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Moral relativism

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Terxpahseyton, Aug 1, 2012.

  1. lovett

    lovett Deity

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    I don't think that's true. If I wanted to put it colourfully, I would say that anti-realism was born in Britain and died in America. Mackie, the prime figure in moral error theory, was an Oxford philosopher. So was Ayer. Largely stemming from Ayer, the non-cognitivist tradition dominated British ethical theory for decades. It went very well with the linguistic turn in anglosphere philosophy at the time. It still has adherents, the most significant of which is probably Simon Blackburn (a Cambridge philosopher).

    In contrast, the most trenchant statements of moral realism seem to have arisen in America with the the last two or three decades. David Brink is a philosopher at the Uniiversity of California and Michael Smith comes is a Princeton philosopher. I can't think of any particularly compelling anti-realist figures in America (I am sure this is a fault of memory). At the least, it is my impression that moral realism is at least as popular in the US as it is in Britain. .
     
  2. Terxpahseyton

    Terxpahseyton Awake

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    No, why would I? The simple assumption of universal moral truths is all I require. It is easer to argue them when they are absolute in their truth, but a nuanced truth can just as well be argued with the possibility of an absolute moral value which contradicts the nuanced supposed "truth".
    For instance, what makes the notion that murder is usually wrong any more true than the notion that murder is always wrong or never wrong? I just don't see a sensible basis for this at all to be blunt. Just as I see no sensible basis to argue that me hating raisins is a universal emotional truth and others were wrong to not hate raisins.
    Yeah, me too. I feel like people who conclude from meta-ethical to normative relativism didn't get relativism to begin with (edit: or as it turns out - I didn't get what moral relativism means :blush:). Because its central message is I as I understand not that all moral beliefs are equally good or bad, it is that good or bad is not truth but opinion.
    @Mise
    Thanks for the links :) But if I wanted to read endless essays about moral philosophy to see why so many philosophers disagree with moral relativism I would read endless essays instead of posting on OT. Too bad you don't feel qualified. I don't want to do so especially because for me the issue is actually pretty simple so that I don't see it warranted to read endless essays.
    Thumps for this post :)

    @lovett
    Oh, so I didn't actually know what moral relativism means I guess? Moral relativism also assumes moral facts? Oh well, then I guess I am in deed a moral skeptic instead of a relativist.

    Yeah according to what lovett says it absolutely does not, my mistake. Thread screwed up - but I learned something!
    “More”, true, but from reading the link moral subjectivists still assume the existence of moral truths, just depending on the mind rather than a setting as in moral relativism.
    I think moral truth only exists within a frame of reference which is based on a defined set of premises and is logically coherent. If one subjectively agrees with the premises or conclusions doesn't enter the equation.
    A source is the necessity of existence. Just thought that up, but it rings true.
    Something that objectively exists requires an objective source to be verified in its existence. For instance - a stone objectively exists because we an verify its existence by objective gadgets such as sight and touch (or rather, by gadgets we assume to have an objective quality because otherwise we couldn't make any sense of anything but so we can make a lot of sense of a lot of things in very useful ways). Here source of the stone is its physical body (or chemical and actually physical processes).
    I don't understand this question.
    It corresponds with the causal relationships which shape our world and our minds.
    See above.
    That depends I would say. It is certainly possible to argue something in that field which is pure arbitrary subjective nonsense.
    See the stone-illustration.

    Now, what exactly is the point you are trying to make? Because as you may guess - I am not really seeing it.
     
  3. Brighteye

    Brighteye intuitively Bayesian

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    It looks like my beliefs are closer to moral subjectivism than relativism.

    On the subject of a source for objective morality, that source must be logic.

    What is the source of logic?
    I don't need to answer that when dealing with the source of morality. We are conversing in logic, by which I assume that it is an allowable source. Why should we introduce more 'sources'? What feat of logic allows this?

    The problem of induction, the avoidance of universal scepticism and accepting the basic principles of logic and mathematics might be problems for you, but they're necessary problems to overcome in order to interact in the world.
    Having either solved these, or else ignored them, why introduce more assumptions?
     
