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Objective Morality Without God

Discussion in 'Ethics and Morals' started by vulcanlogician, Dec 30, 2022.

  1. vulcanlogician

    vulcanlogician Active Member

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    Hi folks. The idea of objective morality is something I've given serious scrutiny since I began studying philosophy.

    One key item I think it's good to settle before proceeding into the thick of metaethics is what role God or (insert religious entity here) has to do with whether morality is objective or not.

    Some people think morality is subjective. "Is morality subjective or objective?" is another very important ethical query. But that's not the question I'm asking here. My question is: "If morality IS objective, could God's pronouncement be the thing that makes it so?"

    I tend to think: no.

    In my view of things "stealing is wrong" or "stealing is bad" aren't true simply because God says so.

    In my view, stealing is wrong for reasons. Personally, I see a plethora of things wrong with theft. It causes suffering. Arguments could be made that we are entitled to the fruits of our own labor. Plenty of reasons stealing is wrong. And if THOSE REASONS explain why stealing is wrong, then God's forbiddance of it has little to do with the objectivity of the statement: "stealing is bad." God's pronouncement that stealing is forbidden has nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of it. Even if God exists and created the universe, his commandments cannot be what makes things right or wrong.

    Some of you may notice that I'm hitting on an ancient Greek argument. But I don't want to get stuck on that argument. I'd like to move beyond it. I think there are even more reasons than the ones I've listed in this OP. But this is as good of a starting point as any.

    So does anyone disagree with me here? If so, where precisely has my reasoning gone astray? And what good arguments can you quote (or produce yourself) that support the thesis that God existing is necessary for morality to be objective?
     
    #1 vulcanlogician, Dec 30, 2022
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2022
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  2. Rival

    Rival Ecclesia Gentium
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    To play devil's advocate...

    What is wrong with suffering and how do you know? Can this reason be objective or does it come down to 'we don't like it'?
     
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  3. sun rise

    sun rise Śvāna Dharma
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    Just to get it out of the way, what is moral has changed over time. People used to think that sacrificing children to the gods was a moral act. We of course are horrified at that idea.
     
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  4. Brickjectivity

    Brickjectivity Turned to Stone. Now I stretch daily.
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    Let us suppose that God makes commandments, although this is not necessarily the case. In another alternative case suppose that God commands not that something is right or wrong but that it is to be made right or wrong by us. This second case is not something you have treated. Perhaps we do have the power to make something right or wrong. Ignoring the second case I will only look at the first, your original case.

    I don't disagree with your case. Ignoring whether we can make stealing right or wrong, is there a universal principle that God can make by pronouncement? For example if God were to announce that stealing was always good, would it be good? To me this would not make sense either with how right and wrong works nor with how God works, and so I'd agree. To make stealing always right requires that stealing benefit the one being stolen from, else it is not consistent which consistency is our only basis for determining and judging whether God could do such a thing. If we presume God can make reality inconsistent then right and wrong are meaningless.
     
  5. Nakosis

    Nakosis Time Efficient Lollygagger
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    Stealing isn't always bad.
    Survival is good and sometimes theft is necessary for survival.

    However theft is generally bad for the group. This allows some moral traits to be passed down by groups who have successfully survived.
    I see morals as a result of feelings. We feel what is good and what is bad. Feelings what we feel is cause by the release of chemicals into our system. Our brains get wired by genetics, experience and culture to cause us to feel good or bad about certain actions/thoughts we have.

    Our DNA has survived through millions of years which now provide some commonality of feelings about actions and thoughts which are good and bad. So I'd argue against the idea of objective morals since humans morals are a result of our subjective evolutionary experience. However some common morals, even though there remains outliers in the human species.
     
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  6. Ella S.

    Ella S. Well-Known Member

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    In theology, God is considered to be the substance of everything. He's not a subject, but all subjects and all objects. I can see why God would be seen as capable of putting forward an objective form of ethics. It's as if objective reality itself told you what was right and wrong.

    If there is an objective morality, and there is a God, then God would not only know what is objectively moral but would have created that objective morality along with the rest of the universe. In fact, he would be the essence of that morality.
     
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  7. Brian2

    Brian2 Well-Known Member

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    If God gave commands for the Jews to observe then God is deciding what is wrong and right for the Jews. Sometimes it is hard to come up with reasons for some Jewish Laws but it still determines right and wrong for them.
    This sort of thing is the same in any religion where their God/s give commands of what to do or not to do. The conscience of the people is directed by the commands.
    Some people have no god/s and make up their own morality and in that respect they have become their own god/s so God/s determine the morality of all.
     
