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Thread: Atheism And Moral Progress

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    Carp: I have some pressing family matters to take care of over the next few days. But to attempt to cut through this endless back and forth, I really want to try to resolve this "Fallibility Argument" issue before I move on when I have time with further responses. You say you've already responded to the argument. Maybe I missed it. Humor me and respond again if you would. What I recall you saying is that the subjectivist can be wrong by changing their mind in light of changing circumstances: new evidence, better reasons, etc.

    If the above is accurate, and correct me if I'm wrong, I don't think this answer works, as I've said, for the following reasons:

    Subjectivism is saying that moral truth is what my moral beliefs and desires are at a given time. If I hold the moral belief X at time T1, then X is true for me at T1. If a week later, at T2, I change my mind and come to believe that not-X, then X is false for me at T2. But if I say, "I was wrong about X," how can I be wrong about X? Either "X" refers only to my mental state at T1, or it refers to my mental state at T2, when I am saying that I am wrong. In neither case does it make any sense to say that I am or was wrong about X, because I am speaking now at T2 when X no longer applies to me.

    To use an analogy: Instead of a moral belief, imagine that I feel my nose itch at time T1. That feeling of an itch is true for me at T1. Then a minute later, at T2, the itch goes away by itself. The lack of itch is true for me at T2. It wouldn't make any sense for me to say at T2 "I was wrong about that itch I felt." Whatever I feel, when I feel it, is true for me.

    Likewise, with subjectivism, whatever I find my moral beliefs and desires to be at a given time just is my moral truth at that time. I cannot say later that I was wrong about it, because, as long as I was accurately reporting on my mental state, that was and always will be my truth at that time, just like the fact that I felt the itch at that time. What is there to be wrong about if all there is to moral knowledge is introspecting accurately and honestly about one's own mental state? I can say that my mental state has changed, but that doesn't make me wrong any more than the fact that my nose stopped itching made me wrong.

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    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    My position is that there are universal moral truths via the law of God. And yes I can make a concise argument: God exists, He is a moral being, His moral character is immutable, His moral commands proceed from that character. He is a universal being hence His moral commands are universal. And by reason of His position (being God and creator) He has the inherent authority to command and require obedience.
    Is that the actual argument? It sounds more like a list of assertions. What makes the moral law compelling to God?

    I actually agree, but I have debated a number of moral realists over the years Jim, and I have yet to see decent argument. Perhaps you can present one?
    As long as you have an open mind. As I've said to Carp, though, it's hard to imagine any conceivable argument as compelling or on its face as plausible as any number of objective premises such as "Torturing children for amusement is objectively wrong," or "Destroying the earth out of boredom is objectively wrong." I've got family stuff to take care of. I'll get on it in a few days.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post

    Likewise, with subjectivism, whatever I find my moral beliefs and desires to be at a given time just is my moral truth at that time. I cannot say later that I was wrong about it, because, as long as I was accurately reporting on my mental state, that was and always will be my truth at that time, just like the fact that I felt the itch at that time. What is there to be wrong about if all there is to moral knowledge is introspecting accurately and honestly about one's own mental state? I can say that my mental state has changed, but that doesn't make me wrong any more than the fact that my nose stopped itching made me wrong.
    That is really a good point Jim, which kind of was glossed over...
    Atheism is the cult of death, the death of hope. The universe is doomed, you are doomed, the only thing that remains is to await your execution...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    Is that the actual argument? It sounds more like a list of assertions. What makes the moral law compelling to God?
    I don't know if it is compelling to God, it is just His nature. And I'm not sure what you mean by assertions - they seem like pretty classic attributes of the Christian God. Of course if you don't believe in God it would be no more than an assertion. Like the fact that other minds exist.

    As long as you have an open mind. As I've said to Carp, though, it's hard to imagine any conceivable argument as compelling or on its face as plausible as any number of objective premises such as "Torturing children for amusement is objectively wrong," or "Destroying the earth out of boredom is objectively wrong." I've got family stuff to take care of. I'll get on it in a few days.
    OK...
    Atheism is the cult of death, the death of hope. The universe is doomed, you are doomed, the only thing that remains is to await your execution...

