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Thread: Atheism And Moral Progress

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    tWebber Adrift's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by carpedm9587 View Post
    I think I can count on one hand the number of times anyone on this forum has apologized for anything.

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    tWebber Tassman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    Tass, you can not even deductively (or empirically without begging the question) show that what goes on in your mind corresponds to reality. Yet you take it as fact. You can not demonstrate that the laws of logic are universal or absolute, yet all of science is based on that being the case. You can not deductively show that the laws of nature will act tomorrow as the act today, yet that assumption too is necessary for science.
    You are confusing scientific methodology with metaphysical argumentation.

    The scientific method has successfully verified the natural laws and constants of the universe to the extent that we enjoy vast technological advantages and successfully put a man on the moon.

    Conversely metaphysical arguments can be sound if and only if they are both valid, and all of their premises are actually true. Otherwise, a deductive metaphysical argument is unsound. Metaphysics as a discipline does not have the necessary mechanism to arrive at a true premise, nor can metaphysics alone tell us anything new about the real world.
    “He felt that his whole life was a kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.” - Douglas Adams.

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    tWebber seer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tassman View Post
    You are confusing scientific methodology with metaphysical argumentation.

    The scientific method has successfully verified the natural laws and constants of the universe to the extent that we enjoy vast technological advantages and successfully put a man on the moon.

    Conversely metaphysical arguments can be sound if and only if they are both valid, and all of their premises are actually true. Otherwise, a deductive metaphysical argument is unsound. Metaphysics as a discipline does not have the necessary mechanism to arrive at a true premise, nor can metaphysics alone tell us anything new about the real world.
    No Tass, you brought up the deductive argument thing. An argument you can not use to support the scientific method, your view of reality, or universal logical absolutes. Yet you believe all these things without deductive justification, yet you required that of me. A clear double standard.
    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
    Yes, we have been over this - and I think I've been clear that your argument here reduces to "it can't be subjective because then it's not objective." I told you this will happen fairly regularly. Yes - there is no objective basis against which both you and I can assess our subjective moral frameworks. I assess you against mine, and you assess me against yours. If our underlying valuing is misaligned, then the resolution to the moral disagreement can only be achieved by aligning that valuing - and there is no assurance that this will happen. If we our underlying valuing is already aligned, then we should be able to argue from that valuing to the moral conclusions and find the point of disconnect. It is more likely we will align under those circumstances - but there is no guarantee that we will. There is no objective basis for determining "who is right."

    We know this. That is intrinsic to the definition of "subjective." So you are basically arguing "it can't be subjective because then it's not objective." Seer does not get this, but perhaps you will. This is not an argument. It is a restatement of the definitions of subjective and objective. What you are doing (to return to colors) is to say "that car can't be green because then it's not red." We already know that a green car is not red. This is not telling us anything. You are trying to claim that the car HAS to be green, but the only argument you have is "but if it's green, it's not red!" See the problem?
    Then you agree with Jim: According to subjectivism, there is no fact of the matter in any moral issue, ergo no possibility for disagreement about that issue, only about subjective reactions to the issue
    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 use the term "moral subjectivism" to reflect the fact that the individual determines what is moral based on what they have come to value and how actions impact those things. No society has a cohesive moral framework. Those specific moral positions commonly held by a significant majority of the members of a society are considered the "norm" for that society. Some are VERY widely held (e.g., random killing of an innocent is immoral), and others are less widely held (e.g., sex outside the context of a marriage is immoral). THe widely held moral positions can and do influence individuals - and individuals can have a profound impact on the moral norms of a society - but the individual is primary in determining what is and is not moral.
    What makes you think the individual has a 'cohesive moral framework'? You're maybe confusing descriptive ethics with normative ethics. At the descriptive level, there are probably very few 'cohesive moral frameworks,' either at the individual or the societal level but a hodgepodge of various influences.



    There is nothing wrong with adding depth or fleshing out implications. For example, in my discussion with Seer, the definition of "authority" included "right" and "power." It seems reasonable to then ask "how does one gain the right?" It is not part of the formal definition of authority, but if we do not agree on how "right" to demand obedience is derived, then we don't know much about how to determine what/who is or is not an "authority." But we run into problems when we begin to redefine words simply because their implications don't go where we want them to go. In your case, you seem to be conflating "language" and "communication" pretty badly. Language is a particular tool developed to facilitate communication. But it is only one way we communicate and language is not synonymous with communication. Much of what you want to associate with language is actually associated with communication.
    "Truth" is a property of some sentences, like beliefs, assertions, etc. Sentences are a part of a 'human language.' A 'human language' is only one type of 'communication.' Ants, bees, and bacteria communicate but they do not communicate in sentences; thus they do not communicate via the 'truth.'