  8. vulcanlogician

    vulcanlogician Active Member

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    Great question. I was trying to avoid it and just throw out suffering as an example because I'm primarily interested in metaethics in my OP. "What is wrong with suffering and how do you know?" isn't metaethics... it's ethics proper.

    But I don't feel like dodging the question so I'll give you the nutshell answer. First, I say that any ethical theory that can stand with me has to have a concept of good and bad. In this case we are discussing hedonism. Hedonists think that pleasure is good and that pain is bad.

    But how can this be objective? Pain is a subjective experience isn't it? Furthermore, "good and bad" themselves are subjective aren't they? "Pumpkin pie is good." That's a matter of opinion or preference. Someone else might hate pumpkin pie.

    I agree that pain is a subjective experience. But it is also a natural phenomenon. "When a human being puts her hand on a hot stove, she will experience pain." That is an objective statement that is always true (except in fringe cases when somebody has lost feeling in their hand or something. We can get around that by supposing a foot on the stove or something.) The point is, pain is not JUST a subjective phenomena that exists only in our minds. It is an objective event in the world. Because people feel pain, they engage in certain behaviors (like pulling their hand away from the stove). People's behaviors are objective things in the world, they are causes that have effects.

    What about "good and bad" aren't they subjective? They can be, but some instances of "good and bad" are objective formulations that use objective criteria.

    "Micheal Jordan is a good basketball player." Is that an opinion? Or is it something that is determined by a completely objective analysis of his performance at the game? We can draw the line anywhere as far what counts as "good" or "bad." But we can do that with any graph that displays objective information. (Zero degrees celsius has to be SOME temperature). Micheal Jordan is better at basketball than me, for instance. That's an objectively true statement even if you have the opinion that Michael Jordan is (somehow) bad at basketball. "Better than" and "worse than" compared to X objective criteria, create a sense where good and bad can (sometimes) be used objectively.

    Another example: "Jupiter is a good absorber of comets and asteroids that might otherwise strike Earth." .... "Mars is worse than Jupiter at absorbing comets and asteroids that might otherwise strike Earth" Are either of these statements a matter of opinion?

    Then the question becomes what makes pain bad. One answer is that it's axiomatic that pain is bad.

    Let's look at a less controversial axiom: "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line." I suppose someone could deny that if they really wanted to. But then they'd have to go on denying the pythagorean theorem, and a whole host of other things. You may be able to put your hand on the stove and pretend that your experience is "good" for a few moments. But, at some point, your sense of reality will take over and say, "this is bad. this needs to stop right away!" That is the definition of something that is axiomatically true. Something that you can't help but believe upon exposing your senses to it.

    Just like "the shortest distance between two points is a straight line" is obvious to someone who perceives two points. "This is bad" is obvious to anyone who experiences pain.

    We can discuss this further if you have objections (and there are plenty of good objections to what I've said here). But I do want to send out a general reminder that this issue is completely separable from the issue of whether God's say-so makes something good or bad. So we are digressing from the OP's point by pursuing this question. But I'm happy to divert if you want to resolve this issue first.
     
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  9. vulcanlogician

    vulcanlogician Active Member

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    Our idea of what the moon is has changed over time. Some ancient peoples used to think the moon was some kind of goddess. Does that mean we can't figure out what the moon really is?

    PS: I think the moon is a hunk of rock and always has been. But the fact that people used to think it was something else doesn't change what it really is. Does it?
     
    #9 vulcanlogician, Dec 30, 2022
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  10. Wildswanderer

    Wildswanderer Veteran Member

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    Yes you're wrong... you haven't even explained why suffering is bad, or why we deserve the fruits of our labor.. in fact many people argue against that whole idea, and just want to distribute everything equally.
     
  11. vulcanlogician

    vulcanlogician Active Member

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    Agreed. In my personal analysis stealing isn't always bad, and can even sometimes be good. You raise an important point, but I didn't want to preemptively answer points like yours because that would have made my OP endlessly long and unwieldy. So I'll start by saying: you are right. Stealing isn't always bad.

    But who says that survival is good? I actually agree with you. Survival is good. But why? Why do you think survival is good?

    I'm not asking a political question. What if there IS no group?