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    tWebber Tassman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    Right, so what is your point?
    The point is, obviously, that ALL ideologies taken to extreme can be murderous, whether secular or religious.

    Again, why is it rational to deny your selfish desires or wishes?
    Again, because we have evolved as social animals that need to live in community in order to survive. Its instinctive. Just as parents deny their selfish desires to care for their children is instinctive or fellow community members to protect their community.

    Stalin and Mao lived in society, they just controlled it.
    Just as did the Conquistadors and the other Christian colonial powers that virtually wiped out the indigenous cultures of Native Americans and Australian Aborigine.

    Alpha males as evolution designed it.
    Evolution wasn't "designed"; it is the natural change in the heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations.
    Last edited by Tassman; 09-10-2019 at 10:21 PM.
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    tWebber carpedm9587's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    OK this is good, since personal moral opinion and moral disagreement do not prove moral subjectivity then what does? Or what disproves moral objectivity.
    I have responded to this multiple times already as well. I know of no way to "prove" morality is subjective, any more than I know of a way to "prove" that love of pizza is subjective. I can (and have) provided the evidence that results in me believing this, but there is no way a logical "proof" can be assembled that I know of. The domain of the subjective precludes it. I also know of no way to "disprove" that morality is objective, for the same reasons I cannot "disprove" the existence of god. The best I can do is provide the evidence that has me thinking that way.

    I had challenged Jim B. to prove the existence of an objective moral framework, arguing that this should be possible since the claim was that morality is rooted in objective truths. These objective truths should be available to all of us, so there should be a way to show that "killing an innocent human being is immoral" is rooted in objective truths. So far, crickets. This has happened with every such challenge since my views shifted, 3+ decades ago.

    One, single, demonstrable objective moral truth that is NOT rooted in a subjective preference (I have been using "valuing/cherishing" to describe this, but "valuing" turns out to be too vague a term) would essentially demolish my position. None are forthcoming. Likewise, every argument I have seen that morality MUST be objectively rooted essentially devolves to either "it cannot be subjective because then it would not be objective," arguments from incredulity/outrage, or arguments from ridicule. That dynamic is actually part of the evidence that solidifies my position for me. The longer this continues, the more people who flail away at this without result, the more convinced I am that my view is the correct one.
    The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy...returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King

    I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong. Frederick Douglas

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tassman View Post
    The point is, obviously, that ALL ideologies taken to extreme can be murderous, whether secular or religious.
    It is not ideology Tass, it is us. Chimpanzees kill each other without ideology.


    Again, because we have evolved as social animals that need to live in community in order to survive. Its instinctive. Just as parents deny their selfish desires to care for their children is instinctive or fellow community members to protect their community.
    That doesn't make sense, if you could be a Stalinist or Maoist (using murder to control and gain power) why not?


    Just as did the Conquistadors and the other Christian colonial powers that virtually wiped out the indigenous cultures of Native Americans and Australian Aborigine.
    Right evolution in action! Nothing wrong or evil here - just animals being animals
    Atheism is the cult of death, the death of hope. The universe is doomed, you are doomed, the only thing that remains is to await your execution...

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    Quote Originally Posted by carpedm9587 View Post
    I have responded to this multiple times already as well. I know of no way to "prove" morality is subjective, any more than I know of a way to "prove" that love of pizza is subjective. I can (and have) provided the evidence that results in me believing this, but there is no way a logical "proof" can be assembled that I know of. The domain of the subjective precludes it. I also know of no way to "disprove" that morality is objective, for the same reasons I cannot "disprove" the existence of god. The best I can do is provide the evidence that has me thinking that way.
    So all this time you were just offering an unsubstantiated opinion?

    I had challenged Jim B. to prove the existence of an objective moral framework, arguing that this should be possible since the claim was that morality is rooted in objective truths. These objective truths should be available to all of us, so there should be a way to show that "killing an innocent human being is immoral" is rooted in objective truths. So far, crickets. This has happened with every such challenge since my views shifted, 3+ decades ago.
    I'm not sure that follows. Why should it be available to all of us? A monkey is intelligent, he operates according to the laws of logic, yet even though those laws exist they are not available to him (to his understanding). Perhaps we have a moral deficit that prevents us from grasping them? And Carp, is it fair to ask Jim for proof of his position when you can not offer proof for yours? I think he has done a good job in critiquing subjective morally.

