Secular Morality - looking for some answers

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Secular Morality - looking for some answers

Postby Tackster » Wed Jul 03, 2013 10:57 pm

Hello all,

I have a question concerning the benefit of following secular morals. I believe in following these morals and try to live by them. The reason for following these morals is that it is in my self-interest as they are the best method to maximize my well-being. However, it occurs to me that this may not be consistent across all situations.

The example I want to give is of two people shipwrecked on an island, John and Mark. I apologize, but I'm going to take this argument to extremes just to make it obvious. John finds Mark annoying and can't get him to stop the behaviour that aggravates him. Mark contributes nothing and is not necessary to John's survival or well being. In this case it would still be objectively immoral to murder Mark. However, from John's point of view an argument can be made that it's no longer in his self-interest not to murder Mark if he believes (on sound reasoning) that Mark's death would result in a sum total benefit.

Now I hold that it is objectively immoral to commit this murder but I can see arguments for why it is in that person's best interests.

Perhaps the issue is that any reasonable, empathic human would take emotional harm from committing murder, not necessarily benefit from the loss in companionship or have to be psychologically abnormal to feel as John does. But i'm not convinced that those have to be the case and then I can see an example where a skeptic atheist is not best interested in following objective morals.

Thoughts?

Thanks,
Tackster (Skeptic, Atheist, Humanist)
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Re: Secular Morality - looking for some answers

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Thu Jul 04, 2013 12:10 am

I may be in the minority here, but I have answers that you don't like.

I don't think justice is an integral part of the universe in the same way that conservation of energy or conservation of angular momentum are. Angular momentum is conserved whether you like it or not, whether it's in your best interests or not, and whether it is moral or not. It just is, and we know this because the evidence says so.

The universe does not contain a physics law of justice. I like Richard Carrier's example. Imagine rules of physics so that the more moral, good, and decent a human being is, the more resistant that person is to physical harm. Great moral philosophers and practitioners would be nearly invulnerable like DC Comics Superman. The thing is, that's not how the universe operates. There is no law of physics which makes justice win in the end. In fact, I would argue that the universe is demonstrably unjust, and we just try to ameliorate it as best we can.

That was a little tangential. Let's get to your main point.

The word "humanism" is a word in our language. It is mere convention. It is defined by fiat. We can define the word to mean whatever we want it to mean. In this case, we define it to encompass certain values. There's nothing stopping us from doing so. Similarly, we can define the word "Nazism" to contain certain values. The big leap is going from defining a set of values, to saying that we ought to behave according to those values.

Now, as a scientific matter, I agree that in a great many cases, following the proscriptions of humanism also tends to further a kind of naive hedonistic self-interest that you allude to in your desert island example. However, I also agree with the conclusions of your desert island example: there are some real world cases where following the proscriptions of humanism are incompatible with some naive hedonistic self-interest.

Why did I make a big fuss about the rules of physics? This is why. I agree it's really great and convenient that self-interest in most cases happens to coincide with the values of humanism, but sometimes they don't. The universe isn't just. As a consequence, sometimes unjust acts are not caught, punished, prevented, and so on. It's just the way the universe is. In your desert island example, if he commits murder, there will be no repercussions. He may well live a happier, more fulfilling life. Under a naive hedonistic self-interest, it would even be rational to commit murder. Sorry. The world sucks.

Regardless, as long as we agree that we ought to follow the proscriptions of humanism, that we should value the values of humanism, then we can say that the desert island murder is objectively wrong, even though he'll never be caught or punished, even though he may live a happier, more fulfilling life. Sorry. The world sucks.

PS: A frequent atheist argument against theist morality goes like. Theist: "I don't murder only because I will be punished if I murder, and I will be rewarded if I don't murder." Atheist: "That's a horrible outlook on morality. Have you no decency, no empathy?"

I like the way Penn Jillette puts it. He already rapes and murders as much as he wants. That number is 0. He does not want to rape or murder. He is a decent human being with empathy, who wants to make other people's lives better, and would genuinely feel hurt if he hurt someone else.

