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Baxter
Skeptic Friend

USA
131 Posts

Posted - 07/20/2009 :  13:12:11  Show Profile Send Baxter a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I've been reading up on the moral argument on the web but have not found any good refutations yet.

Do you think that morality is objective? We all seem to have an innate sense of right/wrong, so where does it come from?

If there are indeed moral absolutes, is God the best explanation?

I am curious to know what you guys think about objective morals / moral relativism. It seems to me that morality can be summed up in the "golden rule," but I can't explain it any further. What do you think?

"We tend to scoff at the beliefs of the ancients. But we can't scoff at them personally, to their faces, and this is what annoys me." ~from Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

"We can be as honest as we are ignorant. If we are, when asked what is beyond the horizon of the known, we must say that we do not know." ~Robert G. Ingersoll

Dude
SFN Die Hard

USA
6891 Posts

Posted - 07/20/2009 :  14:08:57   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Dude a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Morality is completely subjective. It depends on the prevailing beliefs of a culture at any given moment.

Even the golden rule is not the same for every person. Imagine a Spartan who had become crippled in battle yet managed to survive the injuries, he would beg you to kill him if he couldn't do it himself. No such thing as a one armed, one legged Spartan.

How many cultures in history practiced infanticide when a child was born deformed?

How many cultures, including the good old USA, practiced slavery at some point in history?

I could go on... my point is simply this: There is no objective moral standard.

What you mistake as an "innate" sense of right and wrong is formed from your personal experiences. We learn very early on that cooperation and following the rules is the easiest way to avoid punishment and the quickest way to achieve an objective. We all get trained in this by the time we can walk and speak. Right and wrong is nothing more than learned behavior, and it isn't exactly the same for any two people, say nothing of different cultures or different periods in history.


Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.
-- Thomas Jefferson

"god :: the last refuge of a man with no answers and no argument." - G. Carlin

Hope, n.
The handmaiden of desperation; the opiate of despair; the illegible signpost on the road to perdition. ~~ da filth
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Dude
SFN Die Hard

USA
6891 Posts

Posted - 07/20/2009 :  14:21:18   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Dude a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I should add that we have had some extended, and at times unfriendly, debates on this topic here.


Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.
-- Thomas Jefferson

"god :: the last refuge of a man with no answers and no argument." - G. Carlin

Hope, n.
The handmaiden of desperation; the opiate of despair; the illegible signpost on the road to perdition. ~~ da filth
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Hawks
SFN Regular

Canada
1383 Posts

Posted - 07/20/2009 :  16:12:13   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Hawks's Homepage Send Hawks a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Those who claim that others don't have objective morals always forget that they themselves don't have them either. These people claim that god decides what is objective, but given that there are an infinite number of possible gods having an infinite supply of moral absolutes, they are infinitely unlikely to follow the right ones. Given that their choice of god is arbitrary, they can hardly claim that they have any absolutes.

This whole thing is highly reminiscent of Pascal's wager. It only works under the assumption that there is one god. Hardly a good assumption.

METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL
It's a small, off-duty czechoslovakian traffic warden!
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26009 Posts

Posted - 07/20/2009 :  16:22:40   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
What sort of morals are we talking about, anyway? Is there a serious hypothesis that without an "innate" sense of morality, people would enjoy being victims of theft or murder? After all, since so many people commit burglaries or murders (with glee, even), there's obviously no "innate" sense of morality prohibiting such acts, so those who would propose an objective morality must be coming at it from the victims' point-of-view.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
Visit Dave's Psoriasis Info, too.
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Zebra
Skeptic Friend

USA
354 Posts

Posted - 07/20/2009 :  20:35:49   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Zebra a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Baxter

I've been reading up on the moral argument on the web but have not found any good refutations yet.

Do you think that morality is objective?
No. See others' comments above. I claim that Christian teachings about sin and hell are immoral, but, see, that's not an opinion that everyone shares.

We all seem to have an innate sense of right/wrong, so where does it come from?
Mom.

Really. For most of us, it's the cultural norms we were taught as children.

For exceptions among humans, read up on sociopathy.

For examples of nonhuman "sense of right/wrong", which moral absolutists don't seem to focus on much, do a search on animals and: morality, empathy, or fairness.

If there are indeed moral absolutes, is God the best explanation?
A nonentity is rarely the best explanation. For anything.