    I would say "context-dependent" and "intrinsic" don't go together in the way you are attempting to do here. "Intrinsic" means "belonging to the essential nature or constitution of a thing." That does not seem to me to carry the denotation OR connotation of "context-dependent." Indeed, "context-dependent" seems to me to point to the subjective AND relative nature of "goodness."
    Would you say that there are any things that are good in themselves and not merely good for what other good things they can give you? I would say that 'pleasure', all things being equal, is a good-in-itself. This doesn't mean that pleasure is always or necessarily an instrumentally good thing, but an intrinsically good thing. Taking heroin may give me pleasure (an intrinsic good) but leads to bad stuff (an instrumental evil).



    2) Morality is a function of sentience. We do not see this form of categorization of action anywhere else in nature except in species with high-level sentience.
    No. I don't think so. We don't see morality in high-level sentience. We see morality we rationality and language. We see 'pre-moral sentiments' in other higher species like dolphins and bonobos.

    3) Moral principles are analogous to legal principles. Both govern determining what action is and is not acceptable. Legal principles are subjective to the group/culture/society/country that derives them. Interestingly, no one ever argues for an "objective legal framework" to which all other legal frameworks should align. And the fact that different groups/cultures/societies/countries have different legal codes does not seem to be an issue, so why is it an issue for moral frameworks?
    There you go again. More question-begging with no evidence at all to support it. "Interestingly" as you note, the two phenomena differ crucially. How to explain this and other crucial differences? If it were just a residual effect of religion, as I suspect you would posit, why wouldn't religion have left a similar impact on law? Hmmm....'tis a poser.

    4) Moral principles are NOT analogous to logical or mathematical principles. The latter are believed to be universal, objective, absolute principles that would continue to apply even if there was no sentient mind in existence to assess them. The moon would still be itself. A solar system with four solid planets and four gas giants would still have eight planets in all. But the entire concept of morality ceases to exist if there is no sentient mind in the universe. Without sentience, there are no sentient actors and no categorization.
    Are you familiar with the philosophy of math and logic? From what tiny bit I know about it, it's not at all clear that they are "believed to be universal, absolute, etc..." And that's NOT what I'm claiming moral principles to be anyway, so you're creating a strawman. The analogy to math and logic would be that both they and morality would be true irrespective of individual choice or preference.


    5) Most notably - if one takes ANY moral principle and plays that childish game of "but why?" you inevitably end up naming something that person values that the action in question would threaten/harm/destroy/diminish (immoral) or enhance/promote/protect/create (moral). Those who do NOT value that thing do not arrive at the same moral conclusion.
    Not quite sure what you're driving at here.



    So there is an analogy here - but not the one you think. As with color, morality has an objectively real basis. For color, it is the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation impacting the retina. For morality it is the action in question. The wavelengths are objectively real - the action is objectively real. But the assessment of "color" is subjective to the individual, because of the very nature of our physiology. Likewise, the assessment of "morality" is subjective to the individual, because of the basis of morality in what the individual has come to value.
    No, you're not getting it. The experience of color is 'subjective,' but the assessment of color, as in "that traffic light is red" is fixed by physics and by physiology ( several billion years of evolution). Even though the process is happening inside my retina/brain, it's not 'subjective' the way YOU are using that word, ie it is NOT my choice that I am seeing that traffic light as that sensation of 'red.'
    Last edited by Jim B.; 08-20-2019 at 12:52 PM.

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    tWebber carpedm9587's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    Then you agree with Jim: According to subjectivism, there is no fact of the matter in any moral issue, ergo no possibility for disagreement about that issue, only about subjective reactions to the issue
    There is no objectively true fact in any moral issue - but that is more "green is not red" argumentation. And the absence of any objectively true moral statements does not preclude agreement. It simply means agreement is not guaranteed. But then again, no so-called objective moral framework has ever been able to guaranty agreement either, so I don't know why that would be an objection.
    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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    tWebber seer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by carpedm9587 View Post
    There is no objectively true fact in any moral issue - but that is more "green is not red" argumentation. And the absence of any objectively true moral statements does not preclude agreement. It simply means agreement is not guaranteed. But then again, no so-called objective moral framework has ever been able to guaranty agreement either, so I don't know why that would be an objection.
    I think the point is that would make morality trivial. We would be arguing with each other over personal preferences, with no basis, not even logic, for judging between the two.
    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
    By the criteria of your present/current moral framework.
    But that makes no sense. I'm judging everyone's framework and my own by my own framework, including my own shifting framework
    ? I'd have to be able to step back and assess my shifting framework in terms of something other than itself in order to avoid an infinite recursion.