So, I'm not sure if I gave a response for what you're looking for, but that's my initial reaction.
Last edited by EnlightenmentLiberal on Thu Jul 04, 2013 12:14 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Secular Morality - looking for some answers

Postby lucas11 » Thu Jul 04, 2013 12:13 am

I think it depends on the circumstances:

- If John murders Mark merely because he is annoying and doesn't contribute then I agree that this is objectively wrong.

- If John murders Mark because Mark is stealing John's resources to survive while contributing nothing then I think he is right to commit murder.

- If John withholds the resources he has gathered on his own and Mark starves to death as a consequence of this action combined with his own lack of contribution then this is morally neutral.

- If both can survive easily without doing any work but Mark is annoying and John would benefit from Mark no longer using resources, then the murder is wrong.

- If John will suffer rather than benefit from Mark's murder then it is merely a bad idea for John's self-interest, and is still either morally right or wrong depending on circumstances as described above.

Having said that, if Mark takes no steps to mitigate his annoying behaviour after being told about it (such as staying away from John, attempting to change, or discussing the issue), then I would say that any reasonable violence resulting from this would not be morally wrong. YMMV on what violence is reasonable in these circumstances.

Personally I think that there is a good argument for the existance of objective moral values, but I don't think that it is always within the self interest of an individual to adhere to these moral values. If John were to murder Mark purely because logic suggests that he would gain something and lose nothing, then the act of murder is at the same time objectively wrong and in John's self-interest.
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Re: Secular Morality - looking for some answers

Postby Tackster » Thu Jul 04, 2013 12:45 am

Thanks for the replies guys!

So let me follow-up on a couple of the points you guys raised to make sure we're all talking about the same thing and that i'm clear on what you're implying.

I know that there is no requirement of justice in nature - I never really referred to that and having grown up my entire life as an atheist I really don't even see the need for it. Aside from rehabilitation/restitution justice has no meaning for me.

On a side note: I studied theoretical physics in university and you analogy to conservation principles brings up an interesting question - what would we conserve through universal justice? A value of fairness? Might make for a fun albeit meaningless conversation :)

As far as the morality goes I take it as given that the murder is objectively morally wrong and I think that is the general view of skeptics (not that that really matters). I agree with most of the points raised as well so shouldn't be an issue outside of possible semantic disagreements.

And finally when I call myself a humanist I simply mean that my view on how we should think and act is with humanity's well-being and progress as our prime concern and motivator. No other meanings then that.

My point was this: As a follower of secular morals I behave in accordance with those morals. To behave in accordance with those morals for self-preservation reasons is justified and logical. To behave in accordance with those morals out of belief without justification ends up being faith.

If I were on the island I may not follow the moral path because there is no justification for doing so. If I did I would be acting out of faith. But I take issue with the conclusion that a skeptic would not follow secular morals at all times. Basically the statement ends up being 'I'll be moral when it suits me'. Maybe my mistake is emotional or semantic and I apologize for the naivety of this next statement but:
Does that seem like a good thing to you?
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Re: Secular Morality - looking for some answers

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Thu Jul 04, 2013 1:07 am

Tackster wrote:My point was this: As a follower of secular morals I behave in accordance with those morals. To behave in accordance with those morals for self-preservation reasons is justified and logical. To behave in accordance with those morals out of belief without justification ends up being faith.

If I were on the island I may not follow the moral path because there is no justification for doing so. If I did I would be acting out of faith. But I take issue with the conclusion that a skeptic would not follow secular morals at all times. Basically the statement ends up being 'I'll be moral when it suits me'. Maybe my mistake is emotional or semantic and I apologize for the naivety of this next statement but:
Does that seem like a good thing to you?


And here I may be in the minority position. Everyone has faith. I'm not being facetious.

You're in effect asking a "why" question. Why should one follow the rules of humanism? You have your answer - because it furthers your own survival and happiness. Ok. Now, why should you value your own survival and happiness?

