Thursday, November 1, 2007

No morality without God?

Morality requires God? Here's a nice quote (pointed out to me by my friend Tom Pilling)

From My Country, My People (1935) by Lin Yu Tang.

"To the West, it seems hardly imaginable that the relationship between man and man (morality) could be maintained without reference to a Supreme Being, while to the Chinese it is equally amazing that men should not, or could not, behave toward one another as decent beings without thinking of their indirect relationship through a third party."

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

HI, I am reading your "philosophy files" and i'm really enjoying it. I have just finnished the chapter about where right and wrong come from and it has really got me thinking! However, i think you missed a crucial point: i think that right and wrong is determined by how the action affects others.
For example, stealing is wrong because it negatively affects someone else, just like murder. However, i would say that killing is right if it is done to protect somone (yourself or your family maybe), this is because you have POSITIVELY affected more people than you have NEGATIVELY affected, so it cancels out the wrongness. Do you see what im talking about?
What do you think about this because i'd be really interested to know?

Stephen Law said...

Yes that sounds like a consequentialist theory - like utilitarianism, which says weigh up what outcome will produce, on balance, the greatest ration of happiness to unhappiness, and do that.

But, there are well-known objections, such as where e.g. killing one person to take their organs to save the lives of ten other would come out as the right thing to do. That seems unjust.

email me and I'll send you two chapters from upcoming book "The Greatest Philosophers" on this. Or check out The Philosophy Gym, chapter on Killing Jodie to Save Mary.

best
Stephen

Alex said...

Hey Stephen,
Keep in mind I have done very little reading on ethics, (it's on my list) so I'm probably not up to speed on this discussion to begin with. Even so I find this a very interesting topic.

I personally am in the Christian camp where my argument for morality goes a little something like this: (this is an argument to morality from God btw, not the other way around)

1. There is a personal God who created out of love and for love.
2. We are a part of his creation and are thus under his control. (normatively)
3. But since God created for love we necessarily possess freedom to choose ~love. (thus mitigating the "control" aspect somewhat)
4. Choosing ourselves over God (love) puts us on the outs with the source of life as well as with our fellow man.
5. 4. gives a standard of morality that best represents our moral intuition and 2. gives us our morality a normative bite.
ConclusionMoral realism is true if 1. is true.

It's circular, I know, but I've found it best coheres to how we would like to think about morality. For example, when you brought up the situation where one person would be killed to save the lives of ten, this could not be considered moral as the negation of the one person's desire not to be killed is inconsistent with an act of love. If, on the other hand, the person voluntarily offered their life to save ten others, well now you have the highest expression of love known to man—sacrifice of self for the good of others.

A God who is love seems to allow morality to hang together quite well. So my question is, what other theories are there out there that give morality some sort of objective grounding? I've heard Platonic forms tossed around from time to time, but I don't see how that addresses the problem of normatively.

How do you look at the issue? A lot of my atheist friends throw up their hands and simply deny any such thing as moral realism. (yet they still have the strength to denounce all manor of categories as violating their moral convictions.)

Hugo Hadlow said...

Hi Alex,
I throw up my hands and simply deny any such thing as moral realism.

The fact that I have the strength to denounce lots of things as violating my moral tastes is not inconsistent.


As for your argument, God is unnecessary. You can just postulate "love is good" a priori, rather than "god is love, and love is good" a priori.

This allows you to say killing one person to save ten is not loving, therefore it is, by the above definition of good, not good.

But what if a utilitarian comes along and says "actually, I think it is loving"? It seems you're just shunting the problem around. If we can't agree what's good, how can we expect to agree on what's loving?
Also, while most people seem to think "good" is objective, no one seems to think "love" is objective. Ho ho.

I'm a physicalist, so I believe everything you can say that is true is true because of something physical. I have yet to be provided with counter-examples or evidence to the contrary. So morality just isn't a problem for me: there are no moral facts or objects, because facts are made true by physical objects (which have nothing to do with morality) and the only objects are physical ones.

Alex said...

Hey Hugo,
Interesting thoughts. Thanks for writing.

You say: "I ... deny any such thing as moral realism."

and: "[My] denounc[ing] lots of things as violating my moral tastes is not inconsistent."

