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Thread: Objective Morality (Once More Into The Breach)

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    tWebber seer's Avatar
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    Objective Morality (Once More Into The Breach)

    I will contend here that no such thing as objective morality exists. Objective here is defined as something that exists independent of the mind or minds. If something is objective it has being apart from any personal knowledge of it. The sun, the color blue, trees, mountains etc... would all still exist even if there were no minds to grasp their reality. They have an independent existence. Morality is not in their category. Morality is interpersonal, how rational beings order their interaction with other rational beings. No rational beings, no opportunity for interaction, hence no morality. There is no independent rule "thou shalt not kill", such an ideal (which is really an abstract) does not, and I maintain, can not, exist apart from a mind or minds.

    The problem is once you bring minds into the picture you have subjectivity, that is inescapable. Some will suggest that moral ideals are akin to mathematical truths, just kind of out there for us to discover. But here again we find subjectivity. Yes there is an objective distance between the moon and the earth for instance. But what you call that distance, the tokens you use to measure it, are subjective. Is the moon 384,400 kilometers away? Or 238,900 miles? Yes distance is an objective fact, how we measure it is subjective. And when it comes to ethics there are no objective facts to link a morally subjective measurement or opinion to. They are obviously not the same.
    "We can understand hell in its aspect of privation. All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else, that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever. C.S. Lewis

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    tWebber guacamole's Avatar
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    Some of these ethical terms are slippery to me because I never took an ethics course, so if I get one wrong, I'm willing to be taught.

    My pov on objective morality comes down to the objective reality of logic. That is, if a thing exists, then there is an objective reality of that thing. When two things exist, necessary objective relationships exist between the two things: i.e., at least, the one is not the other, and vice versa.

    So, when at least one being exists that is aware of 'life' and is capable of actual thinking about the processes of life (as opposed to say, instinct--a human, or perhaps, a gorilla might have an awareness of and think about life--your cat or a snail does not), then there is a extant moral reality. Let's call this awareness of life 'cognition.'

    Just as the objective logical reality describes the relationship between existence and non-existence for one thing, or between the existential relationships between two or more things, so too then an ethical reality is created between two or more cognitive beings that can impact each others lives.

    These realities--logical and ethical--are not "things" per se. Rather, these 'realities' are the set of all necessary and true descriptions of the extant beings or objects. To use your moon example, it is true that the distance between the moon and the earth would be real whether there were rational minds or not. However, were the moon or earth not to exist, there would be no logical relationship between them. That is to say, just as an ethical reality is contingent on there being more than one rational being, a logical reality is contingent on their being real things. Suppose nothing real existed, then there would be no objective logical reality.

    At this point we have to decide whether or not the contingency of the descriptions (ethical or logical) has anything to do with their objective existence. I don't think so. A thing can exist objectively but be contingent upon other things. I exist objectively but would not were I not created. The fact that I did not exist prior but do exist now has nothing to do with my objective existence. Likewise--ethics is "birthed," we might say, by the creation of cognitive beings.

    I agree with you that there is no "Thou shalt not kill" floating around in whatever passes for a universe before there are cognitive beings. However, there are cognitive beings now, and thus the description between us of "thou shalt not kill" is now, in some sense, accurate.

    It might be that our understanding of ethic is still colored by the subjective (personal awareness being what it is) and thus somewhat relative (circumstances being what they are), but these are things to be determined, imo, by reason, rather than preference.

    I'm not sure if any of this will be clear to anyone else.

    fwiw,
    g.
    "Shall we mourn here deedless forever, a shadow-folk, mist-haunting, dropping vain tears in the
    thankless sea?"

  3. Amen Charles, 37818 amen'd this post.
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    tWebber seer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by guacamole View Post
    Just as the objective logical reality describes the relationship between existence and non-existence for one thing, or between the existential relationships between two or more things, so too then an ethical reality is created between two or more cognitive beings that can impact each others lives.


    These realities--logical and ethical--are not "things" per se. Rather, these 'realities' are the set of all necessary and true descriptions of the extant beings or objects. To use your moon example, it is true that the distance between the moon and the earth would be real whether there were rational minds or not. However, were the moon or earth not to exist, there would be no logical relationship between them. That is to say, just as an ethical reality is contingent on there being more than one rational being, a logical reality is contingent on their being real things. Suppose nothing real existed, then there would be no objective logical reality.
    Correct so far, that is why I made the point that morality is interpersonal and depends on the existence of rational beings (i.e. beings that can grasp moral concepts).


    At this point we have to decide whether or not the contingency of the descriptions (ethical or logical) has anything to do with their objective existence. I don't think so. A thing can exist objectively but be contingent upon other things. I exist objectively but would not were I not created. The fact that I did not exist prior but do exist now has nothing to do with my objective existence. Likewise--ethics is "birthed," we might say, by the creation of cognitive beings.
    OK, just one issue, I would say that this interpersonal relationship existed for eternity past in the Godhead, onward...

