I believe that morality is derived from a combination of factors and sources.

Family, culture and religion definitely influence morality. Those "seekers" out there who actually read scripture, philosophy and literary classics for their insights into the human condition are also influenced by their quest. Finally, there's abundant evidence that evolution contributes a hereditary component to morality. Empathy and altruism have obvious survival value for social animals such as us humans and other primates.

But none of these factors are necessarily dominant, nor are they the same for everybody. For instance, scriptural influence can be undone by a personal quest.

The factor I find most intriguing is the evolution of empathy. In our tribal days, before religion existed, experience informed us of what hurt or angered us, and empathy told us that the same things probably hurt and angered others as well. This combination of experience and empathy is enough to instill a generalized "sense" of the Golden Rule between tribe members -- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you . . . because we need each other to survive. The Golden Rule, in practice, can be further distilled to: "Do no unnecessary harm."

Nobody is born with a moral code, of course, but empathy and experience are commonly shared by virtually all of us (except aberrant cases): it's part of the human condition. We start developing empathy as toddlers, maybe earlier. As we mature, this "moral intuition" matures: often without our realizing it. This moral intuition is the crux of the Hippocratic Oath and should be the essential principle of our laws. I believe it constitutes a moral substrate that is often more powerful, in some of us, than the morality we learn from other factors. I think this is because it's what we learn first-hand, through observation and experience. All the other sources I can think of are second-hand, from: other people, scripture, literature and authorities.

We actually see the power of moral intuition (and/or other non-religious sources of morality) at work when we consider religious reforms. We no longer tolerate slavery, the subjugation of women, battlefield excesses, child brides, or criminal punishments disproportionate to the crimes committed. These are all values upheld by the Bible, yet we've long since rejected them. In effect, our non-religious morality has overruled and usurped religious morality. Our non-religious morality actually decides what IS religiously moral.

If our own morality actually decides what is religiously moral -- why have religious morality in the first place?

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Sounds good to me.

But on the matter of cultural relativism. Are we not always judging cultures from a subjective viewpoint? I mean, it is not like we have a truly objective third party that is impartial. With animal rights which is something that is shaping up in more affluent societies; many of us in the U.S. would have a completely different view than someone in a third world country where bush meat is profitable. Would this be something we must insist on across the board, or would it again have to be relative to the type of society it is being applied?
Right, our judgments are always colored by a cultural perspective. In that case objectivity is an aspiration.

I haven't yet explored what this standard would say about other species, since it's geared primarily toward human interaction and survivability.
Well, we do have a source for objective value judgments; Skynet.

:0
@Frink

Okay then, what am I missing here?

You want to use "biology as a basis for morality" that incorporates "biological functions, survival and evolution" and includes certain philosophical principles you apparently believe are right for this moral system (is that a valid summation of the first paragraph?).

You go on to say that these "foundational items" will contribute to "an objective moral standard" you're trying to "hash out". This standard is apparently more of a flexible framework that needs to scientifically adapt to "new problems" by fine-tuning the theory.

Okay so far?

You close by denying that morality is relative "merely because a variety of sources have weighed in on it". You think that "enlightened, secular countries" are getting closer to an objective moral standard because "we're the ones with the fastest-evolving moral code". You think an objective moral standard can be created without invoking a deity.

I think I understand what your wrote. Whether or not you wrote what you mean, I can't say. All I can do is respond to what you wrote.

Assuming such a goal is possible (and that's a huge assumption), I have to wonder why you want it. Why do you want a "robust system" of objective moral standards? Your premise begs this question. Thus far, I haven't seen you answer it. Just to have it? Will it just belong to you? If it's any good, can I have it too? What good is it if it's not used?

Isn't the purpose of this flexible, dynamic, robust system of objective moral standards to be used as a framework for laws? What else? A new religion or school of philosphy? If such a system could be devised, I suppose people would flock to it and integrate it into every aspect of their lives. Why wouldn't they -- if it were truly an objective, moral standard?

Your goal explicitly requires that morality be objective. Until you, the only assertion of objective morality I can recall stems from the Abrahamic religions. There might be other such claims, but I don't know of them. Hell, even many Christians don't believe morality is objective!

I think it would help immensely if you could explain just how morality is objective. By "objective", do you mean: a consensus; or majority; or reasonable person standard? Just how do you arrive at an objective morality on issues like: abortion, the death penalty, hate crimes, drug use, business practices, child rearing, civil disobedience, genetic research, etc.?

I have 2 core questions:

How is morality objective?

Why do you want a robust system of objective moral standards?
You want to use "biology as a basis for morality" that incorporates "biological functions, survival and evolution" and includes certain philosophical principles you apparently believe are right for this moral system (is that a valid summation of the first paragraph?).

I think an understanding of biology and evolution are crucial for this theory, yes. I haven't decided on which philosophical arguments or models would be appropriate extensions of it, but I have listed some ideas that both seem to be compatible with it thus far and those which already have strong arguments in their favor.

You go on to say that these "foundational items" will contribute to "an objective moral standard" you're trying to "hash out". This standard is apparently more of a flexible framework that needs to scientifically adapt to "new problems" by fine-tuning the theory.

I think these items are required for a non-theistic, objective moral standard to exist, yes. Of course it would need to be able to adapt--I certainly don't expect to get something with that kind of complexity right the first time. Sometimes things get overlooked. I don't want to build a theory that breaks each time a new (and valid) idea is introduced.

Also, I don't expect various existing moral theories to be united without some kind of modification. The key (in my mind, at this stage) is finding which theories follow from the foundation, then determining whether or not they're compatible, along with the degree of compatibility. The real work, I think, will be connecting it all together once they're in place.

You close by denying that morality is relative "merely because a variety of sources have weighed in on it". You think that "enlightened, secular countries" are getting closer to an objective moral standard because "we're the ones with the fastest-evolving moral code". You think an objective moral standard can be created without invoking a deity.

Right.

Assuming such a goal is possible (and that's a huge assumption), I have to wonder why you want it. Why do you want a "robust system" of objective moral standards? Your premise begs this question. Thus far, I haven't seen you answer it. Just to have it? Will it just belong to you? If it's any good, can I have it too? What good is it if it's not used?

What good are Aristotelian ideas?

I see no reason why it wouldn't be possible. Large challenges are not equivalent to impossibility.

My reasons for thinking about it are entirely intellectual. I'm often disappointed by the models I study because I think they're either wrong (to varying degrees), right for the wrong reasons, right but based on less-than-perfect premises, or good, but potentially great if only for (insert reason).

As I've said elsewhere, today is the first time I've even mentioned or written down my thoughts on it, so it's not in any way a finished product. If that's what you were expecting, I'm sorry to disappoint.

Anyway, I think it would be nice to have for other reasons. I don't buy into the tripe that trendy relativistic bullshitters claim. I'm talking about the kind of garbage that considers all opinions valid (they aren't) or prohibits us from making judgments on the quality or humanity of other cultures' practices (Religion is a co-culture, you know--we make all kinds of judgments on that at T|A).

I think that varying practices, insofar that they affect humans, do have a moral value that can be judged on the basis of whether it allows life to exist and prosper, whether it causes harm or suffering (especially unnecessary suffering), as well as the various costs associated with it. These are all quantifiable factors that can be tested against each other. An objective standard would give all cultures something meaningful to test against.

Isn't the purpose of this flexible, dynamic, robust system of objective moral standards to be used as a framework for laws? What else? A new religion or school of philosphy?

The purpose of any moral code is to provide a framework for how people can live harmoniously in a society, rather than in a Hobbesian state of nature. I'm not sure what would make you think a religion would follow from this. A new school of philosophy? That's up to philosophers to decide. I can't snap my fingers and create a following, nor would I at this point, when I'm not even sure it would be a viable theory.

If such a system could be devised, I suppose people would flock to it and integrate it into every aspect of their lives. Why wouldn't they -- if it were truly an objective, moral standard?

I'm going to assume this is sarcasm. But since you asked, I have a response.

It is very, very difficult to change people's minds. It is even more difficult to change or abandon a tradition. You might have noticed that most people are biased in favor of their customs and traditions. They won't automatically "flock to it and integrate it," and it's nonsense to even consider that being a "truly objective moral standard" would be a reason for them to accept it--change like that doesn't happen in a flash. Like every other type of change, it has to happen incrementally. Chances are, they'll attack it and reject it at first.

In fact, let's suppose I were not only to successfully devise such a theory, but to devise a method to implement it. It would take generations for any kind of substantial change to occur. I would never expect to see it widely used within my lifetime. Hell, Kant has been dead for over 200 years, and his ideas were brilliant. Yet, the vast majority of people who even know what the hell Kant said tend to be philosophers.

Your goal explicitly requires that morality be objective. Until you, the only assertion of objective morality I can recall stems from the Abrahamic religions. There might be other such claims, but I don't know of them. Hell, even many Christians don't believe morality is objective!

I don't know who you've talked to, but several professional philosophers I've spoken to have either indicated or provided support for the existence of an objective standard. While my thoughts on it developed independently of theirs, it is not an original concept. As far as I know, it's seen by some as the brass ring of ethics. Again, you can let go of the idea that objective morality requires a deity.

I think it would help immensely if you could explain just how morality is objective. By "objective", do you mean: a consensus; or majority; or reasonable person standard?

I'm thinking of it in a different paradigm, so I would have to say "none of the above."

Just how do you arrive at an objective morality on issues like: abortion, the death penalty, hate crimes, drug use, business practices, child rearing, civil disobedience, genetic research, etc.?

People use ethical models to arrive at an opinion on those issues. What would keep them from doing it with mine?

I don't have a better answer than that at this point. When I figure it out, I'll let you know. :)

How is morality objective?

Are you telling me that you henceforth refuse to decry the death penalty for apostasy, the abuse of women and child marriage in the Middle East, or the genocide in Darfur? The absence of an objective morality means that no action can be criticized if is culturally acceptable. What is culturally acceptable depends on who controls society. In pre-Civil War United States, slavery was moral. Why? Because those with the power to make it legal said so. Society set a standard that allowed for the owning of slaves as well as their treatment as property. If all morality is subjective, then what right have you to judge it? "It's not better or worse, just different," as they say. Criticisms of this practice become entirely arbitrary, because morality itself is arbitrary.

Are you willing to accept that? I'm not. Furthermore, I think a case can be made against the "inherent subjectivity" of morality (as someone here put it, I think) on the grounds that valid, reasonable moral objections to culturally-defined rules exist in the first place.

I've already mentioned my thoughts on how objectivity could be quantified, but I haven't developed it beyond that (nor have I fully developed what I've written thus far). As for the second question, I've already talked a bit about that too.
Okay, Frink,

Morality, as reflected in our laws, is a matter of societal norms. Violating laws is criminal. Violating morals isn't criminal unless you're also violating laws. Lying, cheating, greed, sloth, fornicating, and selfishness are not usually criminal but might be considered immoral by some people. Governments allow their citizens some latitude in their morals because many morals are considered relative in as much as people disagree about their merits. Societal norms elevate murder, rape, kidnapping and theft to the status of crimes but may not prohibit mowing your front yard in the nude.

I don't always agree with how our society prioritizes its morality in its laws. I think the only thing criminal about marijuana is that it's illegal. They should legalize it and make ocra illegal instead. I think public officials should face stiffer punishment for any crimes they commit.

But, overall, I'm glad we're allowed latitude in our morals. I want only the worst offenses criminalized and the rest left alone. Increased certainty about morals almost always leads to encroachments of our freedoms.
There's no disagreement on this end of the internet. Laws and punishments would have to be reasonable. No theory of morality should be authoritarian.
@Frink,

As near as I can tell, you haven't given a real answer to my 2 questions:

How is morality objective?
. . . and . . .
Why do you want a robust system of objective moral standards?

You've indicated some of your thoughts and feelings about them but no direct answer to these direct questions. I'll go first with my answers to their opposites.

How is morality relative?

I'll start with a syllogism:

All morals are value judgments.
All value judgments are relative.
Therefor, all morals are relative.

In practice, this syllogism describes morality as it has always existed throughout history -- even when the Catholic Church tortured and executed heretics.

So forget about actual practice: what about in principle? The first moral imperative that comes to mind is "Thou shalt not kill" or "Thou shalt not murder". Can we objectify this injunction to not take human life?

I think we all know we can't. We have to categorize "types" of killing. There's homicide, self-defense, accidental, manslaughter, war, assassinations, euthanasia, "pulling the plug", abortion and capital punishment. Some are criminal, some are allowed, some are even necessary.

We could (arbitrarily) assign something as the highest moral value and subordinate all other morals to it. Take survival, for instance (I know you want a biological basis for morality). If survival is the highest moral value, then cannibalism is hunky-dory if you're hungry enough. Theft would be copacetic if you steal food when starving. Fraud is fine if it gives you another day of life.

Or maybe love should be assigned the highest moral value. Or maybe altruism or maybe God.

This is getting us nowhere. There is no way to rank morals. There is no way to objectify them. Why would we want to?

Why should we avoid a robust system of objective moral standards?

Imagine this headline:

"Scientific framework for objective moral standards finally achieved!"

Let's suspend disbelief and assume a real, objective, standard is found.

The news would be revolutionary and spread on the Internet like wildfire. Humanity would have a single moral system to reform every and all institutions and relations. Governments, religions, social programs, family life, marriage, business, charities, the U.N., and our laws.

If it were for real, it would be very powerful, indeed. It would change virtually all aspects of human life. The thing about objective standards is that they're NOT opinions. You and your neighbor might disagree about you mowing the front yard in the nude -- but an objective moral standard would settle the argument. It's no longer a matter of opinion.

If you don't want an objective moral standard to rule every part of your life, then you need to cut it off at some arbitrary point. Perhaps you could cut it off at capital crimes . . . or felonies. But don't we have those things covered already? Alright then, how about cutting it off at misdemeanors? I mean, surely . . . we don't want this objective moral standard extending BEYOND the law, do we?

Or do we?

Maybe it would be nice to know right and wrong in fine detail. If masturbation is immoral but sperm banks are good, then I could make a fortune by opening a national chain of sperm banks.

No, seriously. How is morality objective? Why do you want a robust system of objective moral standards?
Yes, I answered your questions. If you're not willing to accept those answers, sorry. Nothing I can do about it.

All morals are value judgments.
All value judgments are relative.
Therefor, all morals are relative.


Assuming your morality follows from society, this is true. I'm arguing that it precedes it, which is necessary for objectivity. I've explained this several times.

In practice, this syllogism describes morality as it has always existed throughout history -- even when the Catholic Church tortured and executed heretics.

For the last time, the idea is not associated with religion. The two have nothing in common, and I've explained this in sufficient detail. If you are incapable of asking reasonable questions without continually resorting to fallacious appeals to guilt by association, this conversation is over. It's purpose is explanatory, not authoritarian. Comprende? Bueno.

So forget about actual practice: what about in principle? The first moral imperative that comes to mind is "Thou shalt not kill" or "Thou shalt not murder". Can we objectify this injunction to not take human life?

I think we all know we can't. We have to categorize "types" of killing. There's homicide, self-defense, accidental, manslaughter, war, assassinations, euthanasia, "pulling the plug", abortion and capital punishment. Some are criminal, some are allowed, some are even necessary.


Obviously, "thou shalt not kill" isn't a competent enough moral principle. Besides that, it's authority is normative. "Thou shalt not kill" the commandment can be expressed as "You ought not kill." Again, I'm not interested in normative explanations, I'm interested in descriptive.

We could (arbitrarily) assign something as the highest moral value and subordinate all other morals to it. Take survival, for instance (I know you want a biological basis for morality). If survival is the highest moral value, then cannibalism is hunky-dory if you're hungry enough. Theft would be copacetic if you steal food when starving. Fraud is fine if it gives you another day of life.

Reasoned logic is not arbitrary, especially when it is used to show why something is necessarily so. Re: survival--your example focuses on the individual while utterly ignoring society as a component. My ideas incorporate the social sciences, not abandon them. Finally, survival of the species, as can be defended using Act Utilitarianism, outweighs individual survival.

As an aside, I see no reason why things such as cannibalism should be considered moral issues. Customs and morality are not synonymous.

This is getting us nowhere. There is no way to rank morals. There is no way to objectify them. Why would we want to?

Ranking them and objectifying them are two very different things.

Let's suspend disbelief and assume a real, objective, standard is found.

The news would be revolutionary and spread on the Internet like wildfire. Humanity would have a single moral system to reform every and all institutions and relations. Governments, religions, social programs, family life, marriage, business, charities, the U.N., and our laws.

If it were for real, it would be very powerful, indeed. It would change virtually all aspects of human life. The thing about objective standards is that they're NOT opinions. You and your neighbor might disagree about you mowing the front yard in the nude -- but an objective moral standard would settle the argument. It's no longer a matter of opinion.


I agree; one would certainly need to suspend disbelief to consider this a plausible chain of events. That slope has to be a whole lot less slippery for this to achieve any kind of validity. Anyway, I've addressed this elsewhere.

If you don't want an objective moral standard to rule every part of your life, then you need to cut it off at some arbitrary point.

I've already invoked John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty." There's nothing arbitrary about it.