Perhaps not, but it's surely the height of dogmatism. If your moral tastes are simply your own, in that they only connect with reality insofar as they are produced by certain physical states, then what gives you the confidence to denounce those who's physical states lead them to contrary propositions?

Since I don't think it's at all clear that physical states can possess anything resembling a truth value, I don't see what the point of denouncing physical states would be.

It seems to me the nihilist position would be more consistent.

How do you see your denunciations as being consistent with a physicalist stance?

Hugo Hadlow said...

Oh, you misunderstand me. I meant that when I say "I think that's wrong", I'm not actually expressing a moral proposition, just my opinion. Which indeed is not important.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/08/get_ready_to_become_a_christia.php
PZ Myers has a funny excerpt from C.S. Lewis, who basically says "these atheists claim not to believe that moral facts exist, but if you steal their lunch they will still say things like "that's wrong".

Well that's exactly what I think. I might appeal to morality, but I don't really believe it exists.

Hugo Hadlow said...

"Perhaps not, but it's surely the height of dogmatism."
Not really: no more than agnosticism/weak atheism. Yes it's consistent, yes we can't prove it, but it's not dogmatic: with no evidence to the contrary, it's quite reasonable.

Alex said...

You say: "when I say "I think that's wrong", I'm not actually expressing a moral proposition, just my opinion. Which indeed is not important."

Now that is a consistent statement!

This is an honest question, I truly want to know what you think on this:

What's it like living under the implications of that world view?

When someone asks you a question like: "Is it wrong to treat another human being as if they were your property, even to the extend to taking their life?" All you can answer is, "well I don't particularly care for such a practice, but my views on the topic don't connect with any reality other than my own physical constitution, thus I think the term wrong (as well as my opinion on the matter) is meaningless.

How do you live that out?

Regarding your comments on dogmatism. You are right. In your view, your moral assertions are nothing more than emotional ejaculations. So as long as you completely avoid any sort of activism you avoid dogmatism. It's just the moment you voice your opinion on any given matter of morality, while entertaining the illusion that others ought to listen to what you have to say... It's at that point you cross the line into being dogmatic.

Personally, though I acknowledge the coherence of your position, I am not convinced it corresponds with reality.

Scott said...

I try not to post a lot on any one specific blog but this topic’s just too interesting to pass up.

Firstly I want to express my disagreement with both Hugo and Alex. I think it’s dangerous to hold the view that either morals come from God, or that we have no morals (or relative morals.)

Morals from God. I’ll start by saying I don’t think everyone who says their morals are Christian are actually speaking the truth. Instead they have a general gist of the Christian view and stick to it. These people probably haven’t been made aware of passages like Leviticus where it’s stated wrong to lend money at interest, eat shellfish etc, either that or they ignore them. Now as this is expressly stated in the bible as a wrong (and thus a moral wrong.) All I’ve showed here is that some Christians don’t actually hold the moral views they should, making them slightly hypocritical.

I think we can conclude that the main points they stick to could easily come from a populous without God. They stick to these views because “they make sense.”

Even these some twist, for example “thou shalt not kill” tends to be ignored in America under the death penalty. Are you interpreting Gods word to suit your own? If so your morals are coming from your own reasoning.

Now no doubt Alex will have some disagreements, so I’ll try to predict them and answer them beforehand. Firstly he’d ask how we could be sure that humans, without divine guidance, could survive civilly . Let’s fly back in time to ancient civilisations. One thing history tells us is that the majority not only had laws, but they held similar values to society today. Thieving has always been seen as wrong, as has murder. The Greeks were actually rather civilised. Now recall this is before a Christian God arrived on the scene. And correct me if I’m wrong but I think the monotheistic God’s were the first to start telling believers right from wrong. It just tended to already “fit” existing morals.So we can see moral law existed before Christian doctrine, in a somewhat similar form.

(On a bit of a tangent now.)I expect many other “moral” laws added in were probably to increase power to the Church and the religion as a whole. For example if you have several religions around you sacrificing pigs to their gods, and you stand up and say, “Our God wont even let us eat pigs they’re that dirty. What does that say for your God?” It not only adds a set of laws to differentiate your sect, but it makes others question there own. The Jewish faith believes they have only survived so long by abiding by several of these tiny religious laws.