I think, you know, freedom means freedom for everyone* -Dick Cheney

*some restrictions may apply
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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 07/20/2009 :  22:13:47   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I suspect there is an innate basis for morality, in the hominid capacity for empathy. But this empathy only exists in broad strokes, where it appears at all. The many versions of the almost universal "Golden Rule" spring directly from empathy, I think. (People without any empathy exist as a dangerous minority in all cultures.)

The devil is in the cultural details. A prime example is, "Who is it okay to kill?" Religion, law, and family upbringing tend to define this, and the rules vary widely. Most cultures have ways of effectively defining potential victims as non-humans or as "others." Thus words like "enemy," "infidel," "witch,""socialist," "capitalist" can identify people who it is acceptable to slaughter. I think the best morality is that which strives to include all humans and other creatures as a protected class, making very few exceptions, and those only for self-defense. But everyone, including "strict" Bible-believing fundamentalists, will create their own personal version of morality.


Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.
Edited by - HalfMooner on 07/20/2009 22:15:47
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BigPapaSmurf
SFN Die Hard

3192 Posts

Posted - 07/21/2009 :  05:53:09   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send BigPapaSmurf a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Just wait till I'm Dictator, I can't wait to impose my morals on "real-time" Vince. You should really check out the recent Novea show on primate intelligence, it clearly showed that our empathic nature is not unique.

"...things I have neither seen nor experienced nor heard tell of from anybody else; things, what is more, that do not in fact exist and could not ever exist at all. So my readers must not believe a word I say." -Lucian on his book True History

"...They accept such things on faith alone, without any evidence. So if a fraudulent and cunning person who knows how to take advantage of a situation comes among them, he can make himself rich in a short time." -Lucian critical of early Christians c.166 AD From his book, De Morte Peregrini
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Hawks
SFN Regular

Canada
1383 Posts

Posted - 07/21/2009 :  08:21:14   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Hawks's Homepage Send Hawks a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Zebra wrote:
Really. For most of us, it's the cultural norms we were taught as children.

For exceptions among humans, read up on sociopathy.


And I find the exceptions quite interesting. Not for the fact that they lack a moral compass, but because the main reason they seem to act morally is because of fear of retribution. Some christians (mainly) state that humans need a god lest we all turn to murderous savages. Seems to me thay think we are all sociopaths.

METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL
It's a small, off-duty czechoslovakian traffic warden!
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13463 Posts

Posted - 07/21/2009 :  09:26:25   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Zebra:
A nonentity is rarely the best explanation. For anything.

Amen.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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Baxter
Skeptic Friend

USA
131 Posts

Posted - 07/21/2009 :  12:30:19   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Baxter a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Dude

How many cultures, including the good old USA, practiced slavery at some point in history?
If the entire world practiced it I still think it would be wrong. Is that subjective also? If so, how can we really judge anything, know what I mean?
Originally posted by Dave W.

After all, since so many people commit burglaries or murders (with glee, even), there's obviously no "innate" sense of morality prohibiting such acts, so those who would propose an objective morality must be coming at it from the victims' point-of-view.
Of course it doesn't prohibit the acts, but people committing them probably still believe that it's wrong, they just choose to violate their moral sense anyway. I haven't heard them arguing that theft or murder in itself is moral.
Originally posted by Zebra

Originally posted by Baxter

For examples of nonhuman "sense of right/wrong", which moral absolutists don't seem to focus on much, do a search on animals and: morality, empathy, or fairness.
If there are indeed moral absolutes, is God the best explanation?
A nonentity is rarely the best explanation. For anything.
I heard about experiments where chimps starve themselves because their pals would get shocked when they grabbed some food or something like that. I'm not sure how that argues against a moral code though.
As for a best explanation, why not choose God? In science we choose a theory over saying I don't know, correct?
Originally posted by HalfMooner

I suspect there is an innate basis for morality, in the hominid capacity for empathy. But this empathy only exists in broad strokes, where it appears at all.
...I think the best morality is that which strives to include all humans and other creatures as a protected class, making very few exceptions, and those only for self-defense.
I haven't looked at it from this empathy perspective. Certainly something to ponder on. But I'm not sure what you mean by broad strokes.
Have you read The Evolution of God? I haven't but I've seen some excerpts and in it Robert Wright mentions morality evolving over time to include more and more people like you said. But how do we speak of this as moral progress if there's no "compass"?