  4. BasketCase

    BasketCase Username sez it all

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    And that argument, in itself, is a moral absolute. No, really. "All morality is ultimately arbitrary". So, clearly, not all morality is arbitrary, because you yourself made a non-arbitrary moral argument in the very first post.

    Morality is, in the end, an act of faith. Life with no morality at all would be miserable. Imagine living in a world full of Chick-Fil-A executives, or full of Communists, or full of global warming skeptics, or full of Democrats, or whatever band of immoral dirtbags who completely lack whatever moral system you happen to follow.

    Some kind of morality is obviously essential for human well-being. We simply disagree on which one.
     
  5. Terxpahseyton

    Terxpahseyton Awake

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    My "moral argument" was about the nature of morality. I am not contesting that it is possible to objectively qualify absolute attributes of morality (which would be pretty impossible as everything that exists has some kind of absolute attribute we can come up with a word for), but that the content of any given morality can be derived solely by reason. And if you can't, you end up with arbitrary assumptions on which to build the foundation of any moral construct. Thus, morality is ultimately arbitrary. I am not following at all how it is in itself a logical fallacy to claim so and suggest that you overthink that.
    No disagreement there. You make the it seems classic mistake to confuse a rejecting of any claim of universal, objective moral truth with a rejection of morality as such. I don't reject morality, I think morality is pretty dame important. But I don't operate from an assumption of objective truth. I operate from an assumption of what I - personally - value and at the same time view as a reasonable universal expectation.
     
  6. Ayatollah So

    Ayatollah So the spoof'll set you free

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    1 and 2 pull in different directions. 1 is all about verification, which is reasonable enough when we're talking about objectivity, as long as the bar on "verification" isn't set gratuitously high (see: Descartes). But 2 basically says the source of the stone is the stone. Not very enlightening. When I asked about subject-matter: I had in mind that the subject matter of biology, for instance, is living things. But that just boils down to saying that the subject matter of biology is biology. It hardly constitutes proof of the objectivity of some alleged field of knowledge, to state what that field is supposed to be about.

    Well that's a bizarre comment. Logic corresponds with absolutely everything, which is not surprising considering that if something is illogical, we reject it! There's a bit of winners-write-the-history-books to such an "explanation" of the objectivity of logic, however.

    Logic is normative and prescriptive. It tells you, for example: if you know "A or B" and you know "not B", then go ahead and infer "A". But I can't for the life of me see any "source" (in your sense 1; sense 2 is of course trivial) to it. We can, of course, test our logical imperatives against each other, for consistency. But note: consistency is just another logical imperative that we accept! And at any rate consistency is seldom (never?) sufficient for justification.

    I suspect you of double standards and moving goal-posts. But it's too early to tell.
     
  7. Conspiracy Bob

    Conspiracy Bob Chieftain

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    If morality is arbitrary, then morality exists only as an individual preference and there is no reason to have the word "morality"- since it is synonymous with "personal preference".
    You can call a seagull an anvil but it will only confuse things, so it's best to call things by their proper names.

    So, you believe that your personal preferences are enforcable? If somebody tried to steal your wallet, would you use force to resist in self-defense? If so, and moral relativism is correct, then you are forcing your personal preference upon somebody else.

    What gives you that right? Why are some personal preferences different from others and enforcable?
     
  8. Global Skeptic

    Global Skeptic King

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    About meta-ethics.

    I will assume that we can all agree on that we are not brains in a vat. I.e. we and the rest of reality exist in general as we experience it, e.g. the screen you are reading this on exists as the screen.

    But there is one thing that you must decide on. In short it goes like this - if you observe objectively a sufficiently large enough amount of humans explaining reality you will notice this:
    Someone will claim he/she knows reality is X and use that as a reason to act.
    Someone else will claim he/she knows reality is not X and use that as a reason to act.

    Now if you then claim you can explain how reality works for humans in general and how we give reason to ethics/morality then you must decide how you explain the above observation.
     
  9. Millman

    Millman Mark the Magnificent

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  10. Verbose

    Verbose Deity

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    Depends. Do you consider objectivity to exists a priori (realist position), or possibly as the outcome of processes construction (the constructivist one, obviously)?

    The strong points of constructivism tends to be detailed case-studies of processes of construction of things like consensus and trust as prerequisites for establishing objectivity. I.e. it's an outcome of a process, not its starting point. It can be dealt with empirically as such. Basic question tends to be: "What are scientists really doing? Not what they're telling us they're up to, but what they're really doing?". They're absolute hogs for empiricism too. "More reality!" was the rallying calls of one of the more prominent exponents a couple of years ago.
     
  11. Terxpahseyton

    Terxpahseyton Awake

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    I suppose to cut (2) wouldn't hamper understanding in this case, but I don't see the different directions it pulls but rather see the two pulling together in the same direction and that they need each other in that. After all we only assume our sensory input regarding a stone to reflect objective truth (in this case the truth of existence) because we assume it to reflect physical existence which we in turn assume to reflect objective existence. So as far as I am concerned "physical body" is the matter from the POV of the necessary conclusion while verification is the matter from the POV of the necessary parameters for the conclusion. To mention the necessary conclusion is in so far "enlightening" as it reveals the justification of verification. Hence, IMO that a stone is a physical object and that a stone is a stone don't actually carry the same message. The former makes an assumption about the yield of our sensory input (an assumption we must make to see sensory input as a potential source of verification of objective existence), the latter says absolutely nothing.
    Good point. There is a certain amount of faith involved in logic, based on its success. Just as there is a certain amount of faith involved in trusting our senses, in assuming them to reflect objective existence, again based on its success. Success meaning usefulness. Usefulness resting on allowing us to predict outcomes of certain actions/processes which allows us to interact with the world on the basis of intended outcomes.
    But such usefulness is the closest we will ever got to finding objective truth, so I don't see the point in fundamentally contesting it, and it has some irony that you would label this bizarre after our discussion on the subjectivity of perception in the other thread. If you accept verification based on empirics, I see absolutely no reason for you objecting to do so in the case of logic.
    Because we have verified its correctness over millions of times! 1 + 1 = 2. What may seem trivial to you is a fundamental insight into the empirical nature of the world. What does this tell us? 1 + 1 = 2 demonstrate in its empirical truthfulness the foundation of objective existence and truth: Causal determination. Logic is simply an intellectual frame to do justice to this. If the world wasn't causally determined, logic would be a shot in the dark. As it is, logic means strict obedience to this principle (yeah yeah quantum physics beg to differ, but luckily that doesn't have much sway on casual determination of higher levels and note that we concluded its lack of causal determination in a frame of reference which rest on causal determination - which btw also demonstrates that looking for causal determination and hence the foundation logic has not to lead to actually finding it).

    As to the normative angle of logic - by resting on descriptive logic, it also rests on the empirics of causal determination, so has again an objective source.
    To illustrate: logical consistency only is valued because causal determination delivers consistency to begin with. 1 + 1 always equals two. When you pick up an apple and then another apple, you will have two apples. Always. That means that objective existence is characterized by causal consistency which in turn rests on causal determination. Hence, causal consistency is an objective source.

    And on subject-matter, I am still not sure how it relates here. To me a subject-matter and a source are absolutely not the same, because they pose different questions. A source describes how something can exist to begin with and the subject-matter to what end it exists in terms of how we relate to it. For instance, biology is about live, its source is how we can describe and analyze life. The subject of a stone is - mineral formations I suppose? Its source is physical/chemical process etcetera. I suppose what causes some confusion here is the relative nature of subject-matter (relative to what one wants a subject to be about). Anyway, the source of morality is how morality comes into being, its subject-matter is what morality is supposed to convey.
     