I’d like you to think about other religions less tolerant than your own. Does their faith warrant their own moral laws? Or are they wrong on the same grounds that you are right? (Their god is wrong, my God is right.)

Now the problem of no moral ground; Relative morality ( I think I have the term right, I’m a lay philosopher.) Hugo, I think, believes this. He thinks that everyone holds their own morality. Therefore each morality is as true as one another. The main problem here is that the claim “everyone has there own morality” only relatively true, or is it absolute?
Hugo, I’m guessing, is going to say that he stated “ All views are equally false” but surely this is the same thing? If you admit this, the argument is flawed and it seems we do have some absolute morals.

I just worry that if you take the relative morality view you it seems you cant help the human race as a whole. Is a person who believes all beliefs are just based on physical matter able to state the Nazism is wrong?

“Oh, you misunderstand me. I meant that when I say "I think that's wrong", I'm not actually expressing a moral proposition, just my opinion. Which indeed is not important.” Says Hugo.

Which frankly I just don’t believe. In fact I’m not even sure it’s possible. Saying something like “that pens more reddy-brown than red” is an opinion. When you say “rape is wrong” I think you have to be expressing a moral proposition.

This leads me to where I think we get our moral law. Each other and ourselves. Now this comes from a few places. (I appreciate this is a long reply, sorry.) I read Sartre’s Existentialism and Humanism and interpreted it as follows “each man chooses what is morally right for himself, and by these grounds gives the nod for others to act accordingly.” I may have got it wrong, if so, this is the view I agree with. Throw in a protection element of society (government) to formalise the current moral feeling in law and just keep those few extremists in check. Throw in a bit of Mill’s Harm Principle, and there you go. You have a society with morals without need of a God. and I think that society would work well.

So an individual in this society could easily say, over a bacon and oyster supper with their gay partner “You know I think that Nazism is pretty darn wrong.”

I’m willing to argue the toss about this, so get posting :P

And I’d like to ask if common law ever makes it into moral law? I think the drink driving laws show that statute can actually alter the way we feel about certain actions. So maybe we got our moral laws in a similar fashion?

Scott, sorry again for the long post. Hope it raises some replies.

Alex said...

Hey Scott,
I agree with you, this is a very interesting topic. Glad to see you take the time to put your ideas down.

You say: "I want to express my disagreement with both Hugo and Alex. I think it’s dangerous to hold the view that either morals come from God, or that we have no morals (or relative morals.)"

Then towards the end of your post you state your position: "each man chooses what is morally right for himself, and by these grounds gives the nod for others to act accordingly.” I may have got it wrong, if so, this is the view I agree with."

Here you offer a position that sounds an awful lot like relativism. How does your view differ?

Scott said...

Alex, thanks for the speedy reply.

If I have the terms correct moral relativism holds that every view is just as truthful as the next. That isn't what I'm advocating, quite the opposite. You can hold any belief you want, but it doesn't mean it is true.

Holding that we have certain moral truths is perhaps the only way that we can be considerate and tolerant towards others. I believe Stephen says something similar in one of his books.

Years of tentative moral steps have lead us to the basic rules of every society (no murder etc) and it is only with tiny moral steps we should continue.

That answer things Alex? If you want to communicate more fully, outside of the blog to carry on this discussion let me know. I don't know whether Stephen prefers topics to go "cold" after a while? I doubt it, but he may wish to focus on something else.

Scott.

Alex said...

Hey Scott,
You say: "You can hold any belief you want, but it doesn't mean it is true."

Which would make you objectivist. It's from here that I see things getting interesting. In your previous comment you seemed to indicate that that object which the truth of moral claims attach to is basically a majority opinion.

"each man chooses what is morally right for himself, and by these grounds gives the nod for others to act accordingly."

You also seem advocate the view that moral truths change with time. (This is a very different animal from the view (which I also hold btw) that acknowledges that any gives groups recognition or assent to moral truth changes form place to place and from age to age)

"Years of tentative moral steps have lead us to the basic rules of every society (no murder etc) and it is only with tiny moral steps we should continue."

This is an interesting formulation. I can see some of the states of affairs that would lead one to adopt such a position, but there's also a few problems I'm seeing. For one, adopting a view that says moral truth is simply what the majority of people in any given time or place happen to accept leads to some absurd scenarios. We'd be forced to affirm that the dehumanization of blacks in the American south was moral so long as the majority of people "gave the nod". I find this to be a difficult pill to swallow.

Furthermore, if I'm interpreting you correctly, this is in-fact moral relativism. Moral relativism is not simply that one moral statement is as true as the next. Moral relativism states that any given moral proposition can be true (even blatantly contradictory propositions) for someone (not everyone), depending on their context. This is exactly what defining moral truth by majority rules does.

The other problem I'm seeing is regarding the idea that moral truth is fluid and changes over time. In this view we would never be able look back on history and judge it as more or less moral than our own time. It would simply be "different". One way to get around this would be to adopt the view that moral truth is "progressing", that is, not simply changing but becoming better and better. If this is the position one adopts then the object of moral truth cannot be a "majority opinion", for to say morality is progressing is to say that our opinion is not the final word. The object from which moral truth flows would necessarily need to transcend the system of which we are just a part.

Now I am not of the opinion that moral truth is progressing, but I put that out there simply to illustrate how such a view requires a transcendent standard which we are progressing to.

Thoughts?

Stephen Law said...

By all means carry on on this blog, Scott. It's interesting. I might chip in soon....

Alex said...

Stephen,
"I might chip in soon...."

If you get around to it Stephen, I'd really love to get your take on my initial question from up top.

"what other theories are there out there that give morality some sort of objective grounding? I've heard Platonic forms tossed around from time to time, but I don't see how that addresses the problem of normatively."

Anonymous said...

Murderers and serial killers wouldn't necessarily see the laws regarding the punishment for their actions as fair.

Wouldn't it be more correct to say that morality is simply determined by the majority vote, whether it is in fact correct or not.

I don't advocate murder, or serial killing btw :-)

Hugo Hadlow said...

Hi Alex and Scott,

Long post.

First, a lot of clarification necessary, I think

I've noticed I slipped up slightly when defining my physicalism. I should have said "I'm a physicalist, so I believe everything you can say that is true is either true because of something physical, or true by definition (i.e. 1+1=2)."

"though I acknowledge the coherence of your position, I am not convinced it corresponds with reality." Could you clarify this? Do you mean you are not convinced that I really do think this when I make moral pronouncements (which I shall come on to), or do you mean that you are not convinced there are no moral facts?

If the latter, why not? What would it take to convince you? Similarly, Scott, "I think it's dangerous to hold the view that either morals come from God, or that we have no morals (or relative morals.)" It may well be dangerous, but that doesn't mean it's wrong. Are you guilty of wishful thinking? "Is a person who believes all beliefs are just based on physical matter able to state the Nazism is wrong?" No. I'm biting the bullet: that's the whole point. You can't correctly state that "Nazism is wrong". You may find this unpalatable, but that doesn't mean it's not true. "When you say 'rape is wrong' I think you have to be expressing a moral proposition." Begging the question. Though hilariously you follow this with "This leads me to where I think we get our moral law. Each other and ourselves."

"This leads me to where I think we get our moral law. Each other and ourselves... You have a society with morals without need of a God. and I think that society would work well."
Ah, but you don't have a society where moral facts exist. You have a society where everyone thinks they do, and agrees on what they are. But that doesn't mean they're correct.
If moral facts exist, they exist regardless of what "each other and ourselves" thinks. It may be that they do exist, and somehow we can tell what they are (how?), which would explain why most people agree. But just because most people do agree that there are moral facts, and agree about what they are (they don't), it doesn't mean they're correct about what the moral facts are, or even that they exist at all.
(Yes, it would be possible for moral facts to exist, and change with time, having nothing to do with humans, i.e. being true on Pluto as well.)

Not believing in objective morals does not make me a moral relativism. A relativist would believe that all (or at least some) moral statements are true, even if they are contradictory. Not "equally" true, but true! I.e. a relativist could believe that cannibalism is wrong and also that it is not wrong (usually, "for different people"). I happen to believe that they are all equally true, but only because I believe them all to be false! So forget the word "equally". Broadly, a relativist believes moral statements to be all true. Weird, I know. Precisely, I believe them all to be false. Not at all the same thing.
Relativism and denial of moral facts both hold there to be "no moral ground", but that does not mean they are the same thing.
(Incidentally, false is the right word, not meaningless. If someone says "that action is wrong", they should mean that there is a moral fact such that actions of that kind are wrong. But there aren't any moral facts, so the statement is false. It's not meaningless: I can understand it. (Ayer's "Language, Truth and Logic" can be tweaked ever so slightly to make it completely correct. Discuss.))