    They are the basis for our (subjective) moral assessments.
    See above.



    We typically find our moral framework needs to be adjusted if a) the things we value that underlie our moral frameworks shift, or b) we discover that we have made an error in reasoning from what we value to a moral position, accepting as "moral" something that is actually a threat to what we value.
    But why should you be held accountable to an error in reasoning? It sounds like you're suggesting a norm of reason for moral agents. You sure there's not a closet deontologist lurking in there somewhere?



    If we have truly decided that our moral framework needs to adjust, then our moral framework will shift. That is not the same as not following a moral framework we have not determined needs to shift, but that we simply have failed to live up to.
    You're suggesting that there are criteria for when a moral framework needs to change. Why can't I just make up my own? Like because it's Tuesday and my right foot itches? If I can't, then it's not really up to 'me,' is it?



    Yes, we have been over this - and I think I've been clear that your argument here reduces to "it can't be subjective because then it's not objective." I told you this will happen fairly regularly. Yes - there is no objective basis against which both you and I can assess our subjective moral frameworks. I assess you against mine, and you assess me against yours. If our underlying valuing is misaligned, then the resolution to the moral disagreement can only be achieved by aligning that valuing - and there is no assurance that this will happen. If we our underlying valuing is already aligned, then we should be able to argue from that valuing to the moral conclusions and find the point of disconnect. It is more likely we will align under those circumstances - but there is no guarantee that we will. There is no objective basis for determining "who is right."

    We know this. That is intrinsic to the definition of "subjective." So you are basically arguing "it can't be subjective because then it's not objective." Seer does not get this, but perhaps you will. This is not an argument. It is a restatement of the definitions of subjective and objective. What you are doing (to return to colors) is to say "that car can't be green because then it's not red." We already know that a green car is not red. This is not telling us anything. You are trying to claim that the car HAS to be green, but the only argument you have is "but if it's green, it's not red!" See the problem?
    You think I'm arguing circularly, that "it can't be subjective because then it can't be objective." But actually I'm arguing that "It can't be subjective because then these OTHER objectionable consequences follow from it being subjective." When I argue thus, you just answer that I'm arguing in a circle: "It can't be subjective because..." You can't see that I've broken the circle and introduced new content. You either don't understand the objectionable consequences or don't want to respond to them.

    As far as the "moral disagreement" objection", you actually make my point without realizing it. About a given moral issue, our 'values' may align or misalign, but in either case, what you don't seem to understand is that we are not discussing the moral issue itself but our own subjective reaction to it. If our values align that's just a happy accident but that alignment is not about the issue but about our reactions to that issue. If they misalign, we are disagreeing over our clashing subjectivities, our clashing tastes about human actions.



    Again - repeating this claim over and over again does not make it true. Successful communication and social cohesion carry with them an implicit commitment to truth. Language is just language. It's like saying "a hammer carries with it an implicit commitment to hit things." No - it doesn't. Like language, the hammer is just a tool. "Using a hammer to fasten two things with a nail" carries with it the implicit commitment to hit something. You are conflating language and communication.
    No. See above in previous post. Ants have communication and social cohesion. They have no concept called "truth."



    Yes - because the scientist's purpose is to discover the truth about reality, and then communicate that to the rest of the species. Without that commitment to truth, that process of discovery and the successful communication of it cannot happen. Language is simply the tool used to make that communication.
    Science is simply the tool to discover truths about the world. Scientists have, or ought to have, an implicit commitment to said goal. language is merely the tool to communicate truths about the world. language users ought to be committed to said goal.




    I agree that (hopefully) most people would come to those moral conclusions. But we disagree on why. I believe we agree on these moral principles because our shared experience of humanity, history, society, religion, experience, family, etc. result in us having highly aligned valuing. Since morality springs from what we value, there is no surprise that we have highly aligned moral frameworks. But we also have differences and the degree to which we are different can vary from "very little" to "a great deal," and it is from these differences that the disconnects in our moral frameworks arise.
    You're the one making the bolder claim. You're saying "No A is B." I think you have the greater burden, especially since it is in such diametrical opposition to common experience. You need to make a much stronger case. BTW, I'll be presenting more arguments, so I may not be responding as much point by point to your posts, but I'll try.