  12. Terxpahseyton

    Terxpahseyton Awake

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    I agree with the red-marked, but disagree with the bolted. Because morality would be a special case of personal preference. It belongs to the group of personal preferences, but within this group also has a special sub-section. I find it hard to qualify this sub-section out of the blue, but it is related to a differentiation of preferences you don't expect of others and you do.
    So?
    Nothing. But I can try to justify it based on gains and losses. If people agree that this is a favorable relationship in whatever case, we may go ahead and enforce it on those that agree and also those that don't. For instance, the right to live gives the gain of a drastically lower probability to be murdered. It comes with the loss of having to fear sanctions when one murders. The vast majority believes this to be a favorable relationship of gain and loss, favorable enough to enact it. What gives them the right to enforce this rule on people who don't like it? Nothing. They just do and deem people who think otherwise as not being worth listened to. Because they want to and can.
     
  13. Ayatollah So

    Ayatollah So the spoof'll set you free

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    A recent survey of philosophers found

    (many other ways of saying "other", omitted)
    Results are dominated by US respondents, so: not dead yet. But I was off, it's not split down the middle, more like two to one favoring realism.

    What I think I got out of your discussion: By mentioning the physics of stone and of sensations of touch and sight, we add credibility to the whole story of verification. We offer a coherent causal explanation of how it can be that sight and touch really do lead a human to grasp true information about stones.

    Tell me if my interpretation of your points is off-course here.

    Oh, I don't object at all. The use of logic in empirical sciences constitutes a very thorough-going consistency test for logic. In principle, we could do such consistency testing purely a priori, but that would require staggering creativity. Truth really is stranger than fiction: therefore, this level of thoroughness is impossible in practice outside of empirical sciences.

    Instead of objecting, I'm just calling your attention to the rather modest scope of all this testing. Logic never gets handed down to us on stone tablets, so to speak. (And if it did, we'd have to question them, but never mind about that for a minute.) Yet despite the absence of stone tablets, you're willing to grant that logic is objective. My plan is working ... :mwaha:
    Trying to rest normative inference rules on descriptive logic is doomed by the Achilles and the Tortoise problem. (It'll be a bear to explain how, but maybe you'll see it right away.) See the paragraph on Lewis Carroll's own diagnosis of the problem.

    Rules of inference, and the descriptive statements (tautologies) they correspond to, are inextricable in my view. Nevertheless, if you would understand logic, focus on inference-rule-following as such, first and foremost.

    How morality comes into being is dead obvious, so either I'm misunderstanding or you're mis-stating the alleged problem. Still, to answer the question as I read it: morality comes into being because a species of social animals becomes both agents, that is, capable of critically reflecting on possible actions before selecting one, and language-users, which gives them the ability to reason together about what to do and discuss the justifications of actions.
     
  14. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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    When 93% of respondents are in the English-speaking world, it seems a lot more like a survey of analytical philosophers than just a survey of philosophers generally.
     
  15. BasketCase

    BasketCase Username sez it all

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    No. Only the foundation is arbitrary; whatever you build from that is in fact, solidly based on reason.

    To be sure, any moral system must begin with an act of faith; if we ask "why is murder a bad thing", we can answer "because it's wrong to kill people", and then we end up asking "why is it wrong to kill people" and we start following a chain of supporting reasons--a chain that must be finite. Somewhere at the start there must be an initial reason that has no supporting reason; it simply Is. But in the same way that, when driving around town, you can get to Chick-Fil-A for a tasty Hate Chicken Sandwich from pretty much anywhere in town, it doesn't really matter how you start as long as you can nagivate reliably. The system works even though the starting point is arbitrary.

    Because that claim is itself a system of morality. (Einstein's Theory of Relativity doesn't run into this problem most of the time; this is the exception, because here it does happen to be the reference frame itself we're arguing about)

    And that process is objective even though the starting point is subjective. If A > B and B > C, then A > C; this is logically provable to be true even though we don't know what A is.
     
  16. Ayatollah So

    Ayatollah So the spoof'll set you free

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    Well, OK, more or less. I was just replying to lovett's claim that moral anti-realism "died in America". For that purpose, a survey primarily of Americans is useful, even if it does also include smatterings of other English speakers.
     
  17. lovett

    lovett Deity

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    I was putting it colourfully!

    Anyway, that's a very interesting poll.
     

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