    I agree with you that there is no "Thou shalt not kill" floating around in whatever passes for a universe before there are cognitive beings. However, there are cognitive beings now, and thus the description between us of "thou shalt not kill" is now, in some sense, accurate.
    The question still would be - why is it now, with cognitive beings present, morally wrong to kill?

    It might be that our understanding of ethic is still colored by the subjective (personal awareness being what it is) and thus somewhat relative (circumstances being what they are), but these are things to be determined, imo, by reason, rather than preference.
    What is determined by reason? You need to have an ethical goal in mind before one can use reason to achieve said goal. And goals themselves are subjective.
    "We can understand hell in its aspect of privation. All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else, that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever. C.S. Lewis

  5. Amen guacamole amen'd this post.
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    tWebber Starlight's Avatar
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    I agree with seer (shudder) that guac's explanation does not go far enough to explain how it is that something like "thou shalt not kill" as opposed to an alternative (e.g. "thou shalt not kiss") arises. So I will fill in the blanks as I see them.

    As beings with cognition we each have an understanding of the world around us, and our acts are performed with values and intentions. So, if I highly value my eating ice cream at this point in time, I will intentionally walk down to the local store and buy an ice cream because I know from my understanding of the world that that is a way of acquiring an ice cream.

    I like guac's comment that once the moon and earth both exist, there is an inherent 'distance' between them. In the same way, I think that once beings with cognition exist, who have values, and intentions, and an understanding of the world, that ethical relations inherently exist for their actions in the same sort of way that distance inherently exists. These ethical relationships can become complicated at times because they connect those four things (beings with cognition, values, intentions, the world) that themselves can be complex at times (social situations can be complex, duh).

    But let's look at a simple example: A parent and their child. The parent, let us say, feels affection and love for the child. The parent values the child highly and wants the child to live a happy and fulfilled life. That, we can note is a pretty common situation worldwide - regardless of religion or society or culture or moral code, many/most parents love their children and want the best for them, so this is hardly an unusual or uncommon example.

    This loving parent, who values their child, will perform many and various actions motivated by those values. The exact content of those actions will be affected by their understanding of the world. For example, if the parent believes vaccines are harmful, they may avoid vaccinating their child. If they believe that physically smacking a child for bad behavior is a good parenting method and leads to better outcomes for the child, they will likely use that parenting technique. Other parents who also want the best for their own children, may perform the exact opposite actions on both counts because they hold different beliefs about the world and think vaccines are good and smacking is bad. In both cases the actions of the parent are being driven by the positive value they place on the child, and their actions are intended by them to benefit their child, but they have different understandings of the world and so perform different actions despite having the same values and intentions toward the child.

    From this example we can note certain abstract relations between entities. One cognitive being is placing positive value upon another cognitive being, and the actions are done with intentions that are positive toward that other being. So there is an abstract relationship present between the two cognitive beings here (just as the moon and the earth have the abstract relationship of distance), and that abstract relationship is characterized by the parent placing value upon the other being, and as a result the actions undertaken by that being toward the other had positive intentions.

    That, to me is how abstract ethical relations arise, like distance arises, but between two cognitive entities. A cognitive entity places some level of value on each other cognitive entity (ranging from strongly positive, to zero, to strongly negative), and we describe this using such terms as "good will", "love", "hate", "ill-will", "apathy". If the person places a positive value on many/most people we might describe them as "nice", "loving", "benevolent", "good-hearted", "kind", "self-less", "good" etc. If they place zero or negative value on many/most people we might describe them as "hate-filled", "selfish", "unloving", "malevolent", "evil" etc. Those are a variety of English-language descriptors we might use, or not use, to speak about the underlying abstract relationship between the entities, where one is placing a certain level of value upon others. Just as we might measure the abstract concept of distance in many ways using many words - "miles", "kilometers", "light-years", "inches", "leagues", "steps", "far", "near", "close" - so too we use a variety of words for speaking about the level of value placed on cognitive entities by each other.

    In addition to the general disposition of a cognitive entity towards other cognitive entities discussed above, we can also consider any particular action taken. When an action is performed by a cognitive entity it is undertaken with some sort of intention which may involve intentions toward other cognitive entities. And again an abstract relationship exists with regard to any intention and the other entities: Those intentions can be positive or negative or zero. The intentions present in a specific action may or may not reflect the underlying values placed on the other person. e.g. "I bought her flowers because I love her", "As much as I hated him, I gritted my teeth and forced myself to be polite and shake him by the hand with a smile and congratulated him on his victory and quashed my desire to punch him in the face". Again we use a huge variety of English words to talk about the abstract relationship involved between the cognitive entities and the intention of the act. We can say the action was "kind", "spiteful", "loving", "caring" etc.

