Challenge to proponents of objective morality
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16-08-2017, 01:57 PM
RE: Challenge to proponents of objective morality
(15-08-2017 04:29 PM)Peebothuhul Wrote:  I must admit... in the 'Run away train/carraige' thought proposal.

Why can't the switch simply be move half way? Thereby derailing the carriage and avoiding the innitial choices?

Consider

Too easy. Smile

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16-08-2017, 02:12 PM
RE: Challenge to proponents of objective morality
(16-08-2017 04:13 AM)Robvalue Wrote:  Thanks, yeah these are good examples. The problem again is concerned with what morality even means. Before it's been defined precisely, it's hopeless to try and see how objective it is.
Most commonly it is defined as " a system of determining and relating to concepts of right and wrong behavior."

Quote:The fact that it is rarely ever defined precisely shows the amount of subjectivity involved, even among people who can agree with a vague definition like "maximizing wellbeing".
Language is subjective; most if not all linguistic definitions are going to be subjective as well.

Quote:So there is obviously an objective answer here if we define morality simply in terms of outcomes, and a human life is always worth 5 points. You save the maximum number of people, by whatever method. But many people (myself included) would evaluate the method too. A strictly outcome-based moral system can get ugly in a hurry.
What if the five people in the group are Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Pol Pot, and Jim Jones, and the guy snoozing on the siding is Jonas Salk? Smile

Quote:Instead we could look at personal responsibility. Am I responsible for a death if I do nothing to stop it?
That's the one that particularly interests me.

Quote:Am I more or less responsible than for deaths where I pull the lever? Again, no objective answer here.

I don't think I'd be able to codify my morality even if I tried. It's a mix of many different principles, which fluctuate constantly as I experience more. I can only take each situation on its own merits and think it through. I find stock answers to be dangerous, if taken too seriously.

I don't even get what anyone can be meaning by "objective morality". It has to be fulfilling some sort of goal, and we can't even precisely define what that goal is. It would be a function of the goal. So in this example, it could be objective for various different moral systems, and not objective for others. Is there some "correct morality"? No, I reject that idea as circular.
"Correct" isn't necessarily the same as "objective" -- "correct" in this regard is a human value judgment.

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16-08-2017, 02:53 PM
RE: Challenge to proponents of objective morality
(16-08-2017 08:36 AM)Thoreauvian Wrote:  
(16-08-2017 06:48 AM)Robvalue Wrote:  Going back to the lever example, we do at least have a simple comparison to make: total loss of life. But if we complicate the issue, it gets less objective still:

1) If I leave the cart on track, it will kill one person. If I pull the lever, it will cut the legs off of three people.

2) If I leave the cart on track, it will kill one person who has been kidnapped and tied to the rails. If I pull the lever, it will kill the three people who kidnapped him.

I see what you mean, but you are at least dealing with objective information to make your decisions.
The information is objective, but it's being utilized to make a subjective decision. At some point the person pulling the switch is making a value judgment to the effect that one or the other casualties of his act are more deserving of being saved than the other.

Quote:You can always add more information to any given scenario in such a way as to change people's decisions, as you did in the second example. Circumstances do indeed alter cases even in objective morality.
What is the objective point around which the circumstances revolve?

Objective morality would be something like, "it is always wrong for one human being to deliberately kill another human being." And then it is always (objectively) wrong, regardless of whether the person being killed is Florence Nightingale or Joseph Mengele.

You could, of course, have any number of specific qualifications of an objective principle -- for example, "it is always wrong for one human being to kill another human being except in cases in which the person to be killed is known to be a sadistic Nazi doctor."

There are two problems with that. One is that the number of such qualifications is potentially endless, and if they aren't all currently extant, then your standard is not objective; it's subject to continual redefinition. The second it that the qualification itself depends on a subjective judgment: what is "sadistic"?; what is "Nazi"? what do we mean by "is known"? -- what is the standard of evidence for establishing that?

Quote:In the first case, I would let one person be killed since I would have to be actively involved to maim the other three. That one person should likely not have been on the tracks to begin with.

In the second case, I would definitely pull the lever to kill three people.

