Universal Morality: My Take on a Moral Counter-Apologetic
Post Reply
 
Thread Rating:
  • 0 Votes - 0 Average
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
16-10-2016, 10:02 PM (This post was last modified: 16-10-2016 10:15 PM by Glossophile.)
Universal Morality: My Take on a Moral Counter-Apologetic
Even when I was basically a deist (from my late teens to mid 20s), I recognized the apparent problem that many theists put forth in the form of the Moral Argument, but ironically, even when I still believed in at least a vague sort of deity, I don't think it ever occurred to me that such a being could be a solution.

I tended to frame it a bit differently though, in terms of "universal" rather than "objective" morality. The way I would have posed the question is this. The Spanish were obviously horrified by the Aztec practice of human sacrifice, and although we Westerners now look back with no small amount of remorse on how the Spaniards (and Europeans in general) treated the Amerindian peoples, the cessation of such a barbaric practice is one thing we don't regret. But how can we be sure that this was a truly righteous consequence of colonialism and not just one more example of one culture ethnocentrically imposing its values onto another? Did the Spanish really have any right to judge the Aztecs according to their own culturally bound ethics, as if the latter were somehow automatically superior and therefore the standard? How would the Spanish have looked if they were judged by Aztec mores?

I think what theists invoke when they speak of "objective morality" may yet be better described by "universal morality," which would be a set of ethical guidelines by which any culture may justifiably judge and evaluate any other culture without rendering itself susceptible to the charge of ethnocentric chauvinism.

To be fair, theists also make this argument with respect to individuals rather than whole cultures, but I think the difference is merely one of scale rather than a truly qualitative one.

I recently saw a comment that was at least sympathetic to theism if not explicitly theistic regarding the subjectivity of secular morality, and I just had to respond, and I thought it might be worth sharing my remarks here as well, just in case anyone finds them useful in any way or would like to critique them. I probably haven't said much if anything that's really new (Sam Harris is probably the single heaviest influence here), but I hope to have at least contributed a semi-fresh way of approaching and explaining such views.

---ORIGINAL COMMENT---

You seem to be making the rather common objection that, if morality is subjective, then it's all mere opinion and we therefore have no basis upon which to judge the actions of other individuals and/or cultures. However, such a basis can easily be provided with one very simple axiomatic assumption: we ought to promote the well-being of sentient creatures and minimize unnecessary harm thereunto. Once we accept this as our fundamental axiom, our knowledge of how the cosmos works enables us to say many objective things about how best to accomplish that goal. This is one of the reasons why atheists tend to place such high importance on being as sure as we can be that our model of reality is as accurate as possible, namely because an inaccurate model of reality can lead us to make some erroneous and sometimes disastrous moral conclusions.

Let's take the moral axiom that I've just stated and call it M. Let's also take a person or culture's mental model of the cosmos and call it C. Any moral question then ultimately reduces to "Given C, how can we best fulfill M?" In other words, morality is metaphorically a machine or algorithm that operates on the single principle M, takes C as input, and outputs the set of all morally appropriate actions. Those actions that we are universally justified in condemning, such as the Holocaust, are the result of either disavowing M or having a C that is distorted in some crucial way(s). For example, Nazi Germany probably would've affirmed M, but propaganda had shaped their C into a mental model of the cosmos in which Jews were insufficiently sentient to merit humane treatment. After all, why do you think dehumanization is a practical prerequisite for genocide?

I doubt there is a culture on Earth whose moral sensibilities do not ultimately reduce to M, so on a societal level at least, most or all immoral customs or policies can be accounted for by an incorrect C.

Consider a hypothetical culture in which female virgins are regularly sacrificed in order to appease the god(s) of their religion. Given that they are almost certainly doing so to prevent the deity from unleashing its wrath upon the populace, it could hardly be said that these people do not affirm M. The problem is that their C is all screwed up. Returning to the machine metaphor, garbage in = garbage out (and religion is often uncannily good at feeding garbage into the system). Their collective mental model of reality includes a god who would bring great cruelty upon the whole tribe unless a single member is sacrificed. With this understanding of the cosmos, they would understandably conclude that, although they would likely prefer otherwise, the sacrifice is necessary in order to uphold M by saving far more lives than it would cost.

The inaccuracy of their C is how we can comfortably condemn and even actively oppose such customs without being charged with ethnocentrism. If an outsider were to convince them that such a god does not exist, then I would be utterly shocked if the sacrifices did not come to a rather abrupt end. If they utterly refused to question, re-examine, and potentially revise their C (which is precisely a cornerstone of at least the Abrahamic faiths if not religions in general), then they would be doubly contemptible, because that would be a direct hindrance to ensuring that they always fulfill M to the greatest extent possible.

But the fundamental objective of promoting the well-being of sentient creatures and preventing unnecessary harm thereunto is just an assumption, you might say. It is, but so too is the proposition that we ought to do as some deity commands, which we'll call G. In this sense, morality is ultimately subjective with or without a god in the picture. If you ask what if we find a culture who isn't interested in M, I can just as easily ask what if we find a culture who isn't interested in G. What's more, M is arguably a more solid foundation than G, because we can ascertain and demonstrate what constitutes the well-being of sentient creatures much more objectively than we can discern which of countless interpretations of any god's desires and expectations is the most accurate.