"In order to answer a why question, you must be in a framework where you allow something to be true", paraphrasing Feynman from perhaps the most important video you can watch IMHO:
Richarch Feynman on how do magnets work
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MO0r930Sn_8

You're asking for a justification. You're asking what justification can I possibly give for behaving according to the values of humanism? You're right in that I can answer that why question in terms of another proposition, such as the value of self preservation and happiness, but then you're left in the same position - why value self preservation and happiness?

Feynman says that in order to answer a why question, you must be in a framework where you allow something to be true. Generally, you have to accept basic deductive logic works. You have to accept that the scientific method works. I have no justifications for these, and I have no intention to give justifications for these. These are my axioms. I live in a scientific framework, and only in that framework where I allow something to be true - the efficacy of the scientific method - can I derive any other truths.

Similarly, in order to answer a why question about morality, you have to be in a framework where you allow some moral statement to be true. Maybe your axioms, your moral "faiths", are self-preservation and self-happiness only. I also value my own self-preservation and happiness, and for the same reasons - or the same lack of reasons - I also value the preservation and happiness of others.

Put another way, propositions and justifications form a directed graph. Either that graph can be cyclic or not, and I hope we can all agree to reject out of hand recursive justifications. If the graph is not-cyclic, then you can pick a node, and start going to the parents via the justification-edges. Imagine this process goes on without end. A is true because B, and B is true because C, and so on. I also hope that we can reject out of hand infinite regresses of justifications.

What does that leave you with? A directed, finite, acyclic justification graph which necessary has proposition-nodes for which there is no justification ( - no justification in the current framework at any rate). The proposition-nodes without justifications are what we commonly call "axioms". These are statements taken "on faith". These are just what the words mean, and there is no way out except the sheer absurdities of rejecting logic altogether, or allowing recursive justifications, or allowing endless regresses of justifications.

Maybe it seems self-evident to you that self-preservation is something you should act towards, and it's not self-evident that you should also act for the preservation of others. "Self-evident" is just another word for unjustified, for "faith". I think that valuing my own self-preservation and my own happiness is just as self-evident as valuing the preservation and happiness of others. This is what I call being a decent human being. Let me repeat this:
PS: A frequent atheist argument against theist morality goes like. Theist: "I don't murder only because I will be punished if I murder, and I will be rewarded if I don't murder." Atheist: "That's a horrible outlook on morality. Have you no decency, no empathy?"
In this case, you are behaving exactly as the theist. You are asking why should you be moral if you don't get some personal advantage out of that. I have no recourse except to say that you may be a sociopath. Luckily, as you have noted, being a decent human being tends to also benefit yourself personally, and that's why many sociopaths do quite well in society and quite often are not violent criminals. But if you don't have that basic moral empathetic impulse to be nice to others, to care about others, then I cannot give you reasons to care about others in all cases, including your desert island example.
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Re: Secular Morality - looking for some answers

Postby Tackster » Thu Jul 04, 2013 7:44 pm

It's a well explained point EnlightenmentLiberal and I appreciate the time you took to write it.

I take issue with one of your claims however, which is around your point:
Why should one follow the rules of humanism? You have your answer - because it furthers your own survival and happiness.


I understand that Why questions require a construct of 'meaning' but I'm not taking issue with furthering my own survival and happiness. I accept that without much need for justification (which I don't think would be too difficult between reasonable people).

But in my island example the point I'm making is that the secular morals of humanism do not further your own survival and happiness. My understanding is that secular morals are based around the well being of society. If they were based around the well being of the individual then crime/rape/murder would all be tolerable so long as you think you can get away with it. However, when considering society and prison and emotional effects, societal morals are generally the same as the individuals drivers for survival and happiness . This is not necessary, they just match in that situation and hence secular morals are worth following.

On the island in a society of two with no legal system, no complex models and simple judgement of how things can affect one, secular morals are not in furtherance of one's survival and happiness.

Does that make sense?
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Re: Secular Morality - looking for some answers

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Thu Jul 04, 2013 8:42 pm

Tackster wrote:Does that make sense?

I said as much, yes.
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Re: Secular Morality - looking for some answers

Postby lucas11 » Thu Jul 04, 2013 9:43 pm

As I said previously, I think there is a good argument for objective morality to exist and the murder on the island can be judged by these standards. There are also good reasons for being moral because it tends to be within our own self interest.

But I take issue with the conclusion that a skeptic would not follow secular morals at all times. Basically the statement ends up being 'I'll be moral when it suits me'.


This is overlapping 2 issues. The first is that for most people there would be a downside to committing the murder e.g. feeling guilty, and wanting to avoid such things is a legitimate reason to behave morally.

The second is that in extreme examples such as your island, morality could be ignored in favour of survival. In other words my life is worth more than my morality. This might be considered equivalent to what you wrote, but your statement carried an implication of casualness which is not appropriate for your island example.

But in my island example the point I'm making is that the secular morals of humanism do not further your own survival and happiness.


I don't entirely agree, but assume for the sake of argument that you are correct, that there is absolutely no downside for John to commit murder but there is an upside, and John's survival is not compromised by Mark's survival. Under that specific set of circumstances, a situation has been created where logically John should murder Mark but at the same time it would be morally wrong.

This just goes back to what I said previously about an immoral act sometimes being within ones own self interest. I think that individual well being will probably always be related to society's well being in the long term, so such situations only really arise in thought experiments like this.

If your underlying question is "why should an individual be moral in circumstances where there is no logical benefit for that individual" then I would say that those circumstances occur very rarely in reality, and that forming an automatic habit of acting morally will actually help us in day to day life as no-one properly thinks through every single action they peform. Therefore although we might lose some benefit in rare circumstances, we will gain some benefit in common circumstances and this trade off does in fact have logical benefit to the individual.
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Re: Secular Morality - looking for some answers

Postby sepia » Thu Jul 04, 2013 10:26 pm

Hi,
I think the egoistic morality is incomplete, because we could judge situations in which we aren't involved. For example I could hold a position on the morality or immorality of biblical stories. Since I'm not involved in the stories and morality is just aboult my own well-being, the stories should be neutral.

But they aren't. I think the reason is - at least - that I also care about other people and their well being.

On your story I as a third person thinks that John dying or mark dying will have similar consequences: Only one survives. Yet I don't see any reason, why the problem with the annoying Mark should be solved by murdering Mark and not by murdering John (by suicide). I also suppose, that John, if he is ordinary, can also think about himself in third person - just as I did - and comes to the same conclusion. So when he wants, that two persons on a boat make "good" decisions and he happens to be in exactly this situation, he might have a motive, not to murder.
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Re: Secular Morality - looking for some answers

Postby nottamun » Fri Jul 05, 2013 9:43 pm

The scenario depicted by Tackster is very interesting in terms of seeking a basis for interpretations of secular morality. The initial conditions are fairly simple but the consequent possibilities are various and complex. What really confuses me is the number of contributions from non-theists which refer to objective morality and ideas of right and wrong. What is the ‘objective’ basis for these ideas? Who is the arbiter? Presumably, from an atheistic point of view, not a divine entity. Who else is ‘qualified’ to decide what is right and wrong? Are we referring to a universal consensus? I don’t think there is one; that is the point of the scenario. And even if there was one, I don’t see why that should necessarily make it objectively ‘right’.

A case might be made for a set of criteria which define the basis for secular morality but any ‘rules’ which derive from these are far from commonly agreed and accepted. As social beings, we accept limitations and legal controls as part of what we need to get on with each other. They become part of a common ‘language’ which has to constantly adapt and frequently change. Those social rules do not necessarily correspond to ‘morality’ but they usually deal with similar issues. Yet, in the social context, these rules need to be interpreted, often on a case-by-case basis. That is why we have a judiciary. Who or what serves as a ‘judiciary’ for secular morality?

I ask these questions, not because I have the answers, but because I think they follow on logically from Tackster’s initial post. In responding to the scenario I would certainly not want to talk about right and wrong but rather about shades of appropriateness and justifiability.