Anonymous,
"Wouldn't it be more correct to say that morality is simply determined by the majority vote, whether it is in fact correct or not."
You're using the word morality to mean two different things. "What we think morality is" is determined by the majority vote. "What actually is wrong" would be determined by moral facts, if they existed. They are not the same thing, which is why we could say that the majority is wrong.

Also, Alex, could you explain what you mean by "nihilism"? I know what the etymology is, and I see the word used occassionally, but I think it's one of those words which people use without a precise definition.


Secondly, answering your questions.

My argument for no moral facts is pretty much the same as that for atheism/agnosticism -- no evidence -- so I won't focus on that (I probably won't get many converts!). I'll talk about how this philosophy affects my life.

Basically, I don't think it does.

"What's it like living under the implications of that world view?... How do you live that out?"
I'm not sure what the "implications" of that world view are (or if there are any at all -- perhaps you could say what you think they are), so I'll try to say what it's like just living under that world view:

Much like everyone else, I suppose. I have moral opinions about things, presumably due to my genetics and upbringing, and I have found them to be similar to everyone else's.

I'm really into politics. I'm a conservative, so I'm really concerned about poverty. I think things like "it's bad that people live in poverty" (I probably wouldn't use the word "wrong" because for me that implies an action or actions are responsible for it).
It doesn't go through my head at the time that "actually, it's not bad, because we're only lumps of atoms, so how could anything be bad?". But of course I will admit this when I think about it.

In most of my life, it has no effect. It's only when we step back and use our intellect we realise the mistake.

"I might appeal to morality, but I don't really believe it exists." I'm not sure if this is hypocritical:

"So as long as you completely avoid any sort of activism you avoid dogmatism. It's just the moment you voice your opinion on any given matter of morality, while entertaining the illusion that others ought to listen to what you have to say... It's at that point you cross the line into being dogmatic."
Not quite: I don't have the illusion that others ought to listen to what I have to say. It's up to them whether they listen to what I have to say.

I suppose it's hypocritical if I admonish someone for doing something I don't like by appealing to morality, if I think at the same time that I know there's no morality and they don't. It's lying, really: saying something is a moral fact when I know it isn't (because nothing is).

If I was talking to someone who knew I believed this then it would be okay.

But as I say, it doesn't really affect me. I suppose it affects my actions a bit, but I don't think I'm noticeably more selfish than many (most?) other people (I don't think I'm particularly selfish). I certainly feel fine - it doesn't make me despair at the world etc.

I hope you found that interesting.

Scott said...

Jesus Christ this is a long thread, lets hope it doesn’t count for nothing :P Get it?
Thanks for taking time to pick problems with my theory; it can only help to make it stronger, (or eventually defeat it)

Alex, I’ll address your complaints first.

“In your previous comment you seemed to indicate that that object which the truth of moral claims attach to is basically a majority opinion.”

Ultimately yes. But please read on…

“You also seem advocate the view that moral truths change with time.”

Yes.

“We'd be forced to affirm that the dehumanisation of blacks in the American south was moral so long as the majority of people "gave the nod".

I think at this stage it helps to take a step back . We are concerning ourselves with the morality of the entire human race here. And of course the entire human race didn’t “give the nod” to slavery. Or Nazism.
If we look back at history and say “Murder is wrong” I think we would find this belief has been, more or less, universally held. (I’m not talking death sentence or murder via authority e.g. war.) We have uncovered a “truth.” Or what best can be described as a truth. If you then take into account the time span of history and the relatively short span of the slave trade or Nazism I think we can say that we took a tentative step in the wrong direction, and then stepped back?