    Umm...no. "Lying" is essentially the intentional misalignment of statement/claim from reality. "Truth" is the intentional alignment of statement/claim to reality. Neither definition depends on the other, or presupposes the other, and the two definitions are simply the opposite of one another (alignment/misalignment). If something can be aligned, then it can also be misaligned, and vice versa. What you are saying is the equivalent of "left is inconceivable apart from right, but whereas the opposite is not." I don't see ANY basis for accepting that claim.
    No, you're not following. "Lying" is a truth-dependent concept. It's not like "left" and "right". It's an asymmetric relationship. "Left" is as "right-dependent" as "right" is "left-dependent." There's no world in which you could imagine one without the other. A world in which there is only lying with no concept or standard of truth is not imaginable. But a world of truth without lying IS imaginable.

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    tWebber carpedm9587's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    What makes you think the individual has a 'cohesive moral framework'? You're maybe confusing descriptive ethics with normative ethics. At the descriptive level, there are probably very few 'cohesive moral frameworks,' either at the individual or the societal level but a hodgepodge of various influences.
    My use of "cohesive" in my statement, "No society has a cohesive moral framework," was meant to indicate that no society achieves 100% alignment on a moral framework between the individual members of that society. I said noting about individual moral frameworks being cohesive. However, since you brought it up, for the individual, the degree of cohesion within their moral framework will depend on the degree of cohesion between what they value and the degree to which they have correctly reasoned from valuing to moral principles. I would think cohesion for an individual would best be measured by the absence of direct conflict between elements of the overall moral framework.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    "Truth" is a property of some sentences, like beliefs, assertions, etc. Sentences are a part of a 'human language.' A 'human language' is only one type of 'communication.' Ants, bees, and bacteria communicate but they do not communicate in sentences; thus they do not communicate via the 'truth.'
    And here is where I disagree with you. "Truth" is not a property of a sentence. It is a measure of the alignment between a sentence and the reality it purports to represent. A sentence is "true" if it aligns with the objective reality it represents, and untrue if it does not. I agree that language is only one way in which human communicate, which is why I think you err to conflate language and communication. I can deceive you without using language.

