justification for actions taken in accordance with that subjective religious morality.
To say pretending a subjective system is an objective morality is a stronger claim than just saying "I'm a subjectivist because there is no demonstrable evidence to support the claim that an objective morality exists." Whether there is pretense or not may depend on whether morality truly is objective or not. If you mean this in the stronger sense, you've got a burden to bear to show it is pretense.

But, also, I have not claimed that one should do X simply because I think my moral convictions more closely match the objective standard. I have not offered that as justification for anything.

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Post #23

Post by bluegreenearth »

The Tanager wrote: What it means to flourish depends on what one's purpose is and how they are built. If humans were created, then their creator may know something about what it would mean for them to flourish. That the humans that agree (or at least don't actively disagree) with those in power survive does not mean humans are flourishing, at least not as much as they could be.
A creator for humanity has not yet been demonstrated to exist for us to know what this hypothetical creator requires for us flourish. As such, subjective interpretations of what it means for humanity to flourish will just have to compete with each other for acceptance by the majority through the process of natural selection. The subjective concept of human flourishing that best survives the natural selection process will have to be the one that humanity adopts.

While human history has demonstrated that sometimes a minority of people with all the power can temporarily impose their subjective concept of human flourishing on the rest of their community, the natural selection process will always override the subject preferences of those in power. For instance, barbaric dictators who mistreat and suppress their constituents are either overthrown by their own people or eventually replaced by more benevolent rulers. This is the natural selection process functioning to eliminate inferior subjective concepts of human flourishing while the more widely accepted subjective concepts of human flourishing continue to survive and evolve.
Moral progress means nothing if subjectivism is true. There is only moral difference. The specific content of what you mean by "flourishing" is one goal among many others. You may get it wrong on how best to reach your "flourishing" goal, but (if subjectivism is true) there is no wrong goal.
The phrase "moral progress" is being used here in the sense that morality continues to evolve as it adapts to changing selection pressures imposed by an evolving human species. The fact that subjectivism technically prohibits us from labeling any subjective goal for human flourishing as being "good" or "bad" does not bring me any discomfort because it is enough to know my subjective goal for human flourishing is surviving the natural selection process where many of the competing subjecting goals for human flourishing are not.
I have not given an argument for the objectivity of morals or the existence of the Christian God. You claimed that theism, if true, would not give us an objective morality. I clarified how you were using objective and how the traditional objective/subjective debate has used objectivity in regards to morals. From that I have talked a little about how, if true, theism would give us objective morality in the more traditional sense, but not the sense you speak of it in.
Fair point.
We have also talked about your subjectivism a little. If subjectivism is true, then this is what we can say. There can be no real value judgment on whether those that survived are better or not. Yes, humanity has survived, but survival is not the same as better. If history had gone quite differently, we may very well have a more (or less) flourishing human species right now than we currently have.
Actually, if subjectivism is true, then there can at least be a subjective value judgment on what is better or not. In the absence of any demonstration that objectivism is true, there is no other option but to have our subjective value judgments compete with each other for wider acceptance by the majority through the process of natural selection. I acknowledge where subjectivism brings many people discomfort for the reasons you've expressed, but I'm unaware of a justification for presuming objectivism is the more accurate description of reality. We must operate in the realty we find ourselves, not the reality we hope exists.
To say pretending a subjective system is an objective morality is a stronger claim than just saying "I'm a subjectivist because there is no demonstrable evidence to support the claim that an objective morality exists." Whether there is pretense or not may depend on whether morality truly is objective or not. If you mean this in the stronger sense, you've got a burden to bear to show it is pretense.
I did not mean it in the stronger sense. I apologize for the confusion. To clarify, because there is no demonstrable evidence to support the claim that a theistic objective morality actually exists, it must be treated like a subjective morality and compete with other moral systems for wider acceptance through the process of natural selection.
But, also, I have not claimed that one should do X simply because I think my moral convictions more closely match the objective standard. I have not offered that as justification for anything.
Fair point.

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Re: Is Morality Objective or Subjective?

Post #24

Post by Artie »

bluegreenearth wrote: Disclaimer: I accept the possibility of being mistaken about my current position on this issue, but logically fallacious arguments will not persuade me to agree with you. Yes, I also accept the possibility that my own argument might be logically fallacious even though no one has yet demonstrated to me where it is fallacious.

To the best of my ability thus far, I cannot deduce a way to objectively ground morality; even if a God exists. If morality is grounded in a God, then it would be inherently subjective to whatever that God declares to be right or wrong. The only way for objective morality to exist would be for it to function as an emergent property of some unknown law of physics. In that way, morality would not be subject to any conscious mind's opinion.

Please be polite and patient with me in your responses. Thank you.
Objective morality is grounded in evolution and natural selection. Obviously a society with people who helped each other was a better society to live in and produced more offspring with the same attitude than a society where people murdered each other. We call helping others good, right or moral and we call murdering others bad, wrong or immoral for that reason. Since what we call moral or immoral is grounded in natural processes and not somebody's subjective opinion it's objective.

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Re: Is Morality Objective or Subjective?

Post #25

Post by Bust Nak »

[Replying to post 24 by Artie]

I probably asked you this before. Is food taste objective? What about music taste, or other such matter of aesthetic?

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Post #26

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bluegreenearth wrote:A creator for humanity has not yet been demonstrated to exist for us to know what this hypothetical creator requires for us flourish.
But that is irrelevant to my point. If there is a creator, then it knows what it means for humans to flourish.
bluegreenearth wrote:As such, subjective interpretations of what it means for humanity to flourish will just have to compete with each other for acceptance by the majority through the process of natural selection. The subjective concept of human flourishing that best survives the natural selection process will have to be the one that humanity adopts.
In general, I'm not disagreeing there. Although, there won't be just one subjective concept of human flourishing that survives and is adopted. My focus has been to show that theism could make human morality objectively true.
bluegreenearth wrote:While human history has demonstrated that sometimes a minority of people with all the power can temporarily impose their subjective concept of human flourishing on the rest of their community, the natural selection process will always override the subject preferences of those in power. For instance, barbaric dictators who mistreat and suppress their constituents are either overthrown by their own people or eventually replaced by more benevolent rulers. This is the natural selection process functioning to eliminate inferior subjective concepts of human flourishing while the more widely accepted subjective concepts of human flourishing continue to survive and evolve.
Maybe I'm missing something. If they are overthrown, this is a shift in power. Even the next ruler being more benevolent is a shift in power to someone who has different subjective preferences. Perhaps explain what you mean by natural selection better? This just looks like different subjective concepts going around and the group with the power push or try to influence others with their subjective concepts. If people agree with them, they don't revolt. If they disagree, they either don't strive for power or try to use their power to influence others to change.
bluegreenearth wrote:The phrase "moral progress" is being used here in the sense that morality continues to evolve as it adapts to changing selection pressures imposed by an evolving human species. The fact that subjectivism technically prohibits us from labeling any subjective goal for human flourishing as being "good" or "bad" does not bring me any discomfort because it is enough to know my subjective goal for human flourishing is surviving the natural selection process where many of the competing subjecting goals for human flourishing are not.
But to call it "progress" or "better" is misleading. All change, in this sense, is progress, even if a Nazi-like worldview comes back in vogue.
bluegreenearth wrote:Actually, if subjectivism is true, then there can at least be a subjective value judgment on what is better or not. In the absence of any demonstration that objectivism is true, there is no other option but to have our subjective value judgments compete with each other for wider acceptance by the majority through the process of natural selection. I acknowledge where subjectivism brings many people discomfort for the reasons you've expressed, but I'm unaware of a justification for presuming objectivism is the more accurate description of reality. We must operate in the realty we find ourselves, not the reality we hope exists.
Does that not cut both ways? Are you aware of a justification for presuming subjectivism is the more accurate description of reality? Are you saying subjectivism should be the default? If so, why? I, personally, have not tried to make an argument for objectivism over subjectivism in this thread, so I certainly am not saying you need to present your argument for subjectivism, but you can if you want.

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Post #27

Post by bluegreenearth »