    Let's say that you are stranded on a desert island with someone . There are an abundance of coconuts around but they are hard to get down from the trees. Lets say that you and another person each acquire a coconut for yourselves for that evening's dinner. If you are suddenly in the mood for two coconuts, does that make it okay for you to steal his?

    Let's assume that it is a one-time deal that you steal the coconut. From then on, the two of you live in harmony, never stealing the others' coconut. Does that make it okay (or morally permissible) that you stole his coconut that one time? Moral objectivity doesn't need societies to exist. And (IMO) has nothing to do with the smooth operation of societies.
     
    #11 vulcanlogician, Dec 30, 2022
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2022
  12. AlexanderG

    AlexanderG Active Member

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    God-based morality is subjective by definition. The moral precepts are based on the opinions and preferences of a subject, namely the god. Objective morality is stance-independent, by which things are moral independent of anyone's opinion on the matter, independent of any minds.

    There are a lot of proposed objective standards not based on any gods, from naturalistic models to platonic forms, etc. So far, the explanation with the most evidence is that cognitive traits like empathy and fairness are adaptive; they are traits that evolved and were conserved because they confer a survival advantage in the form of group cooperation. This doesn't establish that these traits are "objectively right" but does describe an objective source.

    Personally, I think morality is a two-step process:
    1. A subjective component establishing the goals and outcomes that you personally value/prefer.
    2. An objective component, where you identify actions that will objectively promote the outcomes that you prefer.

    If someone doesn't value your god's opinion because they don't think it exists, then they'll never agree on your moral structure. If someone doesn't value human wellbeing or the prevention of suffering, they you'll never get them to buy into moral systems based on that standard, etc.
     
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  13. vulcanlogician

    vulcanlogician Active Member

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    I'm not trying to "make up my own morality that suits me." And I think that sort of thing is misguided. Especially if one wants to say that morality is objective (as I want to say).

    I actually agree with some of those old Jewish commandments. ie. "Stealing is wrong." I agree with that. But I disagree with 50 cotton 50 poly being an abomination. Am I trying to invent my own morality here? No.

    What possible REASON could there be that wearing clothes woven from two different fabrics is wrong? I can't think of any. And thus (not because "I say so" but because "I can't see a reason") it appears to me like the prohibition on theft could be objectively correct while the prohibition of wearing two different fabrics has no good reason.

    I'm not trying to be contrarian. In my honest assessment there IS something wrong with theft. But I fail to see what is wrong with wearing something woven with two different fabrics. It has nothing to do with my opinions. I fully understand the former and am endlessly puzzled by the latter.
     
  14. paarsurrey

    paarsurrey Veteran Member

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    Does one mean that it should not be a human objective to be a moral person but the objective required by one is to be immoral, please? Right?
    I can't imagine a philosopher endeavoring for immorality all the time, for his family and or for the global human family, please. Right?

    Regards
     
    #14 paarsurrey, Dec 30, 2022
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2022
  15. Stevicus

    Stevicus Veteran Member
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    I think morality is practical, and it's objective inasmuch as most reasonable people would at least agree on certain basics - such as "theft is bad." Society wouldn't run very well if everyone was a thief, but I would think that humans might be able to reason and figure it out for themselves before any god would have told them. That is, once human society developed to the point where there actually was something that could be stolen.
     
  16. vulcanlogician

    vulcanlogician Active Member

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    Best argument so far. You really get to the heart of the issue.

    But I think you are trying to bake a pantheist cake, and then eat the cake (as a traditional theist). You can't have your cake and eat it too.

    If God is "The substance of everything. He's not a subject, but all subjects and all objects." Then the suffering of a starving child in Africa is the suffering of God. But you also want to portray God as a figure who is outside of objective reality. Some creative intelligence. What does some creative intelligence care what an African child suffers? Maybe God is trying to create Trump's America or something.

    In which case, it's fine that this kid starves a little bit.... so long as American capitalism is allowed to prevail.

    You know. Because more good comes of it.

    I know you are dissatisfied with such an ethical vision. But I'm curious precisely what makes such a vision dissatisfying.
     
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  17. RestlessSoul

    RestlessSoul Well-Known Member

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    Perhaps not, but it does change the significance of the moon, and it’s impact on the culture of the observer. John Keats wouldn’t have written Endymion if the moon has been just a rock to the ancient Greeks. So we wouldn’t have heard these famous lines (the metaphysical implications of which are easily missed, especially out of context).