If Mark contributes nothing but presents no clear threat, then killing him is inappropriate. He is another sentient being who we consider to has a ‘right’ to life. If he constitutes a threat, however, the situation changes, particularly if the threat is to John’s own life. Killing Mark would be a last resort because, from John’s point of view, he could still become an ally in all sorts of conceivable difficult situations. If, however, John’s own life was at stake and it came down to either John or Mark who was going to die, then we are reduced to the primeval urge for survival. If John is sure that he is not precipitating the situation, then he would certainly by justified in defending himself. It would depend very much on the circumstances whether this justification might extend, for example, to killing Mark in his sleep.

It seems to me that, as the social situation changes, so do social responses, even with regard to violence.

If this sounds cold and calculated, then fine. That’s what it is. It is a dispassionate consideration of the situation. That is not to say, however, that any real judgement will be made in that way. My life experiences, my conditioning and my own internalised morality prompt me to loathe violence and, particularly, killing. They are my own internalised rights and wrongs. But I am only too aware that my moral boundaries do not correspond exactly to any other person on earth. And the same applies to everybody else. That is why I am very wary when people talk about right and wrong and objective morality as if they are commonly understood by eveybody when I know full well that they are not.
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Re: Secular Morality - looking for some answers

Postby lucas11 » Sat Jul 06, 2013 10:31 pm

Regarding objective morality, once you introduce the concept of an arbiter or universal consensus, that makes it subjective morality in my view. Part of being objective is that things are right or wrong regardless or whether groups of people agree they are right or wrong.

Admittedly, you do need to start with a couple of axioms (such as morally good relating to increases in the well being of conscious entities), but the moral conclusions that follow from this can be shown to be logical and sound.

However making or judging any system of morality is impossible without starting with some axioms. The axioms of a theist might be "things are good or bad because Allah says they are" or they could be whatever standards they used to judge the actions of their gods as good prior to joining their religion.
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Re: Secular Morality - looking for some answers

Postby nottamun » Sun Jul 07, 2013 8:42 am

Reply to Lucas11:

I am afraid you have me confused. My understanding of ‘subjective morality’ is that it refers to an individual’s personal beliefs and morals. There is no problem here about talking (to oneself!) in terms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ because there is no conflict.

When two or more people start to talk about morality, however, problems arise. One person’s subjective morality may clash dramatically with another person’s subjective morality. What one person thinks is right, another person may thing is wrong. What we need here is a common basis for discussion and for reference. Theists are likely to agree that their common basis is God. They may, however, disagree about what God says. If (a huge if) the Ten Commandments could have been demonstrated to reflect accurately the Word of God, then that would provide a firm common basis for agreement amongst theists. That might well be what I could accept as an objective morality. Not an absolute morality, but certainly one of many objective moralities, all of which might be very different from each other. That still leaves huge problems about identifying a truly objective morality but, for the sake of this argument, I shall gloss over these.

You, however, say, “Part of being objective is that things are right or wrong regardless or whether groups of people agree they are right or wrong”. How can you justify this statement? An individual – as I have accepted – can have their own interpretation of right or wrong. No problem. A group may decide on a common basis for a morality which they call objective. They might then be able to talk about issues of right and wrong within the group and come to some agreement. I can see that. But what happens when two groups with different ideas of right and wrong and with different bases for their ‘objective moralities’ come into contact? The words ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ become completely redundant; they are flung from one group to the other with no common comprehension. And where, in this instance, is the ‘objectivity’?

Neither do axioms necessarily help much. For a start, different people and different groups select different axioms. You have a problem right there. Even if everybody agreed on a common axiom, that axiom would have to be applied and interpreted in the same way as would a commandment. And there could be a billion different interpretations, all logical and consistent, many of which would contradict each other. Actually, I understate the issue. There are upwards of seven billion people on this planet and the default position must be that they all think individually and have their own distinct moralities.

I have been searching on various sites over a couple of years for somebody to explain and portray for me a clearly defined ‘objective’ morality. i would be grateful for even a simple explanation of basic axioms . I have yet to come across one.
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Re: Secular Morality - looking for some answers

Postby lucas11 » Sun Jul 07, 2013 7:55 pm

In the same way that an individual can have their own interpretation of right or wrong, a group can have their own interpretation as well. This would still be subjective, although it would be subjective in regards to a group rather than an individual. If everyone on the planet agreed that the sun revolved around the earth or that murder being legal is good for society, this would still not be objectively true, whether they called it objective or not.

If 2 groups have a different basis for their morality and come into conflict, then ultimately the more powerful group probably wins and imposes their moral system.

I think axioms are the key because on a fundamental level I think that everybody agrees with a few basic moral values, although some may protest that they don't. Everyone agrees that torturing babies, legalising casual murder and testing biological weapons on your populace is wrong. Whether they agree because their god says so, empathy with other humans or whatever, I don't think any person or group could disagree with this. This means there is potentially a basis for developing a set of axioms that everyone can agree on and then deriving a system of objective morality from those while attempting to minimise or eliminate the potential for interpretation. (Whether anyone chooses to agree with or follow the morality system is another matter).

A few simple axioms:

1) With all else being equal, more well being is better than less.

Imagine a universe where every person goes through the maximum possible amount of pain and suffering. This is worse than a universe where every person goes through half that amount of pain and suffering. Therefore an increase in well being is a good thing.

2) A good society should be based on fair division.

By "fair division" I mean that a good society should be set up in such a way that you should be happy to be born into it without knowing who you would be. This is the idea that everyone gets their due share (not necessarily equal share). This axiom is related to concepts such as work should be rewarded and racism is bad, as you would not want to be born black if black people are always discriminated against neither would you want to work if it is not rewarded and without work society collapses.

3) Acceptance of empiricism and logical induction.

The rules of logical induction must be accepted so that any moral deductions from the axioms are agreed as sound and valid. Empiricism must be accepted so that things e.g. well being can be measured and agreed on with a commonly accepted system (such as counting the number of babies tortured to death and agreeing that 5 victims per year is better than 10 per year).

I am not saying that the axioms above could easily and clearly solve every single moral dilemma, because real life is very complicated and doesn't work like that. I do think however that there is a good argument that these axioms can form the basis of an objective/universal morality.

Someone could start with an axiom such as "whatever the christian god says is good is morally right", but this is not genuinely an axiom as the same person would also say that this god would never tell them to rape people as that would be wrong. As it is, when they try to justify their god commanding rape (e.g. Deuteronomy 21) they attempt to use all sorts of "logical" excuses, as they aren't stupid enough to claim that it must be right simply because their god commands it.

I hope this clears things up, at least to some extent.
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Re: Secular Morality - looking for some answers

Postby nottamun » Mon Jul 08, 2013 3:28 pm

Reply to Lucas11:

Thanks for your detailed response.

In the same way that an individual can have their own interpretation of right or wrong, a group can have their own interpretation as well. This would still be subjective, although it would be subjective in regards to a group rather than an individual. If everyone on the planet agreed that the sun revolved around the earth or that murder being legal is good for society, this would still not be objectively true, whether they called it objective or not.

You’ve really lost me there. I understand how an individual can possess subjective morality; it seems self-evident. I have googled the term, just in case I was missing a significant point. The two definitions below seem to be fairly typical:

• Proceeding from or taking place in a person's mind rather than the external world: a subjective decision.
• Particular to a given person; personal: subjective experience.


I can’t see, therefore, how you can apply this idea to a group. Christianity could be called a group. I don't think they would be happy for their common principles to be called subjective. The point about a group is that disagreements need to be resolved and there need to be defined criteria, axioms or whatever you might call them, to establish a common basis for resolution. It is the bases on which these are established and agreed upon which interest me.

I have no idea how your points about the sun revolving around the earth or murder being good for society not being objectively true are relevant to this argument.

If 2 groups have a different basis for their morality and come into conflict, then ultimately the more powerful group probably wins and imposes their moral system.

Are you really suggesting that might or power is or should be the arbiter of moral decisions?!!

I can’t go along with your suggestion that “everybody agrees with a few basic moral values”. Taking your first example, ‘torturing babies is wrong’:
  • Even if everybody in the universe agreed with this interpretation of an action (and I don’t think they do) it does not mean that they all believe it for the same reason. And morality is about justification for actions. Universal is not the same as objective and vice versa. If two completely different moral codes happen to coincide over a specific action It does not mean that those codes are in agreement.
  • The Nazis were so effective at dehumanising jews in the eyes of many of their own members that there are many examples of Nazis in positions of power being able to torture babies with no repercussions whatsoever. Amon Guth and Josef Mengele, for example.
  • Similar tacit support for the Japanese massacres – including babies spiked on bayonets – in Nanking in 1937.
  • Dozens of other examples. It seems, in fact, almost symptomatic of armies which are allowed to wreak revenge – throwing babies back into burning buildings by Wehrmacht and Russian army alike, Genghis Khan making a point to defenders before Samarkand and so on.
  • Murder and plunder on a biblical scale following God’s commands in … the Bible, in Deuteronomy, Joshua and Samuel.

It would not be at all difficult to dismantle your other suggestions – and I shall if you wish – but, for the moment, I think the one case will suffice.

I certainly cannot disagree with your contention that axioms help in guiding moral decisions. I would also agree that the three that you have chosen are ones that I would at least partially accept. But that is just me. Let’s look at them in a little more detail:

1) With all else being equal, more well being is better than less.
Fine as far as it goes, which is hardly anywhere. Well being for whom? The individual? The group? All people? At what scale? Short term? Long term? What happens when things are not equal?
2) A good society should be based on fair division.
What proportion of the inhabitants of the USA do you imagine would accept this as a guiding principle? What do you mean by ‘good society’? One which serves society at the expense of the individual? The opposite? Somewhere in between? Is that possible? What is ‘fair’? Does it mean ‘equal’? If so, does that mean equality of opportunity or equality of outcome?

These two axioms are so vague that, though they may serve as a starting point, they can be interpreted in so many ways that they could justify almost any moral outcome you could name.

3) Acceptance of empiricism and logical induction.
Here I think you are really getting somewhere. It helps to define the way in which interactions can operate fruitfully between people. But it is precisely what many theists (but by no means all) do not want, because it conflicts with faith.

I am sorry, but I don’t think you have come close to demonstrating how these axioms, even if they were only the very initial stage, can describe an objective morality. And there is no way on earth that they could define a universal morality.

The problem with my search for a clear example of objective morality is that it is often clouded by terminology, with people talking at cross purposes. I need, therefore, to define myself. I just happen to have found, in RationalWiki, a statement which coincides extremely closely with the way I see it:

Objective morality is the idea that a certain system of ethics or set of moral judgments is not just true according to a person's subjective opinion, but factually true. Proponents of this theory would argue that a statement like "Murder is wrong" can be as objectively true as "1 + 1 = 2." Most of the time, the alleged source is God; no objective source of morality has ever been confirmed, nor have any a priori proofs been offered to the effect that morality is anything other than subjective.


According to that definition, I have never found anything which comes close.
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Re: Secular Morality - looking for some answers

Postby Lausten » Mon Jul 08, 2013 5:48 pm

I’ve skipped most of the above because it is focusing on “objective vs subjective”. I think you’ll have trouble working through this because of a misstatement in the OP. Tackster said, “following these morals is that it is in my self-interest as they are the best method to maximize my well-being”, but that is a lower level of morality. A more complete sense of morality recognizes more than self-interest.

The morals of advanced societies are based on the ideas that everyone should be maximizing well-being for all as best as they can. And if we disagree on what is best, we work it out peacefully, not by threatening others' well-being. Well-being comes first, our disagreements and our self-interest are secondary. You can be self-interested sometimes, just not all the time.

I’m not sure if the island analogy is a good one for considering the death penalty. I’m against the death penalty because, in a large society, it is too hard to manage and sets a bad precedent. On an island, it doesn’t matter quite so much. Especially if we are assuming there is no larger society that could ever find them.
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