Casey

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What does 'wrong' mean in Dr. Craig's argument?
« on: July 23, 2008, 12:07:10 am »
Of Dr. Craig's five usual arguments for God's existence, I find the moral argument to be the least convincing (which isn't to say I find the others unconvincing at all).  This is because the argument rests on sheer intuition, as when Dr. Craig says "...and I think we all know it," referring to the fact that we "just know" objective moral values to exist.  I suppose he considers our belief in objective moral values to be basic and thus not something to be argued for, but objective moral values are not basic for me in this sense.  I appreciate that for those for whom objective moral values are basic, though, the argument will go more smoothly.

But mainly I wanted to mention that I'm always confused by Dr. Craig's presentation of the argument in debates because I cannot remember him ever having defined what it means for an action to be "wrong."  I've heard him define "objective."  Something is objective if it is so regardless of human opinion on the matter.  But what does it mean to say something is wrong?  Or right?

If calling some act wrong simply means it is forbidden, then it seems there would have to be some agent to do the forbidding, namely by enacting some law against the act.  If that is what it means for something to be wrong, then the moral argument becomes stronger, in my eyes, since perhaps only God would be able to hand down a moral law which would apply to all of humanity regardless of their opinion on it (so as to be an objective moral law).  But how do we know that an act's being forbidden is what makes it "wrong"?  Reasoning like this makes me able to see G.E. Moore's point in Principia Ethica, where he said that the terms good and bad (and perhaps he added right and wrong) cannot be defined, and that we must simply intuit which things are good and bad, right and wrong.

The definition of "wrong" is not apparent to me.  When Dr. Craig calls something wrong, is he using a standard philosophical definition of "wrong" that I do not know about?

I'd like to go on to make another point that's always bothered me about Dr. Craig's moral argument, though.  My point rests on a notion of "wrong" that would come close to equating "wrongness" with "viciousness," in the sense this term has in virtue theory.  The ethical systems of Plato and Aristotle are alike in that they are both eudaimonistic.  That is, they are primarily concerned with happiness, the Greek word for happiness being eudaimonia.  And while neither Plato nor Aristotle afford God a substantial place in their ethical theories, as I read them, they nevertheless believe that moral values are objective.  This is because they see a bad or wrong act as one which causes us to be unhappy, and they believe that the acts which cause us to be unhappy do so regardless of our opinion on what things are right and wrong.  This is because we possess a human nature which can only be fulfilled by certain acts, and which must be corrupted by certain other acts; thus such acts are right and wrong because they lead us to happiness or unhappiness, and these acts achieve this insofar as they allow us to fulfill, if you will, our human nature.

But if there is anything to such eudaimonistic systems of ethics, and indeed I tend to conceive of ethics in this way, then it is possible to have objective moral values without God.  To repeat, this is because moral values -- right and wrong, good and bad -- are to be defined in relation to our human nature, whether they corrupt or fulfill it.  Since human opinion does not affect which actions are good and which are bad (e.g. a thief can steal all he wants, believing this will bring him happiness, but he is mistaken; indeed, the whole world could believe sexual promiscuity leads to happiness, but the world would be mistaken, because an act is good, i.e. happiness-producing, irrespective of human opinion about it), and since these actions are good and bad (or right and wrong) whether or not God exists, it is possible to have objective moral values if God does not exist.

Of course it would follow that Dr. Craig's argument fails.


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Maverick Christian

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What does 'wrong' mean in Dr. Craig's argument?
« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2008, 09:15:42 pm »

Casey1981 wrote: Of Dr. Craig's five usual arguments for God's existence, I find the moral argument to be the least convincing (which isn't to say I find the others unconvincing at all). This is because the argument rests on sheer intuition, as when Dr. Craig says "...and I think we all know it," referring to the fact that we "just know" objective moral values to exist. I suppose he considers our belief in objective moral values to be basic and thus not something to be argued for, but objective moral values are not basic for me in this sense. I appreciate that for those for whom objective moral values are basic, though, the argument will go more smoothly.


If they're not basic they're close to it.  Cultural relativism says being violently anti-Semitic is morally right if that's what one's culture believes. Ethical subjectivism says an individual trying to exterminate the Jews is morally right if that's what the individual believes. Moral nihilism says there's nothing morally wrong with the Holocaust. None of these alternatives seem even remotely plausible (to me at least).

Casey1981 wrote: But mainly I wanted to mention that I'm always confused by Dr. Craig's presentation of the argument in debates because I cannot remember him ever having defined what it means for an action to be "wrong." I've heard him define "objective." Something is objective if it is so regardless of human opinion on the matter. But what does it mean to say something is wrong? Or right?


I'm guessing his definition is close to what mine is.  My own definition is that an action is wrong if we ought not to do it, and an action is right if we ought to do it.  The odd thing about moral statements is that they tell us not what is but what ought to be.  Morality (how I define it anyway) is the set of statements and principles correctly describing how one should and should not behave.  Craig could probably come up with a better definition (I admit that mine is a bit rough), but this is the one I use when debating the argument from morality, because to the very least morality consists of behavioral prohibitions and obligations.


I'd like to go on to make another point that's always bothered me about Dr. Craig's moral argument, though. My point rests on a notion of "wrong" that would come close to equating "wrongness" with "viciousness," in the sense this term has in virtue theory. The ethical systems of Plato and Aristotle are alike in that they are both eudaimonistic. That is, they are primarily concerned with happiness, the Greek word for happiness being eudaimonia. And while neither Plato nor Aristotle afford God a substantial place in their ethical theories, as I read them, they nevertheless believe that moral values are objective. This is because they see a bad or wrong act as one which causes us to be unhappy, and they believe that the acts which cause us to be unhappy do so regardless of our opinion on what things are right and wrong. This is because we possess a human nature which can only be fulfilled by certain acts, and which must be corrupted by certain other acts; thus such acts are right and wrong because they lead us to happiness or unhappiness, and these acts achieve this insofar as they allow us to fulfill, if you will, our human nature.

But if there is anything to such eudaimonistic systems of ethics, and indeed I tend to conceive of ethics in this way, then it is possible to have objective moral values without God.


I don't think that's quite true.  Suppose we have "kindness" (promoting happiness and well-being of individuals) and "viciousness" (promoting pain and destruction of individuals) as our two key abstract concepts.  How is it that we ought to value one concept and not the other?  What if I think I ought to value viciousness over kindness?  Who or what lays down the obligation for kindness and the prohibition for viciousness?  It seems like we're going to have to appeal to some type of sovereign entity that says how we ought to behave.  Otherwise, there’s nothing that makes one virtue and the other a vice (in the sense that we should pursue one over the other).

What about simply defining the word "good" to simply mean "that which promotes well-being of individuals"?  We still get the problem I described above, because making definitions of this sort does not actually imply real morality; i.e. the idea that there is certain conduct that we ought to do and certain behaviors we ought not to do.  For example, the mere act of making up the word "florup" to only mean "that which promotes well being of individuals" doesn't imply that we really ought to do florup.  Of course, it might be the case that we ought to do florup, but the mere definition of the word is not what makes it true, i.e. "we ought to do florup" is not an analytic truth like "all bachelors are unmarried" is.  So who or what says we ought to do florup (i.e. promote the well-being of individuals)?  The sequence of letters we use (whether it be "florup," "kindness," or "kltpyxm") to refer to the concept of "that which promotes well-being of individuals" is irrelevant of course. In the end, we still need something or someone to lay down obligations and prohibitions for our behavior.  Again, who or what lays down the obligation for kindness and the prohibition for viciousness?


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Casey

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What does 'wrong' mean in Dr. Craig's argument?
« Reply #2 on: July 24, 2008, 12:23:44 am »
It might seem surprising, but just as I said I don't know what 'wrong' means in the moral argument, I wouldn't know what 'ought' would mean if it were substituted in the place of 'wrong' in the argument.  Perhaps, as I mentioned in connection to G.E. Moore, these terms must be understood as being irreducible.  That is, to say something is wrong, or that you ought not do it, means just that and nothing else; to attempt to use other terms to define these would be a mistake.  This might be true, but I would still be unsure about what 'wrong' and 'ought' mean.  I would like to see them defined more fully.

The same goes for prohibitions.  What does it mean to prohibit an action?  What I do believe is that it's possible to use the term 'prohibition' to speak of a cause and effect relationship that exists between some action we commit and its outcome.  For example, to say an act is prohibited could be understood to mean that performing that act will result in one's being sent to hell.  If prohibition refers to something more than this cause and effect relationship, though, I don't know what that is.

Also, I do think it's possible to have objective moral values without believing that certain actions are prohibited or that they ought not be performed.  This is because, if we follow Plato and Aristotle and the eudaimonistic tradition of centering ethics on the attainment of happiness, it is possible to hold that a moral value is what promotes or detracts from happiness.  These values would be objective because, given the fixity of human nature, certain actions must produce happiness while other actions detract from it, regardless of human opinion about what actions produce and detract from happiness.

Perhaps I've just repeated what I said before, so I'll try to be clearer in light of your (so well put!) response.  First, there is a way of conceiving of ethics which doesn't involves ought-statements or prohibitions.  Second, this type of ethics can be objective.  Third, given the fact that this type of ethics can be formulated without reference to God, it is possible to have objective moral values without God.  But fourth, I generally agree with Dr. Craig that it is probably not possible to believe in objective moral values without believing in God, if one understands such values as prohibitions, or as true universal ought-statements, or as certain actions being wrong (assuming we are defining wrong in terms or prohibitions and ought-ness).

And finally, this was why I began by asking how Dr. Craig is defining 'wrong' in his moral argument.  If he is in fact defining wrong in terms of prohibitions and ought-ness, then I would object that this is not the only way of conceiving of an action as being wrong.  His conception of wrong makes no sense without God, while the conception of wrong in eudaimonistic ethics only has to do with actions which lead away from happiness, objectively speaking.  If all Dr. Craig's argument aims to show is that we cannot have objective moral laws without a super-human lawgiver (since if the lawgiver(s) involved are human, their laws will never be anything more than subjective), then this makes sense to me.  But it wouldn't follow that there might not be objective moral values without God, because there is a way of conceiving of moral values that has nothing to do with ought statements or prohibitions.

I know Dr. Craig often quotes Dostoevsky: "If there is no God, then everything is permitted."  And in fact I agree with this.  If we assume God doesn't exist, then yes, everything is permitted, in the sense that nothing would be prohibited.  But this doesn't at all mean that actions no longer have any objective moral value.  Remove God, and some actions will still promote or detract from happiness objectively, and herein lies their moral value.  We might add to Dostoevsky's saying: "If there is no God, then everything is permitted, but certain actions will still bring you (and everyone else) to or away from happiness.  You are not prohibited from choosing any action, but you must also accept that certain of your actions will objectively affect your happiness."

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Harvey

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What does 'wrong' mean in Dr. Craig's argument?
« Reply #3 on: July 24, 2008, 09:42:36 am »

Casey1981 wrote: If he is in fact defining wrong in terms of prohibitions and ought-ness, then I would object that this is not the only way of conceiving of an action as being wrong.  His conception of wrong makes no sense without God, while the conception of wrong in eudaimonistic ethics only has to do with actions which lead away from happiness, objectively speaking.  If all Dr. Craig's argument aims to show is that we cannot have objective moral laws without a super-human lawgiver (since if the lawgiver(s) involved are human, their laws will never be anything more than subjective), then this makes sense to me.  But it wouldn't follow that there might not be objective moral values without God, because there is a way of conceiving of moral values that has nothing to do with ought statements or prohibitions.

In my view, an action can be morally wrong for three possible reasons:

a) A morally wrong action is forbidden by a moral lawgiving agent
b) A morally wrong action is contrary to eudaimonistic ethics
c) A morally wrong action lacks meaning

Let me demonstrate by applying these three principles to grammatically wrong phrases:

a') A grammatically wrong French phrase is forbidden by Académie française  (the organization that controls the French language)
b') A grammatically wrong French phrase is contrary to having an enjoyable conversation in French
c') A grammatically wrong French phrase lacks meaning and successive misuses of the language would entirely break down the meaning of the language

In the case of (c'), we see that both (a') and (b') are affected. Afterall, the intent of the Académie française to have a meaningful language is disrupted by widespread use of incorrect grammar. Similarly, enjoyable conversations in French are also affected by incorrect grammar.

If we take (c) as primitive, then it's entirely understandable why God forbids morally wrong actions and also why morally wrong actions cannot exist in an atheistic setting. God, as the agent that establishes meaning in the world, would not accept any action that removed meaning to the world. In addition, since meaning is intrinsically connected to intent, there would be no objective meaning without some fundamental intent to the world brought into being by God.

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Maverick Christian

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What does 'wrong' mean in Dr. Craig's argument?
« Reply #4 on: July 24, 2008, 11:08:07 pm »
Casey1981 wrote: It might seem surprising, but just as I said I don't know what 'wrong' means in the moral argument, I wouldn't know what 'ought' would mean if it were substituted in the place of 'wrong' in the argument.


"Ought" is used to express obligation, but beyond synonyms like this I don't know how to really explain it.


Casey1981 wrote: The same goes for prohibitions.  What does it mean to prohibit an action?


A prohibition, in the context of morality, means we ought not to do something; to forbid by authority.  Of course, you might say you don't understand the words I'm using to describe this either.  What is "ought"?  It basically means "should."  What does that mean?  It's used to express obligation.  What does obligation mean?  And so on and so forth.


Casey1981 wrote: Also, I do think it's possible to have objective moral values without believing that certain actions are prohibited or that they ought not be performed.  This is because, if we follow Plato and Aristotle and the eudaimonistic tradition of centering ethics on the attainment of happiness, it is possible to hold that a moral value is what promotes or detracts from happiness.  These values would be objective because, given the fixity of human nature, certain actions must produce happiness while other actions detract from it, regardless of human opinion about what actions produce and detract from happiness.


That's true, but why is it that we ought to pursue happiness over, say, misery?  If "morally right" means only that which produces happiness, then there is no sense of obligation or ought-ness (which I realize was probably your intention).  But such is the problem of trying to define "morally right" in purely descriptive terms.  You may use a word that means the measure of happiness, but then you can't tell me my behavior is actually incorrect or that I shouldn't do it if I set off a bomb in a crowded mall.  If "moral value" is simply descriptive measure of a certain emotion, then this act is no more "wrong" (in the sense I shouldn't have done it) than the low temperature of space.


Casey1981 wrote: Perhaps I've just repeated what I said before, so I'll try to be clearer in light of your (so well put!) response.  First, there is a way of conceiving of ethics which doesn't involves ought-statements or prohibitions.  


It isn't clear though that what you're describing is really ethics any more. For one, a definition of ethics that does not at all involve prohibitions seems shaky.  After all, isn't "thou shalt not steal" a moral statement?  Doesn't the phrase "rape is morally wrong" at least imply that we ought not to do it?

It's true that one can redefine the phrase "morally good" to mean "certain actions that promote happiness."  But then again, one can define "morally good" to mean "that which causes pain to others."  Which definition is better?  Or is it all a matter of personal taste?  If it's the latter, then we don't really have objective morality here.  If one definition is better than the other, if we ought to pursue one goal over the other, then the notion of moral obligations and prohibitions sets in.

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Snakeystew

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What does 'wrong' mean in Dr. Craig's argument?
« Reply #5 on: August 03, 2008, 07:41:10 pm »
morally wrong actions cannot exist in an atheistic setting.


Incorrect:

http://www.strongatheism.net/library/philosophy/case_for_objective_morality/



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Maverick Christian

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What does 'wrong' mean in Dr. Craig's argument?
« Reply #6 on: August 05, 2008, 10:25:25 pm »
Snakeystew wrote:
morally wrong actions cannot exist in an atheistic setting.


Incorrect:

http://www.strongatheism.net/library/philosophy/case_for_objective_morality/
 

From the website:

   

The unit of ethics is values. Values are things that one must work to gain or keep (a simple example of that is nutrition). These values are short-handed ways of expressing moral principles (ex. “we need to eat because otherwise we die”), and moral principles are short-handed way of expressing scientific or social facts (such as the facts about metabolism).

   

This article basically frames morality in terms of a hypothetical imperative.  To obtain the fulfillment of humanity (i.e. its happiness and survival) we do certain actions.  A hypothetical imperatives take the form if “If the goal is A, do B.”  Hypothetical imperatives tell us what sorts of actions help to achieve certain goals.  A few examples: if you want to benefit humanity, be nice to people; if you want to rape someone, it helps if she is weaker than you.  Notice that hypothetical imperatives can be used to achieve moral or immoral ends.  The problem with hypothetical imperatives in our case is that they don’t tell us which goal we ought to pursue in the first place.  This is the key problem the author faces with his attempt to provide a basis for objective morality.