    As for "communicate via the truth," that is a very odd sentence. I communicate via language. I communicate via gestures. I communicate via facial expressions and so-called "body language." I don't communicate via truth." What I communicate, by any of those means, is either true or untrue, depending on its alignment with reality.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    Would you say that there are any things that are good in themselves and not merely good for what other good things they can give you?
    No. The statement "good in itself" is meaningless, IMO. "Good" is an assessment made by an assessor using a selected metric. Without that assessor and the defined metric, the notion of "good" does not exist.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    I would say that 'pleasure', all things being equal, is a good-in-itself. This doesn't mean that pleasure is always or necessarily an instrumentally good thing, but an intrinsically good thing. Taking heroin may give me pleasure (an intrinsic good) but leads to bad stuff (an instrumental evil).
    Again, you seem to contradict yourself within the same paragraph. If a thing is good-in-itself, then how can a "context" change that goodness? The thing's goodness is, according to you, self-contained. It should be immune to "context." Yet you acknowledge that it is not always a good thing in the next sentence. Do you not see the problem here...?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    No. I don't think so. We don't see morality in high-level sentience. We see morality we rationality and language. We see 'pre-moral sentiments' in other higher species like dolphins and bonobos.
    We see moral frameworks emerge in high-level sentience. We also see advanced language and communication emerge in high-level sentience. That correlation does not equate to any form of causation. If you think so, you have yet to make that case.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    There you go again. More question-begging with no evidence at all to support it.
    So which part lacks evidence. Does not morality deal with human action and categorize ought versus ought not? Does not legality also deal with human action and categorize ought versus ought not? Are legal systems not subjective to the society/group/culture that derive them? Do you know of anyone who suggests that the absence of an "objectively true" legal framework renders legal frameworks useless because there is no way to resolve discrepancies? You like to toss out "question begging," but I see nothing in that statement that assumes its own conclusion.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    "Interestingly" as you note, the two phenomena differ crucially. How to explain this and other crucial differences? If it were just a residual effect of religion, as I suspect you would posit, why wouldn't religion have left a similar impact on law? Hmmm....'tis a poser.
    So how do legal codes differ from moral ones in a way that you consider "crucial" and requiring an explanation?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    Are you familiar with the philosophy of math and logic?
    The brain cells are dusty - but that was my undergraduate degree.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    From what tiny bit I know about it, it's not at all clear that they are "believed to be universal, absolute, etc..."
    There are some who suggest the basic laws of reason and mathematics are NOT universal or absolute. IMO, they all tend to collapse on themselves. For one thing, they all use those exact principles to try to make their case, which is a bit of a bad start. As I noted to Seer, we cannot PROVE that the basic laws of reason (or even mathematics) are absolute/universal/objective without becoming caught up in a circular argument, because we have to use the principles to attempt to make that case. We accept them as such prima facie, because we essentially have no alternative that I am aware of. Seer would like to use that fact to exempt any claim he wants to make that he cannot provide a reasonable argument for from the need to have a rational argument. "You are holding them to differing standards, which is special pleading" is his oft repeated cry. The fundamental laws of logic ARE a special case - they are the starting point for all rationality. We can provide a host of evidence for why we find them to be true/universal/absolute, but we can never definitively prove them to be such because they ARE the starting place. No other proposition holds that unique characteristic.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    And that's NOT what I'm claiming moral principles to be anyway, so you're creating a strawman.
    Not so much a strawman, but I have heard this argument so often from Seer (and others) that I may be guilty of assuming it of you as well. If that assumption is incorrect, consider my objection withdrawn with my apologies for the presumption.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    The analogy to math and logic would be that both they and morality would be true irrespective of individual choice or preference.
    Yeah...no. Here's the thing about analogies: you take two things that have similarities to help someone who understands one but not the other to gain that understanding. But in order for the analogy to work, the two things have to have similarities. Mathematical/logical principles have nothing in common with moral principles, except that many want to claim they are all absolute/universal/objective. That's not a very functional analogy.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    Not quite sure what you're driving at here.
    I am getting at what I challenged you to do many posts ago. Take ANY moral principle you hold to be true that is not a tautology (i.e., like "murder is wrong") and ask yourself "why?" See if you can explain why it is wrong WITHOUT ending up talking about something that you subjectively value and the threat this action poses to that thing. If you can demonstrate how even ONE moral principle is true on purely objective grounds - I would have no choice but to rethink my meta-ethics.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    No, you're not getting it. The experience of color is 'subjective,' but the assessment of color, as in "that traffic light is red" is fixed by physics and by physiology (several billion years of evolution). Even though the process is happening inside my retina/brain, it's not 'subjective' the way YOU are using that word, ie it is NOT my choice that I am seeing that traffic light as that sensation of 'red.'
    I am getting it, Jim, but I think you might not be. What is fixed by physics is the wavelength of light. The assignment of "red" to a specific range of that spectrum is an arbitrary one made by humans. The set of wavelength we call "red" extend from approximately 635 to 700 nanometers (430-480 THz), a range that includes 50 trillion frequencies, not to mention the fact that these are analog signals, creating an infinity of variation within the range. No two of us can experience any of this at the same time/place for any given object, making the experience of these wavelengths subjective on that front, but it goes beyond that. Your claim that our experience is "fixed by physiology" is simply untrue. Color blindness immediately shows that position to be untrue. So too does any disease that impacts our ability to experience sight. So too does the level of light (i.e., luminosity) within a given situation (i.e., rods detect light, cones detect color - but cannot do so at low luminosity levels. Objects still reflect the light at the specified wavelengths, but we cannot detect them). Furthermore, no two of us has exactly the same retinal pattern, the same exact structure of neurons on our optic nerves, or the same synaptic patterns in our brains. Not only do we have any way to determine whether or not your experience of "red" and mine are the same (qualia), we have no reason to believe that experience of "red" IS the same. You are suggesting that, despite all of that difference between any two individuals, they are having the same experience of red? They are having a subjective experience of an objective reality. ALL of our experiences are subjective experiences of objective reality. You cannot escape it.
    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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    tWebber carpedm9587's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    I think the point is that would make morality trivial.
    To you perhaps. To others perhaps. I'm not having that problem.

    And I note that is a subjective assessment on your part!

    Quote Originally Posted by seer View Post
    We would be arguing with each other over personal preferences, with no basis, not even logic, for judging between the two.
    Morality IS about preference. So is legality, and no one seems to object to that.

    Not to mention that you are back to arguing "green is not red," which is (once again) not an argument. We already know there is no objective basis for moral alignment when morality is subjective. I have acknowledged that multiple times - and all you can do is continue to assert "this is a bad thing" with no argument other than "subjective stuff has no objective basis."

    When you have an actual argument - let me know.
    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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