Of course people will disagree, because they always do.
Of course; because the moral evaluation is subjective.

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16-08-2017, 08:00 PM
RE: Challenge to proponents of objective morality
(08-08-2017 12:09 AM)Robvalue Wrote:  This is a challenge to anyone who thinks that morality is objective, whatever morality may mean to them.

1) Define what morality means. How do you determine how moral or immoral an action is?

2) Describe any situation you like, which contains some sort of conflict of interest between outcomes.

(So this could be a case of limited resources, interdependency between outcomes, the "lesser of two evils", and so on. In other words, it's not a very simply case like, "do this bad thing or don't do it".)

3) Explain how you can resolve this situation according to your definition of morality, to find the objectively most moral (or perhaps least immoral) action to take.

(This should, of course, not make use of any subjective value judgements or interpretations of concepts that aren't explicitly defined in part 1.)

Have fun!

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17-08-2017, 01:49 AM (This post was last modified: 17-08-2017 01:55 AM by Robvalue.)
RE: Challenge to proponents of objective morality
Thanks very much everyone for your input, it's really interesting reading!

And thank you Jesse, much appreciated Blush

One further point: it's often assumed that it's moral to protect human life. Of course, I agree. But it could be argued that life in general is better off without humans. I agree with that also. If one took an "outcome only" outlook to morality (which I don't), one could end up deciding it's morally justified to wipe out as many humans as possible.

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17-08-2017, 02:57 AM
RE: Challenge to proponents of objective morality
About the subjectivity of words:

This is certainly the case. However, some questions can be posed so that they can be interpreted in a well-defined, objective manner. Sam Harris, in his Moral Landscape talk, mentioned "the number of birds in flight over Africa" or something similar. He said that just because we don't know what the answer is, it doesn't mean there isn't an answer. This is true, but irrelevant. His question deals with well-defined concepts, and is formatted to produce an exact answer. The answer isn't a matter of opinion. But this doesn't mean all questions have such an answer.

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17-08-2017, 03:50 AM
RE: Challenge to proponents of objective morality
I think another question is: Were humans to become extinct, would morality exist?

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17-08-2017, 06:03 AM (This post was last modified: 17-08-2017 06:16 AM by Thoreauvian.)
RE: Challenge to proponents of objective morality
(17-08-2017 01:49 AM)Robvalue Wrote:  One further point: it's often assumed that it's moral to protect human life. Of course, I agree. But it could be argued that life in general is better off without humans. I agree with that also. If one took an "outcome only" outlook to morality (which I don't), one could end up deciding it's morally justified to wipe out as many humans as possible.

Whose life? Certainly not human life if it's all destroyed. Plus we are the most aware of all creatures, with the most potential for suffering. That must figure into your moral considerations.

I personally think pain and suffering are more important criteria for morality than life per se. If a death is quick (for instance someone run over on the railroad tracks), there would be less individual suffering than if someone were maimed by losing his legs. Of course the potential suffering of relatives of the deceased would also need to be taken into account in a wider analysis.
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17-08-2017, 06:08 AM
RE: Challenge to proponents of objective morality
(17-08-2017 03:50 AM)Banjo Wrote:  I think another question is: Were humans to become extinct, would morality exist?

Not articulated as such, no.

But at least a primitive cost/benefit analysis common to moral thinking would still be represented in certain species.
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17-08-2017, 06:15 AM
RE: Challenge to proponents of objective morality
(16-08-2017 02:53 PM)Dr H Wrote:  Objective morality would be something like, "it is always wrong for one human being to deliberately kill another human being." And then it is always (objectively) wrong, regardless of whether the person being killed is Florence Nightingale or Joseph Mengele.

And my point has been that to use the word "objective" to describe fixed moral principles such as your example is inappropriate because they are not fact-based at all. From my perspective, that is just the opposite of objective, because objectivity requires dropping such fixed biases and evaluating each situation on its own merits in terms of the amount of suffering caused. Circumstances always alter cases.

So you are right that such "objective morality" is really subjective, but only with your stipulated definition. The question was whether there is any morality which can be defended as objective. I still think there is.
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