Page 2 of 4 FirstFirst 1234 LastLast
Results 11 to 20 of 31

Thread: If moral realism is false, what is the job of moral philosophy?

  1. Top | #11
    Veteran Member Wiploc's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Location
    Denver
    Posts
    2,255
    Archived
    14,058
    Total Posts
    16,313
    Rep Power
    67
    I wrote this above, but it's a mistake.

    Moral realism:

    It has recently been suggested (here at Talk Freethought, I think) that I shouldn't call myself a moral realist just because I believe some behaviors are better than others (Kindness, for instance, being better than cruelty), or because I think there are things that we ought or ought not to do.

    So I looked it up at, I think, the Stanford Philosophical Encyclopedia. I learned that non-realists fall into two camps, the noncognitivists, who believe that discussions of morality are all gibberish, and another group, which believes that moral claims can be made sense of by translating them into preference claims. (Thus, "Rape is wrong," means, "I'm against rape.")

    I don't fall into either of those groups. So I still think I'm a moral realist.
    That's wrong.

    Here's a quote from the SEP (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

    As a result, those who reject moral realism are usefully divided into (i) those who think moral claims do not purport to report facts in light of which they are true or false (noncognitivists) and (ii) those who think that moral claims do carry this purport but deny that any moral claims are actually true (error theorists).
    So it's noncognitivists and error theorists (as opposed to what I said, noncognitivists and those who think moral claims are statements of preference) who are not moral non-realists.

  2. Top | #12
    Veteran Member Wiploc's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Location
    Denver
    Posts
    2,255
    Archived
    14,058
    Total Posts
    16,313
    Rep Power
    67
    Quote Originally Posted by ronburgundy View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Wiploc View Post

    That seems not at all likely. I've occasionally run across people on the internet who didn't believe in morality, but the idea of most atheists or skeptics being in that category, that estimate seems to me to be off by orders of magnitude.
    I am curious what you base that on. Most atheists I know are moral subjectivists.
    Well, if -- absent a particular context -- I don't know what "objective" means, I think it follows that I also don't know what "subjective" means. These words are mostly used for equivocation, for dancing back and forth between conflicting meanings.

    Nevertheless, let us stipulate, for the sake of discussion, that most atheists are subjectivists. Does it follow that they believe, as the OP claims, that there are no moral facts? I don't believe that.

    People who believe morality is subjective still believe morality exists. At least this has always been my assumption.




    They view all moral positions as stemming from subjective human desires, feelings, preferences about how things ought to be. They recognize the theist morality is merely dishonest subjective morality where the believer imposes their preferences onto an imaginary God to make them appear beyond human preference and give the veneer of objectivity.
    I think you're overstating your case. I think people are mostly confused (and often self-contradictory) about morality. It's a mistake to project your own views onto them because you think your views are coherent.




    Of course, even if God existed, then theistic morality would still be subjective,
    I agree that gods don't come into it. Any definition of "objective" that makes god-based morality objective will also make godless morality objective. Any definition that makes godless morality subjective will also make god-based morality subjective.




    just the subjectivity of God rather than humans.

    I think you could find many atheists that haven't really thought about the basis for their morality and might argue about moral issues as though they are arguing about objective truths,
    Being skeptical, in most circumstances, of the word "objective," I try to understand sentences like the one above by ignoring that word. People might argue about moral issues as though they are arguing about truths. If you mean something different, then I'm missing it.




    but if you walked them through the logic of what moral objectivism means
    I'm available, if you want to do that with me.

    But I already accept that for some definitions of "objective," morality is objective, and for other definitions, it isn't.




    they would reject it and acknowledge that their moral stances are based in what they "feel" is right, not what they "know" is right in the same sense as knowing that the Earth revolves around the Sun.
    That confuses me. I'm not sure that analogy serves you well.

    Motion is relative. Therefore, the claim that the earth goes around the sun is not truth apt. It is no more true -- and no more false -- than the claim that the sun goes around the earth. I can't tell whether you're confused about this, or whether you understand it and are using it to make some point.




    Quote Originally Posted by Wiploc
    believes that moral claims can be made sense of by translating them into preference claims. (Thus, "Rape is wrong," means, "I'm against rape.")

    I don't fall into either of those groups. So I still think I'm a moral realist.
    What do you think morals are based in, if not human preferences?
    I'm a utilitarian.




    I would argue that the only alternatives are the preferences of some non-human (e.g., theistic morality)
    As you pointed out above, positing gods doesn't affect the objectivity of morality.




    or objective facts
    As I pointed out above, until we nail down what you mean by "objective," I'll just read that as if it says "or facts."




    that are true independent of human goals and desires, which is moral objectivism.
    1. Things that have a strong tendency to make people unhappy are wrong. (Utilitarian premise)
    2. Rape has a strong tendency to make people unhappy.
    3. Therefore, rape is wrong.
    3. In some possible universes, rape has a strong tendency to make people happy.
    4. Therefore, in such universes, rape is not wrong.

    If we stipulate the premise, are the other statements objective?




    I don't see a logical difference between that definition of "realism" and "objectivism".
    Are you saying, then, that subjectivists are nihilists? Is it your position that most atheists are nihilists?




    That definition also is problematic by ignoring the position that moral preferences are real b/c human emotions are real and subjective experience is real, and yet morality is not "true" independent of it's relation to preferences.
    I have trouble parsing that, but I suspect that I agree.




    If one person prefers to die than suffer, and another prefers to suffer and live. Most atheist would say it is moral to allow the first person to die without preventing it if you can , but immoral to do so in the second case. That shows that subjective preference is THE determinant of morality.
    I've seen pictures of a guy who got tattooed all over with lizard scales. And he had his tongue split lengthwise, so it's forked like a lizard's. He likes being the lizard man.

    If you did that to someone against his will, it would constitute a great injury.

    Whether it's a favor or an injury depends on the subject's attitude. So one might argue that morality is subjective.

    On the other hand, if we believe that the underlined sentence above is a truth (what you might call an objective truth) then one might argue that morality is objective.

  3. Top | #13
    Veteran Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Location
    California
    Posts
    3,911
    Archived
    4,797
    Total Posts
    8,708
    Rep Power
    62
    Quote Originally Posted by Wiploc View Post
    I wrote this above, but it's a mistake.

    So I looked it up at, I think, the Stanford Philosophical Encyclopedia. I learned that non-realists fall into two camps, the noncognitivists, who believe that discussions of morality are all gibberish, and another group, which believes that moral claims can be made sense of by translating them into preference claims. (Thus, "Rape is wrong," means, "I'm against rape.")

    I don't fall into either of those groups. So I still think I'm a moral realist.
    That's wrong.

    Here's a quote from the SEP (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

    As a result, those who reject moral realism are usefully divided into (i) those who think moral claims do not purport to report facts in light of which they are true or false (noncognitivists) and (ii) those who think that moral claims do carry this purport but deny that any moral claims are actually true (error theorists).
    So it's noncognitivists and error theorists (as opposed to what I said, noncognitivists and those who think moral claims are statements of preference) who are not moral non-realists.
    The SEP categorization is odd, and I think nonstandard, to whatever extent such terminology even has a standard. It would appear to classify those who translate moral claims into preference claims like "I'm against rape." as moral realists. But that's not how "moral realist" is normally used, at least in my experience. Such a person -- i.e., a moral subjectivist -- is normally considered an archetypical example of a moral non-realist. Sayre-McCord acknowledges this issue -- he says "(although some accounts of moral realism see it as involving additional commitments, say to the independence of the moral facts from human thought and practice, or to those facts being objective in some specified way).". I think those "some accounts" are more in line with conventional terminology than Sayre-McCord is. Perhaps you read your original post #5 categorization in one of those other accounts.