The only sacred truth in science is that there are no sacred truths. – Carl Sagan
Sōla vēritās sancta in philosophiā nātūrālī est absentia vēritātum sanctārum.
Ἡ μόνη ἱερᾱ̀ ἀληθείᾱ ἐν φυσικῇ φιλοσοφίᾳ ἐστίν ἡ ἱερῶν ἀληθειῶν σπάνις.
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
[+] 2 users Like Glossophile's post
16-10-2016, 10:05 PM
RE: Universal Morality: My Take on a Moral Counter-Apologetic
(16-10-2016 10:02 PM)Glossophile Wrote:  But the fundamental objective of promoting the well-being of sentient creatures and preventing unnecessary harm thereunto is just an assumption, you might say.

Believe me ... I would never say "thereunto".

Insufferable know-it-all.Einstein God has a plan for us. Please stop screwing it up with your prayers.
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
16-10-2016, 10:23 PM
RE: Universal Morality: My Take on a Moral Counter-Apologetic
Aasimov's 0th Law says to say "Hi!"

---
Flesh and blood of a dead star, slain in the apocalypse of supernova, resurrected by four billion years of continuous autocatalytic reaction and crowned with the emergent property of sentience in the dream that the universe might one day understand itself.
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
17-10-2016, 10:22 AM
RE: Universal Morality: My Take on a Moral Counter-Apologetic
love thy neighbor as thyself. thats pretty objective.
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
[+] 1 user Likes socialistview's post
17-10-2016, 10:53 AM
RE: Universal Morality: My Take on a Moral Counter-Apologetic
(17-10-2016 10:22 AM)socialistview Wrote:  love thy neighbor as thyself. thats pretty objective.

But it can establish poor relationships if followed truthfully by those with terrible self esteem or masochists.

"Allow there to be a spectrum in all that you see" - Neil Degrasse Tyson
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
[+] 1 user Likes ClydeLee's post
17-10-2016, 11:01 AM
RE: Universal Morality: My Take on a Moral Counter-Apologetic
At woork.

(16-10-2016 10:23 PM)Paleophyte Wrote:  Aasimov's 0th Law says to say "Hi!"

While Aasimov's robot laws are interesting.

They really no more than litterary 'McGuffins' with which to drive a story/tell a tale. Yes

Thumbsup
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
17-10-2016, 12:05 PM
RE: Universal Morality: My Take on a Moral Counter-Apologetic
well the person whos interacting with him can help him with self esteem
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
17-10-2016, 03:38 PM
RE: Universal Morality: My Take on a Moral Counter-Apologetic
(17-10-2016 10:22 AM)socialistview Wrote:  love thy neighbor as thyself. thats pretty objective.

It's entirely subjective, based upon who you are, who you think "your neighbor" is and how you feel you should be loved. It is the essence of tribalism.

---
Flesh and blood of a dead star, slain in the apocalypse of supernova, resurrected by four billion years of continuous autocatalytic reaction and crowned with the emergent property of sentience in the dream that the universe might one day understand itself.
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
[+] 1 user Likes Paleophyte's post
17-10-2016, 07:20 PM
RE: Universal Morality: My Take on a Moral Counter-Apologetic
(17-10-2016 03:38 PM)Paleophyte Wrote:  
(17-10-2016 10:22 AM)socialistview Wrote:  love thy neighbor as thyself. thats pretty objective.

It's entirely subjective, based upon who you are, who you think "your neighbor" is and how you feel you should be loved. It is the essence of tribalism.

Confucius phrased it better- "Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself."

Too bad Jesus didn't say it that way, he must have fell asleep in class that day.

Gods derive their power from post-hoc rationalizations. -The Inquisition

Using the supernatural to explain events in your life is a failure of the intellect to comprehend the world around you. -The Inquisition
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
21-10-2016, 09:42 PM
RE: Universal Morality: My Take on a Moral Counter-Apologetic
(17-10-2016 07:20 PM)TheInquisition Wrote:  
(17-10-2016 03:38 PM)Paleophyte Wrote:  It's entirely subjective, based upon who you are, who you think "your neighbor" is and how you feel you should be loved. It is the essence of tribalism.

Confucius phrased it better- "Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself."

Too bad Jesus didn't say it that way, he must have fell asleep in class that day.


But surely he did say it that way when he says "do unto others as you would have others do unto you".

What's the difference? (That's a rhetorical question. I'm not interested in a big long explanation of the difference. I don't see one, ok, (oh jeez, this forum is a pain, you have to qualify yourself, support yourself with peer reviewed papers ( and then there is Kant's categorical imperative (no don't bring that out, you've done it before and look what happened. NO, not the same. totally different "act so that the axiom on which you act can be universally applied (shit is it axion or grund norm? (I realize now that I've never read Kant in the original German, I feel an anxiety attack coming on, have I got this all wrong?)))))
Find all posts by this user
Like Post Quote this message in a reply
Post Reply
Forum Jump: