Firstly, I’d like to welcome everyone to Skeptic Ink Network (formerly Skeptic Blogs). I really like the new design and I hope you do too.
So in the spirit of change I will take the opportunity to… carry on talking about the second premise of the Moral Argument – sorry about that! You’ll be pleased to hear though that this will be the last part before I move on to the first premise, but I think it’s always interesting to think seriously about the nature of morality itself and so I may revisit this subject in the future.
So let’s summarise my view.
We are asking whether morality is objective or subjective. The soundness of the Moral Argument depends on morality being objective, however I believe that morality is not objective at its fundamental level. It might be that, given certain assumptions one can make moral claims that are true or false, for example “as it is immoral to cause pain to an individual, one ought not torture another.” In this claim once we assume that causing pain is immoral, it logically follows (given that it is true a priori that torture causes pain) that torture is immoral. We might say that the claim is objective since it is objectively true that torture causes pain, but the subjectivist can still ask “what is the basis for the moral claim that causing pain is immoral?”
My view is that the normativity of a moral claim is subjective. So while Sam Harris talks about ‘well-being’ as something we can measure objectively, we are still lacking any normativity until we (subjectively) insert it into the picture by saying something like “well-being is something we ought to maximise in ourselves and others”.
Now, to say that normativity of moral claims is objective is to say that it exists independently of our beliefs, desires etc. We might call them ‘moral facts’ (this term is used in the debate I link to below), and this is a useful way of summing up what the theist means by ‘objective moral values’. So what is the argument for moral facts? I see no real evidence for them, and the argument usually given for them is that we want to say that Hitler (say) “did something really wrong”. Well, my view allows for that, as I argued here.
I would love to hear a theist (or even an atheist – but bear in mind I’m talking about ‘objective’ in the sense meant by the theist) give me some good reasons for thinking that there are objective moral facts. If you have any, I would be grateful if you would comment on this post so we can discuss them.
Finally, I strongly recommend a debate I listened to the other day between theist Glenn Peoples and atheist Arif Ahmed on ‘Unbelievable’ (an excellent podcast – lots of great guests and a very fair theist moderator). Ahmed’s view seems to be very similar to mine and he expresses it much better than I do, so please check it out.
I’ll move on to the other premise in my next post, I promise!