  4. Top | #14
    Veteran Member Wiploc's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Location
    Denver
    Posts
    2,255
    Archived
    14,058
    Total Posts
    16,313
    Rep Power
    67
    Quote Originally Posted by Bomb#20 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Wiploc View Post
    I wrote this above, but it's a mistake.



    That's wrong.

    Here's a quote from the SEP (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:



    So it's noncognitivists and error theorists (as opposed to what I said, noncognitivists and those who think moral claims are statements of preference) who are not moral non-realists.
    The SEP categorization is odd, and I think nonstandard, to whatever extent such terminology even has a standard. It would appear to classify those who translate moral claims into preference claims like "I'm against rape." as moral realists. But that's not how "moral realist" is normally used, at least in my experience. Such a person -- i.e., a moral subjectivist -- is normally considered an archetypical example of a moral non-realist. Sayre-McCord acknowledges this issue -- he says "(although some accounts of moral realism see it as involving additional commitments, say to the independence of the moral facts from human thought and practice, or to those facts being objective in some specified way).". I think those "some accounts" are more in line with conventional terminology than Sayre-McCord is.
    Okay, thanks for that information.

    It leaves me confused, but that's hardly new.

    I don't think I've ever claimed to understand morality. But I do understand it better than theists who claim that theirs is objective and mine is not.



    Perhaps you read your original post #5 categorization in one of those other accounts.
    No, I went back and checked. The SEP is what I read, but I misremembered it when I wrote the above post.

  5. Top | #15
    Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Sweden
    Posts
    454
    Archived
    5,525
    Total Posts
    5,979
    Rep Power
    51
    Thanks for all the replies. I unfortunately can't respond to all of you individually.

    Some people I like have written about this subject. I was thinking about including them in the OP, but in the end did not, because I did not want to unduly "lead" the discussion by that. But some of you posted stuff resembling it. So I post some snippets below:

    Quote Originally Posted by Sean Carroll
    Can moral reasoning convince anyone of anything important?

    The point is that there are no fixed moral truths upon which we can all agree with metaphysical certitude, but there nevertheless are pre-existing feelings that each of us has about what is right and what is wrong (basically Rawls’ provisional fixed points). Some of these feelings might even be opinions that we might want to think of as conclusions of arguments rather than axiomatic starting points, but they are nevertheless the launching-points for our moral reasoning. The job of moral philosophy is to sort them out and shoot for some kind of consistency.
    Quote Originally Posted by Steven Novella
    Objective vs Subjective Morality

    Further, humans are social animals, and in fact we have no choice but to share this planet with each other. Our behavior, therefore, affects others. If we had no cares at all about what happens to us or others, or our actions had no affect on anything but ourselves, then there would be no need for morality, and in fact morality would have no meaning.

    We can take as empirical facts, however, that humans have feelings and our actions affect others – these are therefore well-founded premises for a moral system. Philosophers have tried to derive from there further premises as a starting point for a moral system. The goal is to derive the most fundamental principles, or determine the most reasonable first principles, and then proceed carefully from there.

    Much of the previous discussion has centered around the validity of these moral principles, such as “harm is bad” and “it is better to be fair than unfair.” Are these “self evident,” can they be objectively proved, or can they be derived from something that can be proven?

    I think, in part, they are taken as self-evident and given, but that does not mean they are entirely without justification, because they are rooted, as is the need for morality itself, in the human condition. Because humans are feeling social animals, we need morality, and certain principles are necessary for a moral system for a social feeling species (such as reciprocity). This is partly a logical statement, for without reciprocity you don’t have a moral system that helps us live together (again – the very reason for the system in the first place). Also, these principles can be evaluated empirically, in terms of their universality, their neurological basis, and the effects of their implementation in a society.

    ...