The Tanager wrote:
bluegreenearth wrote:A creator for humanity has not yet been demonstrated to exist for us to know what this hypothetical creator requires for us flourish.
But that is irrelevant to my point. If there is a creator, then it knows what it means for humans to flourish.
How does our consideration of a hypothetical creator help us determine which moral system we should follow?
In general, I'm not disagreeing there. Although, there won't be just one subjective concept of human flourishing that survives and is adopted. My focus has been to show that theism could make human morality objectively true.
How can theism make human morality objectively true without an ability to objectively demonstrate theism is true? Even if we assume theism is true, how can we determine which theology contains the objective moral prescriptions we should follow without an ability to objectively demonstrate which theology is true?
Maybe I'm missing something. If they are overthrown, this is a shift in power. Even the next ruler being more benevolent is a shift in power to someone who has different subjective preferences. Perhaps explain what you mean by natural selection better? This just looks like different subjective concepts going around and the group with the power push or try to influence others with their subjective concepts. If people agree with them, they don't revolt. If they disagree, they either don't strive for power or try to use their power to influence others to change.
If the subjective concept of human flourishing pushed by the people in power is agreeable to the majority of the population, then both the leadership and their concept of human flourishing survive to be reproduced. In this sense, widely agreeable concepts of human flourishing are naturally selected by their ability to be reproduced. If the subjective concept of human flourishing pushed by the people in power is not agreeable to the majority of the population, then neither survive long enough to be selected for reproduction. This process is not a hypothetical scenario but a description of what has been observed throughout all of human history. If there is something different going on, it hasn't been demonstrated yet.
But to call it "progress" or "better" is misleading. All change, in this sense, is progress, even if a Nazi-like worldview comes back in vogue.
Label it "moral evolution" if that is a more representative term.
Does that not cut both ways? Are you aware of a justification for presuming subjectivism is the more accurate description of reality? Are you saying subjectivism should be the default? If so, why? I, personally, have not tried to make an argument for objectivism over subjectivism in this thread, so I certainly am not saying you need to present your argument for subjectivism, but you can if you want.
Well, there doesn't appear to be a middle option. Unless an objective morality can be demonstrated to exist, we don't appear to have any other choice but to consider every proposed moral system to be a subjective at face value. For instance, let's presume the God of Islam is the objective source for all human morality. From both our perspectives, Islam has no convincing demonstration that Allah exists to serve as their objective source for all human morality. As such, you and I would consider their moral system to be just another subjective morality even though it would actually be objective in that scenario. If you understand why the two of us reject Islam's claim of having an objective morality we all should follow, then you should understand why I reject the identical claim from Christianity and must consider all moral systems to be subjective until demonstrated otherwise.

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Post #28

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bluegreenearth wrote:How does our consideration of a hypothetical creator help us determine which moral system we should follow?
My point was that moral ontology and moral knowledge are two separate questions. I was talking about the first. This question is of the second, which I was not addressing.

To address it, in a general sense, the process is the probably same, but with different content. We will both apply reason, but do so to different goals and will take into consideration different beliefs about reality. On subjectivism, there is no "should" goal, but once you choose the goal you want to pursue, there could be a "should" in relation to how best to reach that goal.
bluegreenearth wrote:How can theism make human morality objectively true without an ability to objectively demonstrate theism is true? Even if we assume theism is true, how can we determine which theology contains the objective moral prescriptions we should follow without an ability to objectively demonstrate which theology is true?
Everyone's worldview is based on inferences to the best explanations, whether theistic objectivism, atheistic objectivism, or some kind of subjectivism.
bluegreenearth wrote:If the subjective concept of human flourishing pushed by the people in power is agreeable to the majority of the population, then both the leadership and their concept of human flourishing survive to be reproduced. In this sense, widely agreeable concepts of human flourishing are naturally selected by their ability to be reproduced. If the subjective concept of human flourishing pushed by the people in power is not agreeable to the majority of the population, then neither survive long enough to be selected for reproduction. This process is not a hypothetical scenario but a description of what has been observed throughout all of human history. If there is something different going on, it hasn't been demonstrated yet.
But you seemed to me to be making a distinction between natural selection and the role of having power. That distinction is what I'm not getting (but maybe you never meant it as a distinction?). If those in power push a subjective concept that is not well received by the majority, then the majority not in power will eventually seize power for themselves (whether through revolt or election or whatever) or they will be weeded out by those in power.
bluegreenearth wrote:Label it "moral evolution" if that is a more representative term.
I think that would be a more helpful label.
bluegreenearth wrote:Well, there doesn't appear to be a middle option. Unless an objective morality can be demonstrated to exist, we don't appear to have any other choice but to consider every proposed moral system to be a subjective at face value.
But why not the other way around? Why not consider an objective morality to exist unless it can be demonstrated that morality is subjective?
bluegreenearth wrote:For instance, let's presume the God of Islam is the objective source for all human morality. From both our perspectives, Islam has no convincing demonstration that Allah exists to serve as their objective source for all human morality. As such, you and I would consider their moral system to be just another subjective morality even though it would actually be objective in that scenario. If you understand why the two of us reject Islam's claim of having an objective morality we all should follow, then you should understand why I reject the identical claim from Christianity and must consider all moral systems to be subjective until demonstrated otherwise.
What the source of the objectivity is is the next logical question. You seem to be viewing it backwards to that. I don't see why uncertainty on the second question should be used to provide the merit of assuming subjectivism over objectivism on the logically prior question. Ultimately, you need to establish why you think subjectivism should be the default. You haven't done that yet.

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Post #29

Post by bluegreenearth »

The Tanager wrote: My point was that moral ontology and moral knowledge are two separate questions. I was talking about the first. This question is of the second, which I was not addressing.