   

“If the goal is to benefit humanity (ensure its survival and happiness) these actions help to achieve that goal.”  This tells us what to do to accomplish a certain goal, but who or what says we ought to pursue this goal instead of, say, the destruction of humanity?  What if I am an extreme suicidal misanthrope and what I value is the destruction of all mankind?  Who or what says I ought to value human life instead?  The author of the article doesn’t really have an answer to that.  The author points out what we need to do achieve certain benefits for humanity (i.e. a hypothetical imperative), but doesn’t describe who or what says we ought to pursue this goal.  Pure reason cannot in isolation tell us what goals to achieve; it can only give us hypothetical imperatives.

 

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Snakeystew

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What does 'wrong' mean in Dr. Craig's argument?
« Reply #7 on: August 06, 2008, 10:03:18 pm »

The problem with hypothetical imperatives in our case is that they don’t tell us which goal we ought to pursue in the first place.


http://www.strongatheism.net/library/philosophy/is_ought_false_dichotemy/

Regards,

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Maverick Christian

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What does 'wrong' mean in Dr. Craig's argument?
« Reply #8 on: August 07, 2008, 07:49:09 pm »
Snakeystew wrote:

The problem with hypothetical imperatives in our case is that they don’t tell us which goal we ought to pursue in the first place.


http://www.strongatheism.net/library/philosophy/is_ought_false_dichotemy/

Regards,


Yeah, this doesn't quite answer my objection.  Let's take a look at this excerpt:

(I1) Human beings have a metabolism which requires nutrients to be sustained.

Leads to

(I2) Human beings need to eat and drink in a certain way to survive.

Leads to

(V) Nutrition is a value.

Leads to

(O) We ought to eat and drink in a certain way.     

The first two being “is” statements and the last two being “ought” statements. As we can see, it is easy to transpose a scientific fact into a moral value.

Not quite so easy; it's still only a hypothetical imperative.  "If the goal is to have good nutrition, we ought to eat and drink a certain way."  Sure, but we still don't have an answer as to who or what says what are values should be.  If for instance I value death and destruction rather than survival and nutrition, I could get something like "We ought to kill everyone we see."  We need someone or something that says what we ought to value before we have objective moral values.  Again, the author doesn't give us an answer to that question, and in doing so fails provide a real metaphysical basis for objective morality.

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Snakeystew

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What does 'wrong' mean in Dr. Craig's argument?
« Reply #9 on: August 07, 2008, 08:07:35 pm »
"If the goal is to have good nutrition, we ought to eat and drink a certain way." Sure, but we still don't have an answer as to who or what says what are values should be.


Let me just get clarification on this. You seem to be asking me why an organism would care about survival. Right?

If for instance I value death and destruction rather than survival and nutrition, I could get something like "We ought to kill everyone we see."


Sure - and it does and has happened. Such organisms tend not to survive long enough to reproduce.

We need someone or something that says what we ought to value before we have objective moral values.


Survival.

Regards,



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Maverick Christian

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What does 'wrong' mean in Dr. Craig's argument?
« Reply #10 on: August 07, 2008, 11:13:09 pm »
Snakeystew wrote:
"If the goal is to have good nutrition, we ought to eat and drink a certain way." Sure, but we still don't have an answer as to who or what says what are values should be.


Let me just get clarification on this. You seem to be asking me why an organism would care about survival. Right?


No.  I'm asking why an organism should care about its survival and those of its species--and the answer will have to avoid resorting to hypothetical imperatives if it is to be a genuine basis for objective morality.


We need someone or something that says what we ought to value before we have objective moral values.

Survival.


Extinction.

Notice how single word responses like that don't quite solve the problem; in fact they lead us right back to it.  Survival says I should value human life, extinction says I shouldn't.  Who or what says I ought to promote the survival of the human race rather than its extinction?

Indeed, your response "survival" seems to be just another hypothetical imperative; "if we are to survive, we must have these particular values...."  We still need someone or something that says what goals our behavior should strive for; some Supreme Authority that says how everyone should behave; something like God.