Tag Archives: Moral Facts

Do objective moral values really exist? Is moral relativism true?

Neil Shenvi has written an article about it on his apologetics web page.

Thesis:

Do objective moral values exist? Many people in our culture today would say that they do not. Morality, says the moral relativist, is constructed by individuals or societies; what is moral for you might not be moral for me. In contrast, the claim of moral realism is that there are objective moral values which specify concepts like good and evil, right and wrong, and which transcend cultures and individuals. To my surprise, I found very little information on the Internet presenting evidence for moral realism, in spite of the fact that it is the majority position of academic philosophers. Although I do believe that we can have immediate personal knowledge through our conscience that objective moral values exist, I believe that there are also several pieces of objective evidence to support this position. Indeed, my claim is that we have many good reasons to believe that objective moral values exist and few -if any- reasons to believe that they do not exist.

In the first section of this essay I will explain what we mean by “objective moral values.” I will also emphasize the difference between moral ontology and moral epistemology, and between moral ontology and moral behavior. In the second section, I will present a positive case that objective moral values exist. I hope to show that there are many good reasons to accept the existence of objective moral values. In the third section, I will do something far less theoretical and far more personal; I will try to show that every one of us knows that objective moral values do exist but is surpressing this knowledge. And in the final section I will try to show why we are attracted to moral relativism despite its implausibility.

Outline:

[L]et’s look at the five pieces of evidence that objective moral values exist. If objective moral values exist and we can intuitively perceive them, this hypothesis explains five pieces of empirical evidence

  1. Nearly universally across human cultures, there exist the same basic standards of morality. In addition, there exist in all cultures truly altrustic acts which lead to no personal or genetic benefit.
  2. The majority of people who explicitly deny the existence of objective morality still act as if objective morality exists.
  3. There exists a nearly universal human intuition that certain things are objectively right or wrong.
  4. The majority of philosophers recognize the existence of objective moral facts.
  5. Many naturalists (like Sam Harris or Shelley Kagan) affirm the existence of objective moral facts, despite the problems inherent in grounding these facts in the natural world.

And more:

As I said in the first section, the basic premise of moral relativism is that there is no objective standard of moral behavior. All moral behavior is relative to individual persons or cultures; what is “good” or “bad” depends on the person, on the place and time, on the community, and on the culture. No action and no behavior can rightly be termed “bad” or “good” without qualification. Actions are only “good to you” or “bad to you”, “good to this culture” or “bad to this culture.” In the previous section, I tried to show that –based on the evidence– belief in moral relativism is unwarranted. It is theoretically possible to find ways around the evidence presented above, but each of these pieces of evidence seems to clearly point to the existence of objective moral values. In this secion, I will not attempt to show that belief in moral relativism is unwarranted; rather, I will try to show that no one actually believes in moral relativism. To do so, I will ask four questions. Each of them centers around a “thought experiment,” a highly hypothetical situtation which probes our reactions to admittedly unlikely circumstances. I urge the reader to take these questions very seriously.

The moral argument is probably the most intuitive and accessible argument for theism, with the possible exception of the cosmological argument.

MUST-HEAR: Glenn Peoples debates Arif Ahmed on God and morality

Another good Unbelievable debate between theist Glenn Peoples and atheist Arif Ahmed.

Details:

Torturing children for fun – is that absolutely wrong?

The Moral Argument for God states that there are such things as objective moral facts, and that objective moral facts must have an immaterial source – namely God.  Therefore God Exists… Simple right?

However, atheist Cambridge Philosopher Arif Ahmed disagrees with the first two premises.  He debates with New Zealand’s Christian philosopher Glenn People’s on whether the argument proves the existence of God.

So, are moral beliefs nothing more than our “preferences”? What do we do with the intuition that certain things are absolutely wrong?  Are atheists who affirm moral facts but deny God, being inconsistent?

The MP3 file is here.

I would not really characterize Glenn as an orthodox “Christian” philosopher, although he claims to be – because he doesn’t hold to some beliefs that are essential. E-mail me if you want more info and links to his statements. But he makes good arguments for theism.

Summary

Are there moral facts?

Glenn Peoples:

  • Here is my argument:
  1. If there are moral facts, then they have a basis that is either supernatural or natural
  2. If there are moral facts, then there basis is not natural
  3. Therefore, if there are moral facts, then there basis is supernatural
  4. A supernatural person is the most plausible way to think of the the basis of moral facts
  5. If there are moral facts, then the best way to think about their basis is that they are grounded by a supernatural person

Arif Ahmed:

  • There are no moral facts
  • There is no sensory evidence for moral facts
  • I would only accept sensory evidence for the existence of moral facts
  • Each person has preferences for how to treat other people
  • I campaign for things I personally prefer
  • So morality for me is doing whatever I want

Glenn Peoples:

  • Well, that is not moral conduct, that’s “satisfaction conduct”
  • You are doing what satisfies you, but it’s not normative
  • There is no ought there
  • It’s not prescriptive of what you should do, it’s just descriptive of what you do

Arif Ahmed:

  • I would interfere with other people’s preferences if I didn’t prefer them

Glenn Peoples:

  • What do you mean you “ought to” impose your preferences on other people

Arif Ahmed:

  • I do this thing I prefer and this thing I prefer and this thing I prefer
  • I do certain things because I like the way I feel when I do them
  • Nothing defines moral standards because there are no moral standards

Glenn Peoples:

  • On Arif’s view, it is impossible that anyone’s preference could be “wrong”
  • Each person’s preferences are supreme and cannot be judged on Arif’s view
  • On his view, someone who tortures people for fun is as justified as someone who doesn’t because both act on the basis of preferences

Arif Ahmed:

  • We can’t prove the existence of moral facts because only things that can be perceived with the senses are real

Glenn Peoples:

  • But even sensory inputs cannot be proven to be reliable using the senses

Is Glenn’s argument valid?

Arif Ahmed

  • Well, what if I arbitrarily assert that harm is morally wrong without sensory evidence for that moral fact, thus breaking my own rule about what counts as true
  • that makes me look like less of sociopath than before, right?
  • so how about that?
  • even if there were moral facts, God doesn’t have to be the cause of them

Glenn Peoples:

  • If there are moral obligations, they must be owed to a person, not to a state of affairs

Arif Ahmed:

  • Human beings don’t have any proper function, no way we ought to be
  • Each person just decides what they want

Glenn Peoples:

  • What about purpose, is there any reason why we are here?
  • On atheism, you would have to say no

Arif Ahmed:

  • An atheist could have a purpose for your life in an accidental universe without a designer
  • I don’t believe there is a purpose to life though
  • But you can choose social justice, or yoga, or vegetarianism, or video games and have meaning in life
  • And an arbitrary, narcissistic, illusory purpose is just as valid as an objectively true purpose (and as healthy!)
  • It’s very liberating to be able to make up your own arbitrary purpose and arbitrary preferences
  • You can even pretend they are significant and meaningful and that you are a good person (but they aren’t!)

Glenn Peoples:

  • Just to be fair, the idea of objective meaning and objective purpose does require creativity and work – it’s not a cop out