To address it, in a general sense, the process is the probably same, but with different content. We will both apply reason, but do so to different goals and will take into consideration different beliefs about reality. On subjectivism, there is no "should" goal, but once you choose the goal you want to pursue, there could be a "should" in relation to how best to reach that goal.
Thanks for the clarification.
Everyone's worldview is based on inferences to the best explanations, whether theistic objectivism, atheistic objectivism, or some kind of subjectivism.
I don't understand how your response is an answer to my question. Are you suggesting inference to the best explanation is the objective standard for human morality? Please elaborate on how this functions.
But you seemed to me to be making a distinction between natural selection and the role of having power. That distinction is what I'm not getting (but maybe you never meant it as a distinction?). If those in power push a subjective concept that is not well received by the majority, then the majority not in power will eventually seize power for themselves (whether through revolt or election or whatever) or they will be weeded out by those in power.
The role of power is just one of many other factors within the natural selection process. Observations of human social systems throughout our history indicate that people in power do not always necessarily have an advantage within the natural selection process. Having power leaves a person more at risk to being attacked by other people who desire that power for themselves. Where people with power have historically attempted to weed out their disloyal subordinates, they've only ever achieved temporary short-term success. On the other hand, where power is controlled and distributed through democratic social systems, there is less motivation to impose a minority concept of flourishing on the larger population. Obviously, the fact that democratic social systems have grown larger and retained more power relative to dictatorships, monarchies, and other non-democratic social systems is evidence of this reality.
But why not the other way around? Why not consider an objective morality to exist unless it can be demonstrated that morality is subjective?
Which objective morality should we consider to be the default until morality is demonstrated to be subjective?
What the source of the objectivity is is the next logical question. You seem to be viewing it backwards to that. I don't see why uncertainty on the second question should be used to provide the merit of assuming subjectivism over objectivism on the logically prior question. Ultimately, you need to establish why you think subjectivism should be the default. You haven't done that yet.
So, there exists multiple competing objective moralities. The Christian and Islamic moral systems are just two of many that claim to have the objective morality we all should follow. Since you suggest it is backwards to assume all moral systems are subjective until one is demonstrated to be the objective morality we should adopt, would it be the right-way-around to declare every competing moral system to be objectively moral until all or all but one is demonstrated to be subjective? How would the co-existence of multiple objective moralities function when many of them contradict each other in various ways? Without a way to objectively determine which objective moral system (if any) is the actual objective morality we should adopt, aren't we forced to individually choose one of the many objective moralities based on our individual subjective standards?

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Post #30

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bluegreenearth wrote:I don't understand how your response is an answer to my question. Are you suggesting inference to the best explanation is the objective standard for human morality? Please elaborate on how this functions.
Perhaps I am misreading your question. I'll ask questions now instead of possibly running with my misunderstandings and confusing things further. When you say that we can't objectively demonstrate which theology is true, what do you mean? That we can be 100% certain? That no theology is more plausible than another? Something else?
bluegreenearth wrote:The role of power is just one of many other factors within the natural selection process. Observations of human social systems throughout our history indicate that people in power do not always necessarily have an advantage within the natural selection process. Having power leaves a person more at risk to being attacked by other people who desire that power for themselves. Where people with power have historically attempted to weed out their disloyal subordinates, they've only ever achieved temporary short-term success. On the other hand, where power is controlled and distributed through democratic social systems, there is less motivation to impose a minority concept of flourishing on the larger population. Obviously, the fact that democratic social systems have grown larger and retained more power relative to dictatorships, monarchies, and other non-democratic social systems is evidence of this reality.
I think we may just be using 'power' in different widths. I agree with what you are saying here.
bluegreenearth wrote:Which objective morality should we consider to be the default until morality is demonstrated to be subjective?
I think we are talking at two different levels here. I've been talking about the generic level where it is only a question of objectivism vs. subjectivism. If one sides with objectivism at that level, then there would be a secondary question of which objectivist system should be the default. You are combining those two together into one question, but I think we need to distinguish the levels.
bluegreenearth wrote:How would the co-existence of multiple objective moralities function when many of them contradict each other in various ways? Without a way to objectively determine which objective moral system (if any) is the actual objective morality we should adopt, aren't we forced to individually choose one of the many objective moralities based on our individual subjective standards?
Of course the objectivist will side with the specific objectivist morality that they subjectively prefer. It's logically impossible to prefer the morality you don't prefer. This says nothing about whether morality is objective or subjective, however. Or which one should be the default. Why assume subjectivism over general objectivism (regardless of the difficulty of pinning down the exact objectivism) as the default?

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