    Moral philosophy is the only workable option for a human moral system. Philosophers have been thinking about and arguing about such moral systems since Aristotle, and have come quite far in working out how such systems can work. This is far preferable to a system based upon conflicting traditions about what an unprovable lawgiver allegedly told members of a primitive agrarian society about how he wants people to behave.
    Quote Originally Posted by Massimo Pigliucci
    On ethics, part I: Moral philosophy’s third way

    Where does all of this leave us? With the idea that morality is a human (and other relevantly similar beings’) phenomenon, so that to talk about universal morality makes precisely no sense. But human beings share certain (local to the species) attributes, such as preferring a long and healthy life to a nasty and short one, and it is those parameters of humanness that set the axioms of our moral thinking. Ethical reasoning, then, consists of what sort of rules and outcomes logically emerge from that particular set of assumptions. Just like a good mathematician would do, we pick the most promising axioms and work with them, but we acknowledge that sometimes the search gets stuck into unproductive corners of logical space and we go back and — cautiously — tweak the assumptions themselves and get back to work.

    Two obvious caveats about ethics’ third way: first, the assumptions from which we start are arrived at empirically (human nature), but this does not mean that science is sufficient to answer moral questions, because most of the work is done by logical analysis unpacking the implications of those assumptions. Second, I am not arguing that what is (human nature) in any straightforward way determines what ought to be (ethics), I am simply taking the eminently sensible position that morality is about human behavior, and so it cannot prescind from considerations of human nature.

    ...

    * Moral reasonism (for lack of a better term): If assumptions {W,Z} are accepted, then X is right / wrong.

    Where the assumptions are provided by our best (and changing) understanding of human nature, and the rest is done via rational thinking.
    Would you agree with these three gentlemen?

    Quote Originally Posted by Cheerful Charlie View Post
    It has long been my claim that ethics comes from evolution. We have evolved emotions, and when we are cheated, rapes, robbed, tortured, attacked et al, we suffer and we have an emotional response to that sort of maltreatment. And of course the opposite when good things happen to us. We have emotional responses to seeing our family members badly treat, friends and acquaintances, and finally, people at large, even if we don't know them.

    These emotional responses and pain et al are very real, and underlie ethics and morals, and moral systems. Unfortunately, we also have emotions of hate that can be used to justify dealing badly with others. We also have ability to reason abstractly and that can be a problem when we abstractly erect societies, religions, ideologies, cultures and subcultures that claim to justify evils that inflict suffering for no good reason on innocent people. So ethics and morals means examining such things carefully, and not let these sort of things become powerful forces.

    Ethics then becomes entangled in sociology, anthropology, and politics. And we cannot separate ethics from these larger issues. which is where a lot of ethics studies seems to do an inadequate job of dealing with ethics and morality. Poverty and poorly run societies can become behavioral sinks. Like say, El Salvador. Abstract ideas like racism can cause entire societies to become evil, like Hitler's Nazi Germany.

    In the end, ethics is a massive and complex subject.
    Yes, morality comes from evolution. But that's a role, not a foundation. Tendencies to violence and xenophobia undoubtedly also have evolutionary origins, yet modern liberal democratic society chooses not to endorse them. So clearly we are not slaves to our evolutionary impulses.

  6. Top | #16
    Contributor DBT's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    ɹǝpunuʍop puɐן
    Posts
    9,913
    Archived
    17,906
    Total Posts
    27,819
    Rep Power
    73
    What we call cheating, stealing, killing, etc, are verifiable, quantifiable, testable, there is a loss of property, a body is found.....these are objective things.

  7. Top | #17
    Veteran Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Location
    Buenos Aires
    Posts
    2,487
    Archived
    7,588
    Total Posts
    10,075
    Rep Power
    55
    Quote Originally Posted by Tammuz
    If this is the case, what then is the job of moral philosophy? How does it proceed?
    The question about the "job" of moral philosophy suggests proper function. But then, assuming moral realism is false for some reason, for all I know whatever brings it down also brings down proper function with it. After all, there appear to be clear similarities in the arguments against realism in both realms (i.e., against proper function and morality). Now, all the arguments I've seen fail, and perhaps an argument that would succeed against moral realism would not succeed against proper function, but I would not assume so.

