Is Objective Morality Possible?
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07-02-2013, 01:25 AM
Is Objective Morality Possible?
Of all the questions that have been posed to me recently since my de-conversion the issue of objective morality interests me the most.

For clarity let me state what I am not asking or supposing. I am NOT supposing that morality based on any religion is objective, I think it is preposterous to postulate that morality based on religion is desirable or even for that matter moral. To point out the most obvious issue I have with religious morality, anyone else atoning for my transgressions seems hateful and immoral to me because I think that the atonement by other people simply increases my liability for the original crime if I can illustrate by example if someone else goes to jail because I killed someone means not only am I guilty of the original crime of ending someone's life but further I bear responsibility for the incarceration of an innocent person and all the pain that causes to them and/or their loved ones.

My question is whether it is possible to state an objective set of guidelines by which every action can be judged by an objective non-delusional person(s) to be either moral or immoral. A form of peer review analogous to what we see in other areas where the scientific method is applied. And further on what empirically testable and logical basis would these guidelines be based. What motivated this is, though I can poke holes in religious morality for its inconsistencies, I have often been asked what can I put in its place. Though I've seen some building blocks in various places from my review of humanist thought I have yet to see a a coherent set of guidelines that I can easily apply to everyday decisions. I guess in some ways this is a hangover from my previous moral paradigm of Catholic dogma that made all decisions easy to make even if the decisions resulting were not necessarily moral. And I even freely admit that it displays some form of mental laziness in that, I should be able to decide in each individual circumstance what seems moral to me yet I appear to be searching for a morality cheat sheet. It gets tiring to perform analysis of each individual situation and sometimes the consequences of action or indeed inaction do not merit an in depth analysis of what would truly be moral.

I am I think a logical and principled based person (I'm also sure I suffer from bias in assessment of myself Smile ), I base a lot of my personal morality on Kant's categorical imperative which seems quite objective to me. But what principle is it based on further what is the objective end of adhering to any moral code and at the danger of going into infinite regress what makes that principle desirable. Anyway I hope I have set up my question well enough to get your thoughts or at least your direction to online resources and or books that can help me deepen my understanding.
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07-02-2013, 01:33 AM
RE: Is Objective Morality Possible?
Morality (from the Latin moralitas "manner, character, proper behavior") is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are "good" (or right) and those that are "bad" (or wrong).

Well this is the wiki definition, and under this definition no, there could not be an objective morality because it depends on interpretation. People do not always agree with what is good or bad, and there is no universal way of categorizing what is good or bad.

For an objective morality you would either have to change the definition of Morality, or change good to mean something that benefits conscious beings and bad to mean harming conscious beings. Problem is however you could redefine Morality or Good and Bad there will always be people that disagree with your definition.

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07-02-2013, 03:20 AM
RE: Is Objective Morality Possible?
Not sure how much you've looked into non-religious morality, I am partial to the work of Sam Harris. This is a 18 minute long presentation Harris gave at a TED Talk back in February 2010 on the basis of his book 'The Moral Landscape'. Here he makes an argument for using science to determine objective morality, and how we can go about doing it ourselves. It's not a rule book by any means, more like mental guidelines you can use to try and determine morality and ethics for yourself.




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07-02-2013, 04:29 AM
RE: Is Objective Morality Possible?
The trouble with Sam Harris' argument is that he assumes that human suffering is objectively bad.

By assuming that he has already made his morality subjective.
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07-02-2013, 04:36 AM (This post was last modified: 07-02-2013 06:41 AM by EvolutionKills.)
RE: Is Objective Morality Possible?
(07-02-2013 04:29 AM)hedgehog648 Wrote:  The trouble with Sam Harris' argument is that he assumes that human suffering is objectively bad.

By assuming that he has already made his morality subjective.


A fair point.

He's using one subjective claim, to create an objective scale. And while he does make a subjective assumption, it is one based in sound reason and logic. All fields of science have to make certain subjective assumptions in order to pursue objective truths. You need to subjectively value logic, reason, evidence before you can accurately gauge and measure objective truths like Newtonian mechanics. If you require that a science of morality to be entirely 100% objective, then you are requiring it be self justifying in a way no science can.