Perhaps you could cut it off at capital crimes . . . or felonies. But don't we have those things covered already? Alright then, how about cutting it off at misdemeanors? I mean, surely . . . we don't want this objective moral standard extending BEYOND the law, do we?

Again, an objective moral standard could be used as a basis for laws, but which laws to create and enforce is beyond the domain of this theory.

----

I simply don't have time to repeat myself ad infinitum. If you don't mind, from this point on I'll only address the questions which haven't been answered.
@Frink,

Here's your response to "How is morality objective?"

"How is morality objective?

Are you telling me that you henceforth refuse to decry the death penalty for apostasy, the abuse of women and child marriage in the Middle East, or the genocide in Darfur? The absence of an objective morality means that no action can be criticized if is culturally acceptable. What is culturally acceptable depends on who controls society. In pre-Civil War United States, slavery was moral. Why? Because those with the power to make it legal said so. Society set a standard that allowed for the owning of slaves as well as their treatment as property. If all morality is subjective, then what right have you to judge it? "It's not better or worse, just different," as they say. Criticisms of this practice become entirely arbitrary, because morality itself is arbitrary.

Are you willing to accept that? I'm not. Furthermore, I think a case can be made against the "inherent subjectivity" of morality (as someone here put it, I think) on the grounds that valid, reasonable moral objections to culturally-defined rules exist in the first place.
"

I didn't say you didn't respond, I said you didn't give a direct answer to a direct question. You explained why you think morality SHOULD be objective, but you did NOT explain HOW it is, in fact, objective.

I think disease should go away. But the reality is it's still here. You believe morality should be objective but the reality is that it's not. You would have explained how it is if you could have. But you can't. So you won't.

By the way, I started my reply, above, with a syllogism:

All morals are value judgments.
All value judgments are relative.
Therefor, all morals are relative.

When I said that "In practice, this syllogism describes morality as it has always existed throughout history -- even when the Catholic Church tortured and executed heretics." I meant exactly what I said. Biblical morals are relative too. They are NOT objective moral standards, despite the Church's claims to the contrary.

There has never been an objective standard of morality despite the best efforts of religions, law makers and philosophers. All efforts have been and will be fruitless because the effort denies reality. WE DECIDE WHAT IS RIGHT AND WRONG. There is NO objective standard or system that will decide for us. Nor should there be. Our choices are what make us human. For better or for worse.
I think disease should go away. But the reality is it's still here.

Apples and oranges.

You believe morality should be objective but the reality is that it's not.

I think an objective morality is something society must necessarily derive from. If morality is defined as a framework for which humans interact harmoniously, and I'm the only human in the universe, there is no need for morality, because society is impossible. In order to have a society, there must be morality as just defined. You see culture as the determinant of morality, whereas my model preempts culture. Culture cannot dictate morality if morality exists independently of it; if culture follows from society; if society follows from morality. Custom, not morality, follows from culture. QED. What that morality entails, however, is up for debate.

As I said before, your syllogism applies only within the context of society, and only if morality necessarily follows from society. If there are intrinsic moral truths that do not follow from society--especially if they are necessary for society to function--the syllogism is invalid.

You would have explained how it is if you could have. But you can't. So you won't.

The absurdity of this statement moves me to respond no more eloquently than a simple chan-like redundancy: "CIRCULAR REASONING IS CIRCULAR."

There has never been an objective standard of morality despite the best efforts of religions, law makers and philosophers.

A week ago I could have said "there has never been proof that water exists on the moon, despite the best efforts of astronomers, astrophysicists and geologists." Then, I could have said,"thusly, it does not exist."

Only, I wouldn't have done this, because this kind of presumption assumes that one's own certainty is the equivalent of absolute certainty, a view which I certainly do not hold.

All efforts have been and will be fruitless because the effort denies reality. WE DECIDE WHAT IS RIGHT AND WRONG. There is NO objective standard or system that will decide for us. Nor should there be. Our choices are what make us human. For better or for worse.

I find it hard to believe that a person can maintain a straight face when claiming an objective reality yet arguing morality as solely subjective, rather than arguing interpretations are subjective.

"There is no objective standard or system that will decide for us."

Apparently you still don't understand.
Now that I think about it, it's probably not your fault if you don't understand it. As I've said, this isn't something I've devoted much time to building, so I don't expect to be able to articulate it definitively nor clearly (the idea is neither definitive nor clear at this point). Just wanted to make it clear that I can't expect you to understand it if I can't properly explain it. :)

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