    A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
    It’s loveliness increases, it can never
    Fade into nothingness but still will keep
    A bower gentle for us, and a sleep.

    It’s also interesting, I think, that it wasn’t only logic and reason, which post enlightenment Europe admired about the vision of the Greeks. The mythology of the classical world also endures. But this probably has nothing to do with the title of your thread.
     
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  18. Brian2

    Brian2 Well-Known Member

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    People do come up with reasons for Jewish Laws that seem silly to us. eg. someone might say that the mix of materials in clothing is symbolic of God not wanting Jews to have syncretic religion.
    But whatever reason one comes up with the fact remains that for Jews the mix of materials is against God's Law for them.
    For you it is not a law and is not morally wrong.
    An atheist of course has an approach to morality which does not take God into account. An atheist does have to make up their own morality to suite themselves, atheism being a sole venture on the whole.
    Most of it might be common to the morality of most of humanity, religious or not, but atheists would disagree amongst themselves about what is moral or not in many cases.
    Why this difference if morality is purely objective?
    Of course I am talking about relative morality between people.
    How is morality objectively decided by an atheist on the spur of the moment when a decision has to be made?
    The answer might be that they do what feels best at the time and either condemn or justify themselves later in the light of day.
     
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  19. PureX

    PureX Veteran Member

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    Our ethical imperatives determine for us what is deemed "moral behavior" from what is deemed "immoral behavior".

    Our ethical imperatives are subjectively chosen, but can be objectively based. And for most people they are at least somewhat objectively based. That objective basis is derived from the nature of existence, itself. That is, that it is better to exist than not to exist, as demonstrated by the fact that everything that does exist seeks in whatever way it is able to maintain it's existential state. Including ourselves, unless we consciously choose to over-ride that innate impulse.

    Also, philosophically, non-existence renders all ethical value moot. Such that the question of ethics becomes irrelevant. So there can be no ethical imperative based on non-existence to stand as an alternative to the ethical imperative in favor of existence.

    The more subjective aspects of our existential ethical imperatives come from the variation between maintaining OUR existence, and supporting all or some other forms of existence. And this is where our sense of morality clash.
     
    #19 PureX, Dec 31, 2022
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  20. wellwisher

    wellwisher Well-Known Member

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    Morality is not about optimizing the individual, ego. Rather morality is about optimizing the group. Relative morality is the way to optimize the individual. Thou shall not steal, is better for the group. If we all agree and we all do not steal, there is less cost in terms of being defensive.

    Individuals who are thieves for a living, would prefer to be able to steal, and they will justify this with some form of relative morality; I am poor and can steal to balance it off. This has an adverse impact on the group, which can be calculated based on the extra cost of alarming the house or needing a safe deposit box. This is how you make it objective.

    The simplest way to objectify morality, when comparing more codes is to add the total social costs. The lowest social costs will come from the best moral systems.

    The reason morality came to be, is because the team or the group, can become more than the sum of its parts. Picture a large crate full of all the parts needed to build an automobile. If we compare this crate of parts to a fully assembled auto, both have the exact same parts. However, the assembled team of parts, has a whole new dimension of functionality. It is now more than the sum of its parts.

    Morality is about team building which requires people use will and choice to work as part of the team. This may require some sacrifice. Relative morality is more about each part, in the unassembled crate, wanting to be optimized in some idealized way. However, once the parts start going their own way, you cannot build a team that fits together properly. This will create social costs which we can be added; so we can objectify.

    For example, the radiator part may decide it wishes to be larger and beefier so it is strong enough to cool a large truck. But since the parts fit together to form a mid sized automobile, and not a truck, the radiator is now too large, leading to problems. The hood does not close, properly, so wind resistance is worse. We can quantify the lower gas mileage and the extra ties needed to hold down the hood; social programs needed to mop up the mess from immorality; lack of team optimization.

    If you look at religious organizations, social need is often done through charity and volunteers. There is no extra tax or deficit spending to tighten the seams of the group. People who care for the individual on the team will absorb the costs for the team.

    We can compare this to the secular team; Government, which raises taxes or deficit spends to do the same thing, because they do not use a team charity and volunteer model, all the self serving parts do not fit with each other. They need to hire mercenaries, who help for a price.

    This is easy to quantify to see where relative morality creates problems; self serving politicians who form mini teams, that compete, and waste resources to pay for their relative morality. We can quantify that also.
     
    #20 wellwisher, Dec 31, 2022
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2022
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