    One, single, demonstrable objective moral truth that is NOT rooted in a subjective preference (I have been using "valuing/cherishing" to describe this, but "valuing" turns out to be too vague a term) would essentially demolish my position. None are forthcoming. Likewise, every argument I have seen that morality MUST be objectively rooted essentially devolves to either "it cannot be subjective because then it would not be objective," arguments from incredulity/outrage, or arguments from ridicule. That dynamic is actually part of the evidence that solidifies my position for me. The longer this continues, the more people who flail away at this without result, the more convinced I am that my view is the correct one.
    Well, as I said, I would like to see that argument too. And his arguments were more than just saying "it cannot be subjective because then it would not be objective." That is rather dismissive on your part.
    Atheism is the cult of death, the death of hope. The universe is doomed, you are doomed, the only thing that remains is to await your execution...

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    tWebber carpedm9587's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    Carp: I have some pressing family matters to take care of over the next few days. But to attempt to cut through this endless back and forth, I really want to try to resolve this "Fallibility Argument" issue before I move on when I have time with further responses. You say you've already responded to the argument. Maybe I missed it. Humor me and respond again if you would. What I recall you saying is that the subjectivist can be wrong by changing their mind in light of changing circumstances: new evidence, better reasons, etc.
    As I have noted before, there are four ways by which a person with a subjective morality can be "wrong" or "fallible"

    1) They may hold a moral position that is not consistent with their underlying valuing/cherishing and method for moving from valuing/cherishing to moral principle. Example: the person who values/cherishes all human life and believes reason is the method for moving from valuing/cherishing to moral principle - but concludes "randomly killing humans is moral." You cannot value/cherish all human life and reasonably/rationally conclude "randomly killing humans is moral." Something has gone awry and we should be able to use reason to uncover the problem.

    2) Because we all assess all moral actions from the perspective of our current moral position, if our moral position changes, we will assess previous moral positions as "wrong." This is no different then Person A assessing Person B's moral position as "wrong" because it does not align with their own. In this case, Person B is simply Person A at a different point in time.

    3) We will also be perceived as "wrong" in our moral position by anyone who holds a differing moral view, and by society at large if the moral principle we hold is at odds with the inter-subjective moral norm. This happens all the time. If the inter-subjective moral norm remains across time, we will be assessed as wrong perpetually. If the inter-subjective moral norm shifts (e.g., which is happening today with same-sex intimacy), the new social norm will celebrate us as a "visionary" or "leader" and condemn the moral norm held by the previous society.

    4) Finally, we can be "fallible" in how we execute our moral position, failing to live up to a moral principle we actually hold.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    If the above is accurate, and correct me if I'm wrong, I don't think this answer works, as I've said, for the following reasons:

    Subjectivism is saying that moral truth is what my moral beliefs and desires are at a given time. If I hold the moral belief X at time T1, then X is true for me at T1. If a week later, at T2, I change my mind and come to believe that not-X, then X is false for me at T2. But if I say, "I was wrong about X," how can I be wrong about X? Either "X" refers only to my mental state at T1, or it refers to my mental state at T2, when I am saying that I am wrong. In neither case does it make any sense to say that I am or was wrong about X, because I am speaking now at T2 when X no longer applies to me.

    To use an analogy: Instead of a moral belief, imagine that I feel my nose itch at time T1. That feeling of an itch is true for me at T1. Then a minute later, at T2, the itch goes away by itself. The lack of itch is true for me at T2. It wouldn't make any sense for me to say at T2 "I was wrong about that itch I felt." Whatever I feel, when I feel it, is true for me.