"We tend to scoff at the beliefs of the ancients. But we can't scoff at them personally, to their faces, and this is what annoys me." ~from Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

"We can be as honest as we are ignorant. If we are, when asked what is beyond the horizon of the known, we must say that we do not know." ~Robert G. Ingersoll
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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
26009 Posts

Posted - 07/21/2009 :  12:59:06   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Baxter

Of course it doesn't prohibit the acts, but people committing them probably still believe that it's wrong, they just choose to violate their moral sense anyway. I haven't heard them arguing that theft or murder in itself is moral.
Try something less radical, like sex outside of marriage. For many, there's absolutely nothing immoral about it, but for others, it's a sin.

- Dave W. (Private Msg, EMail)
Evidently, I rock!
Why not question something for a change?
Visit Dave's Psoriasis Info, too.
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13463 Posts

Posted - 07/21/2009 :  13:03:20   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Baxter:
As for a best explanation, why not choose God? In science we choose a theory over saying I don't know, correct?

Why not choose God? Most of us here at SFN doubt that God even exists. Why not choose a barber poll?

And no, a theory isn't a way to say "I don't know". A theory describes the best explanation for a collection of facts and observations that occur in nature. A theory is as close to knowing as science gets, and is pretty far away from "I don't know".

That said, "I don't know" and "I doubt it" are acceptable positions. Often, those positions are what lead us to doing science.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 07/21/2009 :  15:40:44   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Baxter

Originally posted by HalfMooner

I suspect there is an innate basis for morality, in the hominid capacity for empathy. But this empathy only exists in broad strokes, where it appears at all.
...I think the best morality is that which strives to include all humans and other creatures as a protected class, making very few exceptions, and those only for self-defense.
I haven't looked at it from this empathy perspective. Certainly something to ponder on. But I'm not sure what you mean by broad strokes.
Have you read The Evolution of God? I haven't but I've seen some excerpts and in it Robert Wright mentions morality evolving over time to include more and more people like you said. But how do we speak of this as moral progress if there's no "compass"?
By "broad strokes," I meant that I think evolution has produced in the brains of most of us only a generalized empathy. It's upon that empathy that culture builds the particulars of morality.

No, I don't think that full-blown morality is absolute or inherited. The empathy that we have is a requirement for real morality (I think of morality as separate from a mere avoidance of punishment for misdeeds).

But though a requirement for morality, mere empathy is not a code of morality. Morality is a complex of cultural memes, which vary from place to place, from time to time, and from person to person. I don't think that even the most dedicated fundamentalists have anything but an ad hoc morality, even if they think they do. Like everyone else, fundies cherry-pick their morals.


Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.
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Dude
SFN Die Hard

USA
6891 Posts

Posted - 07/21/2009 :  19:25:13   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Dude a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Baxter said:
If the entire world practiced it I still think it would be wrong. Is that subjective also? If so, how can we really judge anything, know what I mean?

Yes, it is subjective. You are making that judgment through the lens of your own experience and culture.

You judge things by your own set of personal values. What those specific values are is entirely subjective.

Try this thought experiment: Picture that you are the child of a wealthy southern US land owner in 1840. Your family has owned slaves for generations, every member of your social circle is a slave owner, the law of the land permits/condones/regulates slavery, your wealth is dependent upon cheap labor, and your church formed an organization to provide biblical support for the ownership of slaves(this is the original mission of the southern baptist convention).

Do you still think slavery is wrong if you are that person?

In science we choose a theory over saying I don't know, correct?

No. That is so far away from correct that I'm not sure how you came up with it.

If you don't know, then you just don't know. You only provisionally accept a hypothesis if there is evidence to support it.


Ignorance is preferable to error; and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing, than he who believes what is wrong.
-- Thomas Jefferson

"god :: the last refuge of a man with no answers and no argument." - G. Carlin

Hope, n.
The handmaiden of desperation; the opiate of despair; the illegible signpost on the road to perdition. ~~ da filth
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Simon
SFN Regular

USA
1992 Posts

Posted - 07/21/2009 :  19:33:08   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Simon a Private Message  Reply with Quote
When you don't know, you can't build up a theory.
A theory is actually pretty solidly grounded on facts.

Now, some theories are more weakly supported than others, but they are not pull out of anybody's asses.

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
Carl Sagan - 1996
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