As for moral truths altering over time, I think once we have found a moral truth it cannot change. Murder is a moral wrong. I think everyone intrinsically feels this, and we can therefore say we have uncovered a “moral truth.” Is the liberty to be monogamous a moral truth? This has changed culture to culture and time to time, and is still continuing to do so. If there is a law past because the majority find it the best we can hold it as “relative truth” there doesn’t appear to be a direct link to morals. Maybe more social experimentation is required on the subject before we find a moral truth concerning this.
This is a strength of my view. If we hold that moral truths come from God, we have a problem. Eating shellfish is as morally wrong as murder. You aint getting into heaven for doing either, or you may be forgiven for doing either. However this isn’t the average view of the bible. It seems it has been twisted to fit into our moral codes. What with all these women priests popping up and all the money lending with interest going on it is a wonder the bible isn’t long forsaken. But it’s kept because people like the “good bits.” They like to relate what’s said in the bible to what is “right” today. Many shrug off Old Testament sections altogether.

So I ask what is wrong with the view that mankind must uncover it’s own moral truths over time? You may argue that only the “winning” view in the conflict is carried on and thus becomes truth. But ask someone today about the colonisation of America and many would feel the way it was done, was wrong. The majority view changed somewhere, and if it’s from listening to a minority we can hardly call it the “winning” view can we?

“…or to say morality is progressing is to say that our opinion is not the final word. The object from which moral truth flows would necessarily need to transcend the system of which we are just a part.”

I would agree that moral standards are progressing. But I wouldn’t say our opinion isn’t the final word. Take for example anything man made. We improve it and overcome problems. That, as a species, is what we are especially good at.
Now you said you’re in the Christian camp, I take that to mean you hold a Christian view point of where our morals come from? Moses and the tablets? If that is the case the “object from which moral truth flows” couldn’t be your God could it? I mean some of the social standards we hold by majority view are pretty damn unchristian. So if not your God, who?

I think I need to reiterate a point here. We have two kinds of “majority voice.”

I should probably come up with names (someone must have argued this view before me, so if anyone knows please please chip in a name?”

We have the MORAL TRUTHS eg murder. We can say these truths have been held across history and cultures almost universally. They are “uncovered” (or perhaps these are the only truths that existed as soon as we became human? Another time…)
It is possible there may be moral truths concerning everything eventually, as we progress we will inevitably uncover more.

We then have MAJORITY TRUTHS. Majority views are, for example, views on smoking on drug abuse, and picking your nose. These change from culture to culture from time to time. We must also stress that cultures become more and less liberal with time, so these are frequent to change.

Alex, I hope this helps, but I feel my view needs a trimming down. I really don’t have time… think you can help? :P

Hugo. I never claimed morals were “out there.” But this is interesting because one could claim maths is “out there” too surely? But that’s a side note.
It seems I cant please you Hugo, although I am trying. If I admit that the “majority truths” are just opinions and not tangible I can hardly say moral truths are any different. The fact they just seem to exist in opinion culture-to-culture and time-to-time doesn’t make them any less opinion in your eyes. It’s just a much larger consensus of views.

To me the fact that they appear almost everywhere makes me want to appeal to something more. I need more time on this part, I admit, for I want to work logically here.

I’m guessing I’d have to prove a morality to you. If a psychiatrist found out that we are actually programmed to feel murder is wrong, would this be a moral? Because surely it’s the closet a physicist could get? Or am I wrong here.
It seems odd to me Alex that you go this far to disprove any morals and yet in your day to day life cling to them as much as anyone else? When you see a starving child as just blobs of atoms it doesn’t make you feel better does it? One cannot detach themselves from morality that much. Which begs the question if morality is even there, why do you have such a hard time adopting this view all the time?

I’m sure I haven’t answered all of your questions, infact I think you have more. I’d like you to take my view as “in draft” and “with room for alterations.” I don’t really mind where you get your morals from as long as you don’t hurt anybody. Maybe it’s that simple?

Scott. Thanks for the help. (Sorry for any typing errors, didn’t have time to proof read)

Ally said...

Hugo,

Anonymous,
"Wouldn't it be more correct to say that morality is simply determined by the majority vote, whether it is in fact correct or not."
You're using the word morality to mean two different things. "What we think morality is" is determined by the majority vote. "What actually is wrong" would be determined by moral facts, if they existed. They are not the same thing, which is why we could say that the majority is wrong.


I think I said that in my post. Whether it is correct or not, i.e. moral fact, is not generally relevant to what people 'choose' to be moral.

I believe that I'm saying what you are saying btw :-)

If moral facts existed, we would be bound to them by some extent. One could say that our conscience is our moral indicator, but not all people have a conscience. Perhaps empathy is our moral compass, or perhaps we are taught that 'we wouldn't like that done to us, so we shouldn't do it to others' which sounds more scriptural than moral fact.

In the bible JC attacked the money lenders, caused lots of pigs to plunge to their deaths, caused a fig tree to wither and die because it wouldn't produce fruit when he wanted it, told the religious of the day that they didn't know what they were talking about etc., then says that we should do unto others.

If a moral code/fact exists at all, we wouldn't be having this discussion as to whether it exists :-)

Hugo Hadlow said...

Ally,
"If moral facts existed, we would be bound to them by some extent."
Why?
It could be the case that moral facts exist, but we were still not bound to them, and had no method of detecting them.


(What would moral facts be like? I have a toy picture of moral facts in my mind: I picture them as like physical objects, floating out there just like atoms. I jokingly say that to convince me of their existence, you'd need to point them out with a microscope.

Certain atoms exist on the planet Pluto. They don't affect us at all. Moral facts could be floating off near Pluto, having no effect on life on earth.)

Hugo Hadlow said...

"If a psychiatrist found out that we are actually programmed to feel murder is wrong, would this be a moral?"
No, it wouldn't. One would expect us to be programmed by natural selection to feel murder is wrong (because of kin selection and only living with close kin in our evolutionary history). But just because we (all) feel murder is wrong, that doesn't mean it is wrong.

Yes, I'm hard to please. In fact, I think it would be harder to convince me of the existance of moral facts than it would be to convince me of the existence of god. God could paint "I exist" in the sky in letters of fire above major cities, and predict some events to prove it was him. That would do it for me.
But moral facts? What evidence could there be? I can't think of any - maybe you can. You couldn't show me them under a microscope.
There are some beliefs (including this one, I think) where neither the belief nor it's negation are falsifiable. A belief in a god which never reveals itself (i.e. by letters of fire) is not falsifiable, and neither is the negation.
But that doesn't mean that both beliefs are as reasonable as each other.



"It seems odd to me Alex that you go this far to disprove any morals and yet in your day to day life cling to them as much as anyone else? When you see a starving child as just blobs of atoms it doesn’t make you feel better does it?"

(I wouldn't say I "clung" to them. And, as I said, in normal life, when I haven't got my philosopher hat on, I don't see starving children as just blobs of atoms. Just as when I play frisbee or go rowing, I don't spend my whole time thinking "this is pointless; I'm just a blob of atoms"!)

Again, our feelings, whatever their source (evolution or whatever), cannot demonstrate the existence of moral facts.
Your argument seems to be "surely because we feel so strongly some things are wrong, they actually are wrong". This is equivalent to saying we couldn't feel strongly that some things are wrong if they weren't actually wrong. But as I keep pointing out, it is conceivable that our feelings are dictated by evolution and have nothing to do with moral facts (whether moral facts exist or not doesn't matter for this argument).
Our biological and cultural evolution is sufficient to explain our feelings. We don't need to postulate moral facts on top of that.



"I never claimed morals were 'out there.' But this is interesting because one could claim maths is 'out there' too surely? But that’s a side note."
I admit, you didn't. Your position seems, though not relativist, that morality is arbitrary. If the majority throughout history agreed murder was just fine, would that make it just fine?
I claim that anyone who does belief in objective moral facts must believe that morals are "out there". If you don't believe they are out there, then I don't think you believe in objective moral facts.

I don't claim maths is "out there", whatever that means. I claim that true statements are either made true by the state of affairs of physical stuff (atoms etc) that they describe ("that is a table"), or are true by definition (maths). I don't think anyone would claim "killing is wrong" is true by definition. If they did, I wouldn't believe them. I can conceive of a world where it is a moral fact that killing is wrong, and I can conceive of a world where it is a moral fact that killing is just fine. But I can't conceive of a world with our definitions of numbers where 1+1=3.

Alex said...

Hey Guys,

Sadly I don't think I'm going to have the time to continue on with this. There's plenty of interesting points I'd love to address throughout your uber-comments, but therein lies the rub. I don't quite know where to start! At any rate, I have an unreasonable amount of reading ahead of me and papers that need writing, so I will have to be off.

I really enjoyed the conversation. Perhaps we'll do it again sometime.

Ally said...

Hugo Hadlow said...
Ally,
"If moral facts existed, we would be bound to them by some extent."
Why?
It could be the case that moral facts exist, but we were still not bound to them, and had no method of detecting them.


(What would moral facts be like? I have a toy picture of moral facts in my mind: I picture them as like physical objects, floating out there just like atoms. I jokingly say that to convince me of their existence, you'd need to point them out with a microscope.

Certain atoms exist on the planet Pluto. They don't affect us at all. Moral facts could be floating off near Pluto, having no effect on life on earth.)


You mean like oxygen exists, but we're not bound to it.

We're Exchange Units - I like to think of us as Exchange Students :-) Moral facts exist within the unit, group, society but not because they are anything other than survival tactics.

Lets say there are two tribes - the Ally tribe and the Hugo tribe. We live near to each other and compete for the food and water resources. Neither tribe ever 'wins' the conflict, each lose an equal amount of members during the conflicts. Both tribes are reasonably lawless i.e. they are drunkards, rapists and they murder each other. I sit back one day and come up with a plan. I say to my tribe, 'hey, here's a plan, if we stop killing each other on Friday and Saturday night when the pubs throw out, we'll have more members than they do, and we'll win the conflicts. The Hugo tribe does not have such a wise leader (LOL :-)) Sure enough, in time, the Ally tribe defeats the Hugo tribe and they don't have to fight for the food and water resources. Notice that killing your own tribe members is a sensible survival tactic, but killing the members of the other tribe holds no such morality. That was a short version of the history of the Roman Empire :-)

A moral fact might look like a survival tactic.

We don't know if atoms on Pluto affect us or not. A Plutonean flea could have jumped into the air and caused the last ice age on earth.

Ally

Ally said...

Notice that killing your own tribe members is a sensible survival tactic

Correction to this part of my previous post, it should read.

Notice that NOT killing your own tribe members is a sensible survival tactic.

Ally

jeremy said...
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Hugo Hadlow said...
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Hugo Hadlow said...

When I do do moralising/moral philosophy, I take this attitude:

Suppose there are objective moral facts. But we don't know what they are. We do know that groups of them can't be inconsistent/contradictory. So if a group of what we think are moral facts contains a contradiction, then one or more of them must be wrong.

So, if moral facts existed, while we couldn't say what they were, we could say what they were not.

Of course, people do argue about whether a claim inconsistency really is inconsistent...

Neil said...

"If we hold that moral truths come from God, we have a problem. Eating shellfish is as morally wrong as murder."

The shellfish argument is full of holes but is appealing to many because so few bother to read the passages in context. I encourage you to read flaws of the shellfish argument.

Back to the original question: Yes, there is no true morality without God.

The claim that atheists don’t have a foundation for morality (a true statement in my view) is often miscommunicated or misinterpreted as saying they don’t have morals (a typically unfair and inaccurate statement). Some atheists have better morals than “religious” people.

However, the “molecules to man” approach does not provide a foundation for morality. Classic atheist arguments attempt to read one in, but if you pay close attention you’ll see that they always bring some kind of moral framework in the back door. I think they often do it unwittingly (mainly because it is so hard to get away from moral reasoning).

For example, I’ve seen the line of thinking that says such-and-such is moral because it is good for the perpetuation of the species. But note how that assumes a universal moral good of perpetuating the species. But where is the materialist proof for that? Who cares if the species is perpetuated if we are just a bunch of molecules? In the Darwinian worldview, lots of species have gone extinct - even before these awful, awful humans showed up.

I’m not denying the innate desire to live and help others, and I’m not denying that atheists don’t have the same feelings. I’m just saying that materialistic philosophy can’t provide that foundation.

Stephen Law said...

Hello Neil - Yes, I am very familiar indeed with these kind of responses to the shellfish argument. Let's start by getting you to identify exactly where this takes place:

4. The ceremonial dietary laws were clearly and emphatically overturned in the New Testament, whereas the commands against homosexual behavior were not.

Martin Prest said...

My conscience is not faith-powered. No one's is.

The idea we cannot judge right and wrong for ourselves is crazy. Granted, it can be difficult, especially with the question of justice vs revenge, but harm is not difficult to judge.

Martin