    Likewise, with subjectivism, whatever I find my moral beliefs and desires to be at a given time just is my moral truth at that time. I cannot say later that I was wrong about it, because, as long as I was accurately reporting on my mental state, that was and always will be my truth at that time, just like the fact that I felt the itch at that time. What is there to be wrong about if all there is to moral knowledge is introspecting accurately and honestly about one's own mental state? I can say that my mental state has changed, but that doesn't make me wrong any more than the fact that my nose stopped itching made me wrong.
    In a subjective moral world, the correctness of a moral position is always assessed from the perspective of our own current position. We have a natural desire that everyone align with our own moral framework because that is what best protects/nurtures/enhances what we value/cherish. So we assess the "correctness" of all moral principles from that perspective. Person A assesses the moral position of Person B from the perspective of their OWN moral position - not from the perspective of Person B. Assessing some former time in our own history is simply a case where Person B is ourselves at another point in time. If we assess from the perspective of that former person in time, we see "no error." If we assess from the perspective of our current point in time (and something has shifted) we perceive "error."

    Is there an objectively true moral "error?" Of course not. A subjective moral position cannot achieve an objective moral truth. This is essentially your complaint. There is no mechanism for stating, objectively, that a moral error has occurred. The error is only subjectively assessed, which you are essentially saying isn't adequate. So, when you boil it down, you are complaining (again) that morality cannot be subjectively grounded because then it wouldn't be objective (or have access to objectively true moral statements).

    Furthermore, what's wrong with your analogy is that you have selected an objective reality to make your case. "Having an itch" is an event that has an objectively true nature. For me to say "I was wrong to say my nose was itching" from the perspective of my future self is to deny an objective reality. But a moral principle is an assessment - a categorization of action into "ought" or "ought not." It is rooted in our valuing/cherishing, which is a subjective reality impacted by our thoughts, ideas, opinions, and feelings.
    Last edited by carpedm9587; 09-11-2019 at 06:46 AM.
    The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy...returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King

    I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong. Frederick Douglas

  10. #1470
    tWebber carpedm9587's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    So all this time you were just offering an unsubstantiated opinion?
    No. I was offering an evidence-backed opinion. Whether or not you find the evidence compelling is entirely up to you.

    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    I'm not sure that follows. Why should it be available to all of us?
    If it is objectively true, why would any sapient person not have access to it?

    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    A monkey is intelligent, he operates according to the laws of logic, yet even though those laws exist they are not available to him (to his understanding). Perhaps we have a moral deficit that prevents us from grasping them?
    So now you are arguing for the existence of objective moral truths to which we possibly do not have access and you cannot show to exist? And you think this will be found compelling?

    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    And Carp, is it fair to ask Jim for proof of his position when you can not offer proof for yours?
    I am not making a claim to objective truths.
    I am also not big on "it's not fair."

    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    I think he has done a good job in critiquing subjective morally.
    I'm sure you do. I find his critiques to be more of the usual: it cannot be subjective because then it wouldn't be objective. I will acknowledge he does not have your propensity for devolving to arguments from outrage or ridicule.

    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    Well, as I said, I would like to see that argument too. And his arguments were more than just saying "it cannot be subjective because then it would not be objective." That is rather dismissive on your part.
    I have outlined how the positions devolve, and did so again in my last post. I leave it to you to decide if you find the argument compelling.

    I will note that I think people are so solidly indoctrinated into morality as an objective exercise, they are blind to the weaknesses of their own arguments. I would imagine Galileo faced much the same problem as he proposed a heliocentric model. After all, it was pretty obvious that the sun traveled around the earth. Anyone with eyes could see it cross the sky and set, only to rise again on the opposite side of the planet. How can you argue against the obvious? But the reality turned out to be more in line with Galileo's observations than "common wisdom."

    The subjective model for morality accounts for everything we see around us. It leaves nothing on the table. The objective model has gaping holes in it, most notably the absence of any demonstrable "objective moral truth" or "objective moral framework." It ignores the nature of morality as a cognitive exercise in sorting and tries to align it with such things as mathematical principles, rational principles, and even physical principles - when there is little/nothing about morality that has anything in common with these universal/absolute/objective frameworks. The religiously-inclined go further and try to root it in the "nature" of their god. First, they cannot show this god exists. Second, "morality is rooted in god's nature" is simply theological gobblygook. What on earth does it even mean? Not to mention the chicken egg of "is a thing good because god does/says it" or "does god do/say it because it is good?" Either position, for this hypothetical god, introduces problems, which I suspect is why recourse is made to the vague notion of "nature."
    The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy...returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Martin Luther King

    I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong. Frederick Douglas

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