    As for the question "How does it proceed?", that seems ambiguous. Does it mean 'How should moral philosophers proceed?'. If so, it seems that there is no fact of the matter in the moral sense. In a means-to-ends sense, how each philosopher will proceed depends on her specific goals. Otoh, if by "How does it proceed?" you mean 'How will it proceed?', that too depends on each philosopher.


    At any rate, if somehow there is a proper function of moral philosophy even if moral realism is false, then I would guess the functions would be to find and explain moral truths. In this case, if a moral error theory holds, the moral truths would be that it is not immoral to kill or rape people for fun, it is not immoral to spread fake news for money, it is not immoral to be a con artist, Stalin was not a bad person, and so on - as nothing at all is ever immoral, no person is bad, etc.

    Now, if only a partial error theory holds, then I would guess the function is also to figure those out.

    Finally, if some other sort of anti-realism is true, the only goal I could guess is metaethical - namely, to figure out that realism is false, what sort of anti-realism is true, and then come up with good arguments showing those truths.

  8. Top | #18
    Contributor ruby sparks's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2017
    Location
    Northern Ireland
    Posts
    7,302
    Rep Power
    19
    Quote Originally Posted by Tammuz View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Massimo Pigliucci
    With the idea that morality is a human (and other relevantly similar beings’) phenomenon, so that to talk about universal morality makes precisely no sense. But human beings share certain (local to the species) attributes, such as preferring a long and healthy life to a nasty and short one, and it is those parameters of humanness that set the axioms of our moral thinking.
    I would go along with that. Very much so.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tammuz View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Massimo Pigliucci
    Ethical reasoning, then, consists of what sort of rules and outcomes logically emerge from that particular set of assumptions. Just like a good mathematician would do, we pick the most promising axioms and work with them, but we acknowledge that sometimes the search gets stuck into unproductive corners of logical space and we go back and — cautiously — tweak the assumptions themselves and get back to work.
    I'm not sure I would go along with that. I don't think we use logic as much as we might like to think. I'd say we use emotion a lot, possibly much more.

    I would say that we form our moral opinions very quickly, based on 'gut instinct' and/or intuition. We may reason about them subsequently but I think that (a) it's post-hoc, (b) doesn't easily or often lead us to a new or different opinion (the original one takes quite some shifting in other words) and (c) often isn't logical, except in the colloquial sense.
    "Let us hope that it is not so. Or if it is, let us pray that the fact does not become generally known."

  9. Top | #19
    Veteran Member Wiploc's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Location
    Denver
    Posts
    2,255
    Archived
    14,058
    Total Posts
    16,313
    Rep Power
    67
    Quote Originally Posted by ruby sparks View Post
    I would say that we form our moral opinions very quickly, based on 'gut instinct' and/or intuition. We may reason about them subsequently but I think that (a) it's post-hoc, (b) doesn't easily or often lead us to a new or different opinion (the original one takes quite some shifting in other words) and (c) often isn't logical, except in the colloquial sense.
    Good post; it lets me address the OP.

    Forming moral opinions quickly, based on instinct and intuition, is not the job of moral philosophy.

    The job of moral philosophy is to do the subsequent reasoning, to avoid post hoc, to do the heavy shifting required to bring opinions into conformity with logic, and to be logical in the actual sense.
    Last edited by Wiploc; 04-01-2020 at 05:53 AM.

  10. Top | #20
    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Oregon's westernmost
    Posts
    12,527
    Archived
    18,213
    Total Posts
    30,740
    Rep Power
    57
    What is the job of moral philosophy?

    The job of moral philosophy is to lessen the effects on members of tribal brutality.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •