Author Topic: Biting the Bullet  (Read 291 times)

AlphaT

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Biting the Bullet
« on: April 29, 2017, 10:30:45 PM »
Recently, I've come across true moral subjectivists who insist on "Biting the Bullet" of morality. They deny that objective moral values exist, and accept that moral values are entirely subjective.

In my current library, I've only found one response to these types of subjectivists. It's to ask them if something like "torturing people for fun" is a good thing. Their response is that it is not a good thing to them, but it may be a good thing for other people. They also claim that their subjective moral opinion on this issue is better than the subjective moral opinions of those who disagree with them, because it is their opinion that their subjective morality is superior.

Honestly, I'm quite confused. My question is where do I go from here? I'm not sure what I can say to or ask of them that would further the conversation.

aleph naught

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Re: Biting the Bullet
« Reply #1 on: April 30, 2017, 11:43:54 AM »
Recently, I've come across true moral subjectivists who insist on "Biting the Bullet" of morality. They deny that objective moral values exist, and accept that moral values are entirely subjective.

In my current library, I've only found one response to these types of subjectivists. It's to ask them if something like "torturing people for fun" is a good thing. Their response is that it is not a good thing to them, but it may be a good thing for other people. They also claim that their subjective moral opinion on this issue is better than the subjective moral opinions of those who disagree with them, because it is their opinion that their subjective morality is superior.

Honestly, I'm quite confused. My question is where do I go from here? I'm not sure what I can say to or ask of them that would further the conversation.

There are some very strong arguments against subjectivism. First of all note that morality being objective is not the same as morality being absolute. Let's define these terms:

Morality is absolute just in case there are some ethical truths that are true of all people, in all places, at all times, and so on.

Morality is objective just in case it is constitutively independent of anyone's preferences or desires or attitudes, or the like. This idea of constitutive dependence is somewhat vague, but I can give some examples. It's the sort of dependence that water has on hydrogen and oxygen particles, that lightening has on the discharge of electrons, that biological life has on organic chemical processes. There are a number of terms that get thrown around, like "reduction" and "grounding", which all have very technical and controversial meanings. I take constitution to be a sort of umbrella concept, that covers all forms of ontological dependence. If this language is getting too technical for you, just go back to water and H2O, and lightening and electrons, and so on. The idea is that the objectivist thinks that goodness does not depend on people's attitudes in the way that water depends on H2O.

I don't think objectivsts should be too concerned with whether or not morality is absolute. If it's generally true that, for example, "abortion is wrong" or that "homosexuals ought to be allowed to get married", then who really cares if there might be fringe cases where these sentences are not true. Such truths would still be significant to our daily lives in all the same ways, after all we don't typically (or even ever) have to deal with fringe cases in our daily lives.

Now, with all that said, let's get into the arguments against subjectivism. I have two. They both identify a feature of morality that does not sit well with subjectivism, and only seems to fit in with objectivism.

The Impartiality of Morality:

This argument is defended by David Enoch in his book "Taking Morality Seriously: A defense of robust realism". He points out that in cases where two people disagree over what should be done, but the disagreement is only a matter of personal preference, then an impartial solution should be sought out by both parties. For example, if you want to go to the movies but I want to go on a hike, but we must spend the day together, then we should decide what we do by flipping a coin, or agreeing to do one today and the other next time, or getting an impartial third party to decide for us. We should not stand our ground, and demand that the other does what we want without compromise.

But notice how different this is from a case where the disagreement is over an ethical choice. Suppose we're hiking through a forest, and we come across a lost dog. I want to bring the dog with us, and take care of it while we try to find its owners. You, on the other hand, want to torture and kill the dog. In this case it would be deeply immoral for me to be willing to compromise. I should not say "Okay, we'll torture and kill the dog this time, and next time we'll care for it". In cases where the disagreement is over an ethical choice, we certainly should stand our ground and demand that the other person does what we want.

So the argument would go something like this:

1. In cases of disagreement where it is solely a matter of conflicting preferences, we should not stand our ground but rather compromise and seek out an impartial solution
2. But on subjectivism, cases of disagreement over an ethical choice are really just cases of disagreement over solely conflicting preferences
3. Therefore, on subjectivism, for cases of disagreement over an ethical choice we should not stand our ground but rather compromise and seek out an impartial solution
4. But for cases of disagreement over an ethical choice we should stand our ground and not compromise
5. Therefore, subjectivism is false

The subjectivist might doubt the premises of the argument, but ask him what is more plausible: these facts about when we should and shouldn't be willing to compromise, or subjectivism? We should not be willing to throw away our common sense ethical in favour of indefensible metaphysical views like subjectivism. (And there really are no good arguments for subjectivism).

The Supervenience of Morality: (If God does not exist, then subjective morality does not exist)

It is commonly thought that morality supervenes on the natural world. That is to say, there cannot be any difference in the goodness of a thing without there being some difference in its natural properties. If two people perform the same action, having the same consequences and the same motives, and the individuals having roughly the same histories and making all the same commitments and taking on all the same responsibilities, then it seems impossible for one to have done wrong while the other has not.

But human preferences and opinions do not supervene on the natural world. It's always possible for humans to form any opinion or preference for anything, human psychology is mutable and contingent and is not determined by the natural world in the same way that morality is. For a concrete example, consider the case of two thieves. One thief has stolen a loaf of bread to feed some starving orphans, whereas the other thief has embezzled millions of dollars from a charitable organization for no reason other than his own greed. The first thief, it seems, has not done anything immoral or, even if he has, only barely so. On the other hand, the second thief has clearly done something deeply immoral. The ethical difference between the two is determined by the natural differences between them. The first thief stole out of desperation and a selfless wish to provide for the children, he didn't take more than he needed, and his act probably didn't have significantly bad consequences. The second thief stole despite needing nothing, his act was incredibly selfish, and it would have had very bad consequences (that money was supposed to go to charity, to those who need it!). This is all rather obvious, it's easy to pinpoint the natural factors that are at play in determining the ethical status of these actions. If these natural factors were not different, then the ethical status of these actions might not have been different either.

But now consider how the subjective facts play into this scenario. It's surely possible that everyone had all the same attitudes towards these two thieves. It's possible that these thieves broke all the same social norms, and received all the same reactions from society. It's possible that people would not differentiate between the two thieves, when evaluating their actions.

But then clearly moral properties do not supervene solely on subjective properties. It is possible for there to be a difference in the moral properties of a thing (an action, a person, or an event) without there being a difference in how people respond to that thing, or the attitudes they have towards that thing, and so on.

Now, it's also commonly accepted that supervenience is necessary for constitutive dependence. I wont get into explaining this, but I think it's pretty plausible at face value. How can one thing be constituted of another, when the one doesn't supervene on the other? It doesn't seem possible. In every other case, water and H2O, lightening and the discharge of electrons, and biological life and organic chemical processes, this supervenience relationship clearly holds. E.g. there cannot be any difference about the water in your glass without there being some difference in the H2O particles in your glass.

But, subjectivism just is defined as the view that moral properties supervene solely on subjective properties. That, ultimately, morality is just a matter of personal preference or opinion, and nothing more.

Therefore, subjectivism must be false.

Now one funny point is that this argument only works if you consider an atheistic form of subjectivism. Suppose you think that morality is constituted of God's personal preferences or opinions. Well God's personal preferences and opinions are not so mutable and contingent as those of humans. You might think that God's personal preferences and opinions, at least at face value, do appear to supervene on the natural facts. And so I would conclude that subjectivism is only maintainable if you believe in something like a god, some subject whose attitudes and preferences are unchanging and align with what we would take as common sense ethical truth.

Sorry that turned into a really long post, hopefully it's not too difficult to understand.
« Last Edit: April 30, 2017, 12:39:52 PM by aleph naught »

AlphaT

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Re: Biting the Bullet
« Reply #2 on: April 30, 2017, 08:24:34 PM »
Thank you for the reply, but I was hoping for advise on how to continue the current conversation. What do you say to someone who has bit the bullet of subjective moral values? They believe that torturing others for fun is wrong only to them, not to anyone else.
What question do you then ask them to challenge their thinking?

Also, a point on your first argument...


1. In cases of disagreement where it is solely a matter of conflicting preferences, we should not stand our ground but rather compromise and seek out an impartial solution


Is there any logical justification for this premise? And isn't this itself an objective moral value?

aleph naught

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Re: Biting the Bullet
« Reply #3 on: April 30, 2017, 10:08:07 PM »
Thank you for the reply, but I was hoping for advise on how to continue the current conversation. What do you say to someone who has bit the bullet of subjective moral values? They believe that torturing others for fun is wrong only to them, not to anyone else.
What question do you then ask them to challenge their thinking?

Well I wouldn't ask them a question, I would just refute their view with the arguments I mentioned before.

But I suppose if I were to question them I'd just ask them why they believe what they do. Do they even have any defense of subjectivism? What justification do they have for the belief that torturing others for fun is wrong only to them, and not to anyone else?

Quote
Also, a point on your first argument...

1. In cases of disagreement where it is solely a matter of conflicting preferences, we should not stand our ground but rather compromise and seek out an impartial solution

Is there any logical justification for this premise? And isn't this itself an objective moral value?

Well I think it's just obvious, don't you? Some things don't need any further defense.

But the premise of my argument doesn't assume that morality is objective, it just assumes that there's such a thing as morality. And that's something the subjectivist is supposedly on board with.

Aaron Massey

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Re: Biting the Bullet
« Reply #4 on: May 04, 2017, 07:39:30 AM »
Thank you for the reply, but I was hoping for advise on how to continue the current conversation. What do you say to someone who has bit the bullet of subjective moral values? They believe that torturing others for fun is wrong only to them, not to anyone else.
What question do you then ask them to challenge their thinking?

You should listen to Aleph before me...... But i would say, question there moral claims to see if they have a foundation for them...  for a simple response...

Quote
"although you only think torturing for fun is wrong to you, Do you care that others torture for fun?"

Then continue the questions in this vein...
and if so, why? and where does that come from? Why do others also share your beliefs that torturing is wrong? If you think Torturing is wrong yet others dont, would you be allowed to stop them? should you? How far can you go in stopping them?   

Hopefully you can lead them to applying such notions universally, so.. what does a world look like where everyone totures for fun?  is that acceptable?  if it is then he... well hope he doesn't. .... if he says no... then you state that, that does not fit in with his claim Morality is subjective... for it to be so, would make such a world a "reasonable" concept so to speak, which he really cant reject as he accepts that some people think torturing is fun.   
It can be hard for people to stand by that idea...well i hope it is.
Proverbs 8:30 "then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man."

Rostos

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Re: Biting the Bullet
« Reply #5 on: May 29, 2017, 02:47:31 AM »
Recently, I've come across true moral subjectivists who insist on "Biting the Bullet" of morality. They deny that objective moral values exist, and accept that moral values are entirely subjective.

In my current library, I've only found one response to these types of subjectivists. It's to ask them if something like "torturing people for fun" is a good thing. Their response is that it is not a good thing to them, but it may be a good thing for other people. They also claim that their subjective moral opinion on this issue is better than the subjective moral opinions of those who disagree with them, because it is their opinion that their subjective morality is superior.

Honestly, I'm quite confused. My question is where do I go from here? I'm not sure what I can say to or ask of them that would further the conversation.

If morality is subjective, then how can there moral opinion "be better" or be "superior"?

This is an incoherent conclusion.

Consider a straight line. A perfectly straight line.

If we both tried to draw straight line by freehand, then whose drawing is better? Well, we would compare our drawings against the "perfectly straight line" and then we could see which drawing is better or superior.

We can ONLY do this because a perfectly straight line exists and thus we can compare it against.

However if a straight line does not exist, then whose drawing is better? If a straight line does not exist, then it would be incoherent to argue whose drawing is better because what are we comparing it against?

If objective morality doesnt exist, then how on earth can one say there morality is better? It is essentially an incoherent statement.
"My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts," says the LORD. "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
Isiah 55:8

"For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." - Mathew 23-12