    To sum up: In general, any two cognitive entities will each have some sort of general disposition towards the other - an amount of value they place on the other. And any act undertaken by a cognitive entity will have intentions. From these things arise inherent abstract relationships between the entities regarding the positive or negative natures of those values and intentions toward the other cognitive being. Just as distance is an abstract entity that arises from the existence of any two objects, in a similar manner these logical abstract connections between the cognitive entities arise from their existence. When anyone talks about 'objective morality' it is this that I think of - the intrinsic relationships that exist between cognitive beings: The level of value they place on one another, and the nature of their intentions in their actions toward one another. Thus statements like "love others as you love yourself" or "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" can be seen as straightforward instructions to place positive value on others and perform actions with positive intentions toward others. Given the definition of objective morality I have laid out, they are hence effectively saying: "Be moral". And it is thus not at all surprising we find them throughout history and throughout cultures.

    So what makes murder an 'immoral' act by this standard? It's worth noting that by this standard no act per se is immoral in itself, it's the negative intentions toward others behind the action that make it have a negative moral value. So if an insane person killed someone and didn't understand what they were doing, or a 1 year old shot someone with a gun, or a person trying to save someone killed them by accident because they had an incorrect understanding of the world, those actions have no negative intentions behind them so are not 'immoral' in the the sense of being actions performed with negative intentions. But the question itself of "why is murder generally immoral [= generally an act undertaken by a cognitive being who has negative intentions toward another cognitive being]?" seems to contain the answer within the question given an understanding of the definitions and of the world.

    And finally it is worth noting that actions can be complicated because they can be performed with multiple intentions towards multiple persons - e.g. stealing a loaf of bread to feed your starving family is an act that is done with positive intentions toward your family but which intentionally harms the person you are stealing from. So there is huge scope for grey areas, and actions having good and bad components.

  7. Amen shunyadragon, Charles, guacamole amen'd this post.
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    tWebber 37818's Avatar
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    That the individual shall not murder has everything to do with man being made in God's image. (See Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 9:5.)

    God told Moses, ". . . See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god with Me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand. . . ." (Deuteronomy 32:39.) So it is that God (also being infinite) is not under the same limitations (finite) man is.

    Also, ". . . O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? . . ." (Romans 9:20-21.)
    . . . the Gospel of Christ, for it is [the] power of God to salvation to every [one] believing, . . . -- Romans 1:16.

    . . . that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: . . . -- 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4.

    Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: . . . -- 1 John 5:1.

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    tWebber lee_merrill's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    Yes there is an objective distance between the moon and the earth for instance. But what you call that distance, the tokens you use to measure it, are subjective.
    Yet the distance is an objective quantity, regardless of the units used to measure it.

    If all morality is relative, then "love fulfils the law" (Rom. 13:8) is not an objective principle. But it's clearly stated as an objective principle, and we can see the reasonableness of this principle.

    Blessings,
    Lee

  10. Amen guacamole amen'd this post.
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    tWebber seer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lee_merrill View Post
    Yet the distance is an objective quantity, regardless of the units used to measure it.

    If all morality is relative, then "love fulfils the law" (Rom. 13:8) is not an objective principle. But it's clearly stated as an objective principle, and we can see the reasonableness of this principle.

    Blessings,
    Lee
    It is the law of God Lee, grounded in God's nature, subjective to God. And I did not say that all morality is relative, some can be some is not. Subjective and relative are not the same.
    "We can understand hell in its aspect of privation. All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else, that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever. C.S. Lewis

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    tWebber lee_merrill's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by lee_merrill
    If all morality is relative, then "love fulfils the law" (Rom. 13:8) is not an objective principle. But it's clearly stated as an objective principle, and we can see the reasonableness of this principle.
    It is the law of God Lee, grounded in God's nature, subjective to God. And I did not say that all morality is relative, some can be some is not. Subjective and relative are not the same.
    But I can make my statement be "If all morality is subjective..." etc. I do believe morality is intrinsic, not arbitrary, If God was not good, loving others would still be good.

    Blessings,
    Lee

  13. Amen Charles, guacamole amen'd this post.
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    tWebber seer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lee_merrill View Post
    But I can make my statement be "If all morality is subjective..." etc. I do believe morality is intrinsic, not arbitrary, If God was not good, loving others would still be good.

    Blessings,
    Lee
    Lee, subjective is not necessarily arbitrary either. They have two different meanings. God's law is subjective to Him, but not arbitrary since it is grounded in His immutable moral character.
    "We can understand hell in its aspect of privation. All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else, that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever. C.S. Lewis

  15. Amen guacamole amen'd this post.
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    tWebber lee_merrill's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    God's law is subjective to Him, but not arbitrary since it is grounded in His immutable moral character.
    Oh, so you mean God's law is subjective only to him? Maybe we should spend some time defining terms. But I don't understand what people mean when they say morality is grounded in God. It sounds good, but I'm not sure what they mean. We cannot be good apart from God, but I don't think that is what is meant.

    But here is what I'd like to emphasize, if all morality is subjective, then "love fulfils the law" (Rom. 13:8) is not an objective principle. But it's clearly stated as an objective principle, and we can see the reasonableness of this principle.

    Blessings,
    Lee
    Last edited by lee_merrill; 09-03-2017 at 12:14 AM.

  17. Amen Charles, guacamole amen'd this post.

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