To quote Sam in his own words, "If someone doesn't value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide to prove that they should value it? If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic?"

If you'd like a more in depth presentation of these ideas, you might like to see Sam's debate with the infamous William Lane Craig. For the sake of brevity, and those that have ever already seen a WLC debate (I've you've seen one, you've seen them all), here is an edited version to be only Sam Harris speaking.

:EDIT:

To skip ahead to Harris' third rebuttal where he really gets into justifying his subjective assumptions for an objective morality, jump to 30:15

Also, one of my favorite Harris quotes.
"Is the worst possible misery for everyone really bad? Once again, we have hit philosophical bedrock with the shovel of a stupid question."




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07-02-2013, 04:39 AM (This post was last modified: 07-02-2013 04:43 AM by fstratzero.)
RE: Is Objective Morality Possible?
I think the only way to really establish objective morality is cruel, but you'd probably have to subject people to things we consider morally wrong. Then measure their responses.

Personally growing up, I was with out morals. By doing things that were wrong I learned what I shouldn't do. Getting into fights, stealing, lieing, etc. The consequences of these actions taught me what I should and shouldn't do.

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The atheist is a man who destroys the imaginary things which afflict the human race, and so leads men back to nature, to experience and to reason.
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07-02-2013, 05:26 AM
RE: Is Objective Morality Possible?
Andrew,

Good question and one that many of us ask ourselves (and each other). There are quite a few threads around here debating e.g. cultural relativism... worth reading.

I agree that it's "tiring to perform analysis of each individual situation" and, as you infer, so too can it be pointless / fruitless if we cannot guess all the consequences. And even then we could be wrong e.g. is genocide 'good' because it leads, via horror and disgust and repulsion to later generations of greater tolerance (extreme example, I know).

It's why we, as societies create and argue and agree Values which become Ethics.

By modelling your own set of Values you can use that as a framework for decision-making without the need to perform the individual analysis each time.

Cheers

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07-02-2013, 06:59 AM
RE: Is Objective Morality Possible?
No.

You can certainly use objective tools to find out whether an action is morally good or bad, but the parameters that you have to set up before doing so remain a subjective choice. One person may choose human suffering/human happiness as a parameter for determining morality, another person may choose his own well-being as a parameter and a third person may choose a religious scripture as his parameter. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference.

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07-02-2013, 09:15 AM
RE: Is Objective Morality Possible?
Hey, Andrew.

Any metric you use is going to be culturally biased.

Culture evolves. Darwinism explains handily why different cultures have different moral codes.

Moral codes are relative.

I'm out of vomit at this point, but I keep dry heaving. Fuck I hate Sam Harris. Also, his assertion that science can answer moral questions is asinine. Like pretty much everything he shits from his mouth.

To answer the question, no. An objective moral standard is impossible.

Think about it this way. Is an objective standard for "what is the best beak" possible? No it is not. Because beaks serve different purposes in different contexts. A toucan's beak is very different than a vulture's beak is very different than a humming bird's beak. None of them are best. They just do what they do and are adaptive in their own context. Same with morality. There is no best. There is just what is adaptive in a given context.

If anyone tries to tell you that an objective moral standard is possible, the next words out of their mouth are invariably going to be, "And I just happen to have it right here. What a koinkidink!"

Morality is not objective. Like the Dread Pirate Roberts says, "Anyone who says otherwise is selling something."

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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07-02-2013, 09:26 AM
RE: Is Objective Morality Possible?
(07-02-2013 06:59 AM)Vosur Wrote:  No.

You can certainly use objective tools to find out whether an action is morally good or bad, but the parameters that you have to set up before doing so remain a subjective choice. One person may choose human suffering/human happiness as a parameter for determining morality, another person may choose his own well-being as a parameter and a third person may choose a religious scripture as his parameter. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference.
This.

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